Managing people isn’t what it used to be — or shouldn’t be. For a whole range of
reasons, traditional “task-oriented-only” approaches to management just aren’t as workable or productive as they may have been at one time — for either the employee or the manager.
Human resource professionals say that micromanaging takes far more time and energy than most managers today can devote to the day-to-day tasks of running a business or their department. And most agree the command-and-control method of managing will usually produce the immediate response that some managers want, but its results tend be short-lived.
Increasingly, experts in the field of employee management and development point to the “coach-manager” model as the most effective approach for managing people in today’s work environment. At its best, the coach-manager approach prepares employees to function without the boss constantly looking over their shoulders.
Larry Cole of Jerkins Creative Consulting, defines the “coach approach” simply as “achieving results through others and focusing on developing employees in order to achieve business results rather than micro-managing their every move.”
In several cases, he says, “Command-and-control people have said to me, ‘Larry, I’m getting results and I’m profitable with it this way. There’s no need for me to change.’ I’ve heard that a lot. What they’re really saying is, ‘Why should we get any better? We’re pretty good now.’ Then I ask them, ‘Do you know how much money you’re leaving on the table by not being better than you already are?’”
“In the short-term, it might be easier to get more done quickly with the command-and-control mindset, but in the long run, we’re going to be more productive and profitable by growing our employees through coaching,” says Tom Iverson, training and development manager for Titan Machinery in West Fargo, N.D. “The very nature of coaching is focused on change — the growth and improvement of our employees. In our industry where change seems to be a constant, coaching is essential to improve performance and increase the future capability of next generation of leadership.”
The Next Fad?
Tell a veteran manager that his or her new role is now to be a “coach” to their employees and, in all probability, you’ll see their eyes roll. You just know they’re thinking, “Here it comes, the newest fad in managing our employees.”
Iverson would take exception to those sentiments. He says, “Effective management in the farm equipment business is not about the latest fad or philosophy — which coaching is not. It’s about fundamental trust and respect for people and treating them accordingly. Coaching takes effort, but it is worth it.”
His definition of coaching relates to helping employees expand their self-awareness, developing a better understanding and appreciation of coworkers and customers, and to make and implement better decisions. “While the coach provides advice and motivation, it’s not the main thrust of what we do or should be doing,” Iverson says.
In essence, effective coaching is the trait of a leader. Citing an old adage, he adds, the purpose of leadership is to create more leaders, not more followers. This is one of the fundamental principles of the coach-manager.
Traits of a Coach-Manager
At the same time, Iverson notes that managers can be autocratic and micromanage employees’ actions — or they can coach the employee to discover for themselves the right choice. “Strong managers have a powerful influence on our teams and the dealership as a whole when they adopt a coaching style of management,” Iverson says.
“It’s not unlike a sports coach who builds a great team. Our players need to be entrepreneurial, capable, versatile and able to learn and adapt quickly. These are all coachable attributes.”
The traits that characterize the effective coach-manager encompass both interpersonal and technical skills. According to human resource professionals that Farm Equipment spoke with, these individuals focus on the future, they’re driven by common goals, they value feedback, they understand that praise and recognition reinforces productivity, and they guide and lead with skillful questioning and active listening. Most importantly, they’re results oriented.
Tactics of the Coach
According to Michelle Currie, senior consultant/coach for Currie Management Consultants, the skill set of effective employee coaches can be broken down into task behaviors and relationship behaviors.
Under relationship behaviors — or interpersonal skills — she lists assertiveness, knowledge of the people who report to them and good communication skills. “To make it work, managers must have good interpersonal skills. They need to know how to interact and connect with people.”
The keys, she says, is the manager must be direct, which is assertiveness; honest, which inspires trust; timely, which means not making “managing” a once-a-year-event when you conduct a job review, but an every day process.
“That means managing every day,” she says. “In a lot of cases, managers don’t manage every day. They have a meeting once a week, then they go into their office and do their ‘work,’ and their people go off and do their stuff. A service manager divvying out the work orders may think he’s managing, but that’s a very small piece of his real job. A clerk can produce and distribute work orders. Managing is really talking to the people and saying things like, ‘How’s it going? I got your work orders yesterday. You did a great job with this customer. Are you hearing any complaints?’ That’s managing,” she says.
