Coaching Tools and Tips in the World of Field Management

By: Susan Boydell | sboydell@barlowmccarthy.com

The Head Coach of USC’s football team once said, “It’s not about telling a wide receiver how to run. He can do that on his own. It’s pointing out open spots on the field to run to of which he might not have thought” It’s a perspective you get only from the sideline.

Managing any team requires work.  Some might say the work involved in managing a sales team is among the hardest. So, what makes a great field manager?  Great question.  Think back on all your great teachers, bosses, leaders – you know, the ones you will always remember.  What made them great?  What made them memorable? The answer is probably not the same for each, but I bet there are some consistent themes. The leaders who shaped me as a manager all possessed the same two things 1) they inspired me to do great work, and, 2) they were great coaches.

I am a true believer that to be a great manager you have to be a great coach. So whether you are currently a field manager or want to be one, I’d like to offer you some useful tools and tips that every manager needs to be a great coach.  As you read through them you will see a few familiar themes (hint: what works in the field works just as well in coaching).

1) Ask don’t tell.  Where have you heard that before? The same principle we preach in the field holds true for coaching.  Keep this simple thought in mind, and you won’t make the all-too-common mistake, of slipping out of effective coaching into lecturing.  You start lecturing, they stop listening. Lecturing is telling people what to do; Coaching is finding out what they want to do and suggesting new ways to do it. 

So, naturally, the first step in coaching is asking questions. This not only gets you some valuable information, it is the first step of coaching. Asking questions like: What is your field approach for a certain target physician? How well is it working? Have you considered this alternative?  Coaching takes ability for granted, then opens up new possibilities for turning this ability into results. It puts you and your ideas into their world; that’s where they listen best.

2) Establish a relationship.  If you have ever (and, of course, you have) sat through someone droning on about themselves, imagine yourself there now. Then, don’t do it. Express interest in the success of a team member and their personal well-being. Ask about their family. Geez, ask about their cat. Opportunities to transition to their business practices will fling open, and as you begin to receive messages of understanding and agreement back, step three will develop.

3) Trust will begin to be established.  Being seen as an informed and observing ally from the sidelines, pointing out possibilities, rather than as someone “telling them how to do their job better,” will help them begin to see your suggestions as mutual conclusions, not advice.  Incidentally, coaching is NOT advice. Advice is just a friendlier way of telling people what to do.

4) Don’t be a sissy. Keep your team members on point and results-oriented. If you’ve ever watched a sports coach, you know that they can be, um… demanding. Remember, you’re there to help your liaison succeed. Phrases such as “So, may we get back to . . .” or “I was wondering if we’d completed our previous conversation?“ will help you help them and still maintain a good relationship. This is where you will find the next step helpful.

5) Have a clear vision and strategy for the coaching session. Pre-plan. Just like you wouldn’t walk into a physician visit without having a pre-call plan – put together a pre-coaching plan. Use the same principles like defining your objective, writing down what questions to ask, and your desired outcome.  If you’re comfortable with written agendas, prepare them. This will put the agenda in charge of the meeting and make it even more obvious that both you and your liaison are working together.

6) Ask for commitments.  Don’t settle for responses of the “that’s a great idea; I’ll do it” type. Get a “by/when” from your team member. Follow up on it. In addition to improving results, this will demonstrate your commitment to their success. Always, always support your team. Support them through accountability. Sometimes this is the hardest part; the part that we as managers often get behind on.  And, remember, as we hold our teams accountable, we must set the same expectations for ourselves.