Who You Coach is More Important Than What You Coach: The Number One Coaching Strategy to Improving Performance

Tom Stanfill, Co-founder and CEO, ASLAN Training

A person standing infront of a white board presenting to a group of people.

I have something to share that will save you countless hours of wasted time and motivate your team: You are coaching the wrong people.

Maybe this sounds a little assumptive, but I’m basing this bold statement on 25 years of sales consulting. And without fail, when asking managers who they coach, the answer is always the same: everyone. And that, my friend, may be the biggest leadership myth. 

It’s not a mistake to care about everyone on your team. It’s not a mistake to buy everyone a birthday present. It’s not a mistake to consistently meet with each person. But it is a mistake to coach every team member.

Before I unpack this seemingly harsh statement, it might help if we get on the same page about the definition of coaching. Coaching, in my opinion, is working one-on-one with an individual to practice and eventually develop a new skill. The coach helps diagnose the performance gap, prescribes the developmental activities, supports the practice, encourages the rep, and holds the rep accountable to complete the process until the new skill is formed.

There is only one thing required from the rep before you decide to invest your (very limited) time in their development: Desire.

Change is hard. Unfortunately, way too many coaches are more committed to change than their team members are. They show up for “practice,” dragging their reps with them—like a mom forcing their kid to do homework. But if a rep doesn’t bring desire to the coaching session, the results are disappointing. Why? Because you can’t do it for them. If they don’t want to improve their ability to present your solution, learn to qualify more effectively, or work on whatever skill they’re lacking, you are wasting your time. Coaching can only help a rep achieve something they want to achieve. 

Another way to say it, you can’t force someone to learn a new skill. You can force someone to show up for a meeting, comply to your operational standards, but not learn and master a new skill.  

This begs the question; how do you know if a rep has the desire to change?

I can think of no better way than to focus on what they do and not what they say. The mouth can fool you, but the feet can’t. If you assign a developmental activity to shore up a performance gap, one of two things will happen: They will either do it, or they won’t. If they do it, they possess the desire to change. If not, they don’t. It’s that simple.

But don’t give up after one failed attempt. Just let them know that you’re ready when they are. If things go quiet, their motive is clear. Once you realize you have a motivation problem, it’s time to switch hats from coach to leader. As a leader, you should determine the barriers to change, and find the connection between developing a new skill and something the rep wants. Perhaps an honest discussion about below par results would be useful. But coaching—that’s by invitation only.

If you adopt this filter for determining who to coach with this quadrant coaching grid, you will see a chunk of time added back to your schedule. You’ll find hours, if not days, that can be invested in motivated team members waiting for you at the “practice field.”

And the unmotivated reps? The spark of desire might ignite when the weight of improving their performance rests squarely on their shoulders—where it should be.

Headshot of Tom Stanfill

As co-founder and CEO, Tom’s primary role is to create content that helps people live, sell, and serve more effectively. Find him on LinkedIn.