In other words, developing a real rapport with your employees, or having “interpersonal finesse,” that includes understanding each employee’s strengths and weaknesses is critical for the coach to be successful.
On the task side, the employee coach not only needs to know the goals that the dealership is trying to achieve, but also the tactics needed to achieve them.
Tactics are task based and depend on the task. “This is an area where a lot of managers don’t have enough in-depth knowledge,” Currie says. “You can have all the interpersonal skills in the world, but if you don’t know what the employee is supposed to be doing and how to affect his performance, it’s going nowhere.”
She explains, “If the service department’s looking for 65% gross profit, that’s the goal. To get 65% gross profit, you must keep your technicians productive. Productivity means application and efficiency. So you must know how to make his technicians efficient and keep them focused on billable work. Those are the tactics.”
Asked to identify the single most important skill that the successful employee coach must possess, and without hesitation Currie pinpoints their ability to communicate. “Managing is communicating. You can’t manage without communicating, and our style of communication is going to have a direct impact on the people we’re managing,” she says.
Benefits of Coaching
Underpinning all of these traits of the coach-manager, says Cole, is cultivating an environment of respect. “When we respect the people inside of our organizations, psychologically we value them.” This, he says, must be institutionalized within the company and it starts at the top. He puts it this way: top down change produces bottom up commitment.
Engaged employees, he says, become part of the problem-solving process, as opposed to a manager merely clicking off his decisions and telling people what to do.
“It means we ask for, listen to and use employee input whenever possible. We’re going to show them that we understand what it is they’re saying, as opposed to asking for input even though the decision has already been made,” says Cole. “We must also saturate the culture of the dealership with the message that the decisions we make and what we do are best for the dealership, not necessarily what’s best for an individual or a department.”
Cole adds that fostering an environment of respect not only promotes teamwork but also an array of other benefits that ultimately lead to a healthier bottom line.
“It seems that farm equipment dealerships are always in a tight job market, especially when it comes to the service department. It’s hard to find good talent. The coach-manager approach lays the groundwork for retaining and developing the talent that we already have, and creates an environment where people want to come and work for us. All of us want to be the community’s employer of choice,” Cole says.
From an even more pragmatic point of view, he adds, “We know from research that the atmosphere of a coach-manager workplace results in increased performance, which leads to increased profitability.
“This can be hard to measure, and when an organization is already making 10 or 15% on the dollar, it’s difficult to persuade them that their business could do even better by creating a high energy, high productivity workforce,” Cole says. “Most businesses aren’t sure how much money it’s leaving money on the table with their current workplace culture. I believe it’s entirely possible to turn that 15% into a 20% return, which is significant, when they adopt the coach-manager approach.”
A Generational Challenge
For many dealerships, adopting the coach-manager approach means a major shift in their organizational cultures. According to Iverson, in large part, the movement toward the coach approach is primarily driven by the fact that there are now four generations in the workplace. “It really takes a number of different approaches to deal with each generation,” he says.
And the onus is on managers because they’ll need to examine their approach to managing to affect a meaningful change in organization.
“This is a distinct challenge,” says Iverson. “Each age group and generation has its own work ethic. They have their own pattern of communication and are motivated by different factors. To some extent, they have different values that drive them, so different approaches are necessary.”
This is especially true with today’s younger people, says Currie. “They come into the workplace and they have this feeling of entitlement. Not only do they believe they’re supposed to get a great paycheck, but they’re expecting a lot of help and feedback.”
For veteran managers, the challenge of a young workforce, itself, can be daunting.
“I believe coaching transcends generations and generational differences if it’s done right,” Iverson says. “If you’re young you’ve got a lot to learn and a lot to contribute. If you’re part of my generation, we’ve got a lot to learn and a lot to contribute. It’s essential that managers recognize that we have 60-year-old technicians that are of extreme value to the company. The 50-year-old store manager better find time to spend with our 20-something business managers. Our 45-year-old customers certainly find it helpful to be coached by our 21-year-old precision product technology guru. For all of these reasons, I believe the coaching model is a good one to work with all generations.”
