Coaching Champions At Work

Writen by Frank Salisbury

I saw Brian Kerr (the Irish national football coach) on television not so long ago and it reminded me of a platform I shared with him at a Banking Institute seminar in Dublin. Whilst I was waiting for my turn I listened to Brian and experienced two emotions – admiration and jealousy. Firstly I admired what Brian had already achieved at under 21 level and the passion with which he expressed his love of the game. Secondly I was jealous at the way in which coaching in the sports world is readily accepted whilst coaching in the business world runs the risk of becoming yet another fad. In sports there is an unconditional acceptance that the coach is key to unlocking potential, in business coaching is seen as merely another name for training, and training as we know is for trainers to conduct, whilst management is on a different plane and status level altogether. In sports it is unusual for coaches not to be involved in training, indeed training is often an outcome of a coaching session. In business, managers at all levels appear keen to divorce themselves from the training function.

In sports, coaches have a clearly defined system and they stick to it. In business the goalpost is forever changing, as are the players, the rules, and tactics. To say that this happens as a result of changing market trends fails to recognise whilst markets change, people are essentially the same, and what works in sports can work in business. My experience is however, that many coaching initiatives in business fail to realise any improvement in performance, but then this is no different from training initiatives right across the development board. That's not to say that it can't work, for my own experience clearly shows that it can and does. The problem is that whilst more and more companies have become focused on short-term goals, coaching is a long-term process. In addition, too many people believe that you can learn to become a coach by attending a one, two, or even three day training course, whereas the reality of sports coaching is that even with years of experience of being a player, you cannot learn to become a coach in three days. I am dismayed to hear people say to me – 'Oh we did coaching last year. We had somebody in for a couple of days and all our managers are now coaches'.

After years of research and experimentation I found that it takes a long time to train anyone to be a business coach and it can take an organisation at least two years to implement a coaching culture. Even then it is highly likely that senior managers in particular will require additional personal coaching sessions in order to embed the new behaviours. The involvement of senior managers in the coaching process and programme is critical to success. Managers at all levels teach people more about work by their daily behaviour than any amount of training can. The difference between a high performing team and an average performing team is always the manager. This does not mean however that the manager, acting as coach is the person who produces the results. The coach influences the performance of the individuals who produce the results, but responsibility for results rests firmly with the individual performer. Brian Kerr is not responsible for the performance of the individuals in his team. He is accountable for the performance of the team and can suffer the consequence of poor performance, but the only way in which he gets the best out of people is to treat each person as an individual and ensure that each person understands about personal responsibility.

My research shows that 'personal responsibility' as an attribute and as a philosophy is shared by all top performers in all walks of life. Personal responsibility however, whilst a requisite for successes as a performer is a major barrier for success as a manager. Being a performer and being a coach are two totally different activities, which is why player-managers are rarely effective or successful. The skill sets, whilst complementary, are different, and the first job I usually face when training managers to become coaches, is to undo the behaviours which made them successful as a performer, before teaching them the essential skills and behaviours of successful coaching. This is why it takes time.

Coaches in sports understand the value and relevance of practice; performers in business seem oblivious to the relationship between practice and reality. Coaches in sports return to basics every training session and basic training sessions are a regular occurrence. Basic training is used in warm-ups and it is used to benchmark performance. Basic training and the insistence that performers are able to display a minimum set of skill sets are crucial elements of the rules of the game and everyone, from top to bottom in the organisation, understands and lives by the rules. In a football club every single person clearly understands what the rules are. No one individual or department is doing something different. Everyone is focused on the same goal. How many of us can say that about our business? This doesn't just happen in sports, it is worked on and it takes time to build a winning team – years even. The same rules apply to business. There are no quick fixes and anyone who tells you that they can deliver a quick fix is a charlatan.

Business coaches, and sports coaches, must have a vision and get people to buy into it. They have to be clear about what they want and where they are going.

Coaches need to be aware of how their behaviour influences others. When I am conducting personal coaching sessions and the manager tells me of problem with a member of staff, my first response is usually – 'what did you do or say that caused them to behave that way?'

Coaches need to create a 'never satisfied' environment. Coaching is about getting better all of the time – it is about never standing still. It becomes a treadmill of improvement.

Coaches have to reward people for good behaviour. They have to make time available for regular coaching sessions, and most importantly they have to observe the results of their coaching sessions. Following a coaching session Brian Kerr does not say to the team – 'well, we've done all of the practice. Now what I want you to do is to go out and do your best. I'm off for a few days. Let me know how you got on, and I'll see you next month.' He watches the game from the stand. He takes notes. He reviews their performance at half time. He re-establishes the tactics that were agreed. He focuses individuals and the team on the task in hand. If there's one thing that business coaches need to learn from sports coaches is that you have to watch people doing the job. You cannot rely on other people to tell you or on individuals themselves to tell you about how they performed. You have to watch it. Which implies that you have to know what it is you are observing, which in turn means that the performer has to clearly understand what it is you want them to do; how you will be measuring them and how you intend to help them deliver your vision. I have said it before, and it is worth repeating – it takes time.

Training programmes should be aligned and constructed on measurable outcomes. Brian does not send his performers on training courses to teach them life skills. No doubt he would agree with Shankley's famous comment that football wasn't a matter of life or death – it's more important than that! His training sessions are directly related, without ambiguity, to the job that they have to perform. All too often I see training courses being delivered which I call 'luxury' events – very interesting but completely inappropriate as a business training investment. Perhaps you need to ask yourself the question sometimes – if it were my personal money, would I spend it on this?

The benefits of adopting coaching as a business practice are that people perform better; relationships are enhanced; work is less stressful; the focus is on performance and not on promotion or job grade; and responsibility is placed where it should be – with the performer.

Business Coaching can and does produce champions at work.

Frank Salisbury. MPhil.

Frank Salisbury is a highly experience motivational speaker, and inspiring business coach, particularly to the sales profession. Frank is recognised as a leading authority in the field of sales - including sales process design, sales performance, and sales coaching.

He strongly believes that whether we work in the public or private sector; whether our organisation is commercial or non-commercial; that we are all in sales. His favourite quote, which has become his maxim, is from Robert Louis Stevenson – 'Everything in live is selling'. He has spoken at numerous conferences and seminars where his style has received popular acclaim for a speaker with a passion for life, and achievement.

He can be contacted at and at; telephone 0044 (0) 1295 250247


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