Keep your head out of the sand.

Managers worldwide struggle to find the time and resources necessary to properly observe their people. Learn why this is a crucial mistake and how to avoid it.

8-Steps to Creating a Coaching Culture by Keith RosenI recently delivered a webinar in partnership with and that focused on key concepts from my book Coaching Salespeople Into Sales Champions. It was an exciting and fast-paced conversation. We answered as many questions from attendees as we could, but still had to wrap things up leaving dozens of questions unanswered. One question was almost identical to a question I hear almost everywhere I go. Due to it being such a relevant concern to managers across the globe, I wanted to share my reply with you. The question was:

With respect to observation of outside sales teams, are there other tactics to accomplish this other than joining them on a sales call? Due to financial limitations, sometimes this is not always feasible.

While I hear many managers tell me that observation is difficult due to either financial constraints (cost of travel, etc.) or the geographical dispersion of their sales team (no time), observation is the most important activity for any manager to engage in consistently. Being realistic, the only way to truly assess what your people are doing when they’re interacting with clients and prospects is to observe and listen to them. And if you’re not observing your people, especially the underperformer, then you really don’t know what they’re doing and saying – other than losing a sale and missing their quota!

Do You Really Know the Difference Between Your A Players and C Players?

Sure, you can look at the data, your people’s activity and their results but this doesn’t provide you with any insight into their behavior, effectiveness, communication style (verbal and physical), messaging , confidence, presence, appearance, and ultimately, the quality of output, which is the ultimate differentiation between your A player, B player and C player. Now, we can all know and agree conceptually that top performers and under-performers do many things differently; with their communication style being one of the top differentiators.

Well, if we know this to be true, can you honestly say that you’ve proactively assessed and recognized these specific differences around what your direct reports say when meeting or speaking with customers, how they say it, what they ask and how they listen? And you were able to identify these gaps, as well as best practices because you have observed them first hand?

If you haven’t observed them, then how do you know what areas to focus on when coaching to better each person’s best? Think sports. How does each player know the areas they need to focus on and improve and the drills they need to practice in order to continually perform like an elite athlete? Because the coach observed from the sidelines what their players couldn’t see themselves.

Keep in mind, observation is not limited to what you see (environment, body language, physical/facial gestures, the customer’s or prospect’s reactions and so on) but also what you hear (what is said, how it’s being said and what is not being said).

Interestingly, during many training events, this very concern does surface. Ironically, the first reaction from many managers is, “I can’t observe my people due to financial constraints and time (I have too many people on my team!).”

Once explored at a deeper level, either that particular manager realizes there actually IS a way to observe their people in the field if they authentically make observation their priority, or the stakeholder/VP who’s also participating in my management coach training tells the management team during the course, “Yes! You can observe them, we do have budget for this type of travel and you all need to observe your direct reports because this is a priority.”

Now, if after a thorough analysis of what you feel is possible and what is not, should you find yourself in a position where you are truly unable to observe your people once a month or every other month in person (at the very minimum), then consider telephone observation. Since selling is really a language, top performers communicate more powerfully than lower performers. They listen at a deeper level and certainly ask the ‘tougher,’ more precision based questions that get to the core of that person’s known and unknown needs, concerns, buying process and priorities. As such, this is your chance to not only uncover more coaching moments and developmental opportunities but to assess best practices around the behavior you want all of your people to engage in, including what is said, how it is said and what is better of left unsaid.

Since your direct reports are also interacting via email and telephone with their prospects and customers, reviewing their written email and the message they’re sending in written form, as well as listening in on a conversation with your direct reports and their customers will provide you with invaluable insight and uncover many opportunities for continued improvement and growth. You will be shockingly surprised!

Global Managers and Foreign Languages – Yes, You Can Still Observe Effectively!

If you’re a global manager, where some of your direct reports are calling on companies in certain regions of the world where you may not speak their language, do not despair! You can still observe them! What can you observe? Well, you can observe their tone, pace and voice inflection. You can observe whether or not they’re cutting the customer off when speaking with them. You can also observe if they are talking too much or if they are asking more questions and listening instead of talking.

These are things you can observe with your ears, even if you don’t speak their language. To take this a step further, you can also ask one of your peers who does speak that language to either listen in on the call with your direct report so that at the end of the call, they can share what they have heard. If it’s more convenient due to scheduling conflicts and availability, in some cases, you can record the call and share that recording with a peer who could listen to the conversation around their schedule and then provide feedback to you.

Aside from these effective and creative ideas that would enable any manager to observe their sales team, there’s still more to consider as to why managers feel they can’t observe their people. First, is it that there truly is no budget/time or is it more about the manager’s experience, reluctance or assumptions surrounding observation that’s the actual root cause as to why observation is not being done?

For example, how is your feedback being received? Have you found observation to be effective? How do your people react when you tell them you’ll be observing them? (The actual skill and strategy for observation and how to deliver feedback is a separate conversation.) Are they embracing this notion with open arms, and shout out, “Yes! That is awesome! I can’t wait for my boss to observe me!” or do you encounter some resistance instead? If you’re like most managers, it’s the latter, which results in observation being the activity that is postponed indefinitely.

Feeding Observation Reluctance

The fact is, a large percentage of managers simply don’t know how to observe and deliver feedback in a way that’s openly received to the point that it results in the behavioral changes you want and need. This further feeds observation reluctance.

Ultimately, the real gap here is the lack of alignment created between you, your direct report and what the real objective of observation is because the manager was not clear with their intentions around observation. And if you don’t let your people know what you’re doing, why you’re doing it and what the benefit is for them, you leave it up to your direct reports to form their own conclusion. Unfortunately, as human beings, our default file takes us to fear. Then, the internal dialogue your people have sounds like this. “Why is my manager observing me? Am I in trouble? Am I getting fired or put on some performance plan? What did I do wrong?”

To eliminate this negative and sabotaging perception surrounding observation, managers need to better enroll their people around observation and feedback. That is, set better expectations, letting your people know what you’re doing, why you’re doing it and most important, what’s in it for them. This is the only way you can create alignment around this non-negotiable, yet essential activity so that both you and your direct reports are clear around what the benefit is for them and the parameters and guidelines that surround observation and feedback to ensure it’s a valuable experience for each person on your team.

After all, if you don’t do some level of consistent observation, then debrief around what was observed by both you and your direct report and ultimately follow up in a timely, consistent fashion to ensure there was a behavioral change, then how can you assess if the gap or limiting behavior you uncovered that needs to improve or change actually did? And if you don’t create the opportunity to observe whether they’ve changed for the better or not, then how can you then hold your salespeople accountable for the behaviors that need to change? You can’t.

I’ll never forget when I was in Italy, a manager shared the following observation with me during the end of a conversation we had around this critical activity. One manager said, “I know observation is important but I just need to figure out a way to fit coaching and observation around all of my other activities, meetings and responsibilities.” And before I could respond, another manager jumped in and said, “Wait, instead of asking yourself how you’re going to fit coaching and observation around all of your other activities, meetings and responsibilities, ask yourself how you’re going to fit all of your other activities, meetings and responsibilities around coaching and observation.”

This is the fundamental mind-shift managers need to go through to actually make observation, as well as your people, the true and authentic priority in order to create the breakthrough results you want.

Photo Credit: tropical.pete