In his article “Coaching the Coach,” Jay Minnucci makes a valid point when he highlights the importance of coaching quality. Too often, coaching is just an exercise in production, a “check the box” activity where the goal is to show completion without any regard to effectiveness. Organizations that measure only the quantity of coaching do a disservice to the employee, the coach, and the organization as a whole. Coaching is an investment and, like all investments, should deliver a return. Ineffective coaching won’t deliver that ROI.
Minnucci offers a good suggestion when he recommends sessions among coaches to ensure calibration in identifying coaching priorities. But he neglects the crucial role of the contact center manager in the design, development, and implementation of a comprehensive coach-the-coach program. In our experience, the call center manager is the key to delivering the highest possible ROI on coaching investment.
In the same way that supervisors improve metric results by focusing on underlying behaviors, managers can help coaches improve by focusing on the behaviors that lead to successful coaching. This means that managers need to take a comprehensive approach that considers all the activities a coach does before, during, and after a coaching conversation with a front-line employee.
The old adage is “failing to plan is planning to fail.” A good contact center manager sets the supervisor up for success by helping him/her learn how to plan effective coaching sessions. Just as skilled supervisors encourage self-discovery when coaching their agents, highly skilled managers use powerful open-ended questions to guide the supervisor through the process of analyzing performance and preparing to coach.
Depending on the needs of the particular supervisor, the manager might ask questions like:
- What is the coaching priority for this employee? How did you determine that?
- What is the continuity between this coaching session and previous sessions?
- What questions have you prepared to engage the employee and encourage self-discovery?
- What reaction do you anticipate? How will you respond?
This kind of inquiry-based approach provides the manager with insights into the supervisor’s skill in analysis and planning. It also helps the supervisor learn how to do the analysis and preparation that is necessary for ANY successful coaching session.
We regularly hear managers exhort supervisors to “inspect what you expect.” Yet how many managers make the time to observe their supervisors conducting actual coaching sessions? The best managers consistently observe their supervisors conducting real coaching sessions and pay close attention to both the process of coaching and the quality of the interaction.
Does your organization have a clearly defined process for conducting coaching interactions? At Kaiser Permanente our NICE Consulting Team helped coaches learn and apply a consistent process for their coaching discussions. This process includes the use of a Coaching Agenda that supervisors and employees prepare before their coaching conversation. The coaching agenda helps the coach set a positive tone, create continuity from previous coaching, and engage the employee as a full partner in his/her own professional development. It helps focus the conversation on one or two root cause behaviors identified during the analysis and preparation for the session. And, it keeps the session on track by promoting an effective and efficient dialogue that gains buy-in to SMART goals and meaningful next steps.
In addition to considering the coaching process, managers must also evaluate the quality of the interaction. Managers should make sure supervisors are:
- Taking the time to establish rapport and build a personal connection.
- Making sure the employee does most of the talking.
- Asking powerful, open-ended questions that encourage insight.
- Listening with curiosity.
- Expressing enthusiasm and confidence.
- Recognizing improvement to maintain positive momentum.
Follow-up is critical – and often overlooked. To ensure coaching ROI, managers, like supervisors, must inspect results. To do this, managers should review the coaching logs, inspect follow-up task completion, and assess the impact of coaching on performance change. Managers should consider questions like these:
- At the end of the coaching session, did the supervisor and the agent agree to SMART goals and meaningful next steps?
- What was the result? Did performance improve?
- If agent performance has not improved, did the supervisor accurately pinpoint why? Did the supervisor develop a plan to move forward?
- Is the supervisor effectively moving the needle on team performance in key areas? Are individual agents achieving greater success?
As contact center professionals, we can agree that our frontline supervisors play the most important role in improving the performance of our agents. But we can’t just send supervisors to a “Coaching 101” class and then count the number of coaching sessions they complete. To generate a real return on our coaching investment we need to make sure that our supervisors build their coaching skills through a structured and consistent coach-the-coach process. And it’s the contact center manager who is ultimately responsible for coaching and developing their coaches.
To learn more about NICE’s targeted coaching strategies, join us at Interactions 2013, the industry’s leading customer conference.