Managers are Key
Human resource and management training professionals agree that the fundamental principles behind the coach-approach apply equally across all departments and disciplines, and it’s the most viable approach for today’s work environment. They also concur that the key to making it work is the commitment of all dealership managers because they set the tone for the business day in and day out.
Iverson reiterates that coaching involves more collaborating, less controlling; more delegating, less dictating; less talking, more listening; fewer orders and more questions.
“Instead of making judgments, coaching is more of a feedback system. Strong managers can have a powerful influence on the team and the dealership as a whole when they adopt the coaching style of management. I’ve seen it and it works when managers understand the difference between command and control and the coaching management style,” Iverson says.
He also maintains that good managers already practice many of the principles involved in coaching. “I think the intuition with our managers in our industry is that they want to learn to coach, and many of them do it already. It’s just really a matter of refining those skills and making sure that they’re putting them into place during times of high stress and not just during times of low stress.”
Iverson says he’s found that good managers are very accepting of the approach and it crosses all departments, whether it’s sales, service, parts or administration. “In my view, coaching really promotes four major goals all employees seek. These are equity, achievement, camaraderie and the basic security needs that an employer can provide.”
Coaching managers have an impact that is substantial when it comes to this. “The most important role in a dealership right now is the direct supervisor,” says Iverson. This is because “employees don’t quit companies, they quit bosses.”
Coaching the Uncoachable:
When is It Time to Let Go?
It’s inevitable. Even the most enlightened managers with outstanding interpersonal skills and years of industry expertise will run up against it — the seemingly uncoachable employee. As skilled as the coach and as hard as he may try, some individuals find it impossible to function as part of a team.
“There are very few people that I’ve ever encountered who are not receptive to coaching,” says Tom Iverson, training and development manager for Titan Machinery in West Fargo, N.D. “But, with that said, if an employee doesn’t want to be coached, it probably won’t work. Both parties need to be receptive because it’s a collaborative process that they both have to have trust in. The employee has to believe the role of the coach is to improve the employee’s performance.”
Iverson believes that if an employee is “affably disengaged” or what is called a “cave dweller,” that is they oppose virtually everything the anyone suggests and dwell only on themselves, the challenge of turning them around may or may not be worth the effort and the irritation. “It’s hard to pull them up and get them to be engaged and coachable. On the other hand,” he says. “I’ve seen it happen, but it usually takes a lot of effort.”
In some cases, says Larry Cole of Jerkins Creative Consulting, the boss will move them out of a critical role to try to salvage them because the problem child has been with the organization for 15 or 20 years. “But I’ve seen too many instances where the person is left in a very critical role and everyone tries to work around them because no one will work with him. There’s always a significant expense associated with that.”
The longer they’re kept around, the bigger the problem becomes, says Cole. “Everybody knows that person is a problem. If I’m his supervisor, by keeping him around, I’m losing my credibility with my other employees and hurting my ability to manage and coach them.”
The fact is, there are people who hate any kind of structure, says Cole. The final and most important questions the manager must ask is “Who and what are we here for? Are we here for the sales or service guy and how much money they can make for the organization, or are we here to help the whole organization to be successful?
Michelle Currie of Currie Management Consulting doesn’t hold out much hope for those employees who refuse to fit in, either. Even the superstar salesman who moves a lot of iron, but who’s rude to his colleagues, refuses to work within the culture of the organization and constantly causes morale problems isn’t worth the time and effort to try to coach. It’s better to let him move on and become some other dealer’s problem, even if he threatens to take all his customers with him. Currie says to tell him, “Good luck.”
“In today’s world, the customer’s relationship with the dealership is by far stronger than with any individual person in that location,” Currie says. “With maintenance and service agreement tied in with the dealership where the equipment is purchased, moving from dealer to dealer is more costly and disruptive for the farmer. He’s not going to switch dealerships just because a salesman he likes changes jobs.
“If that person is not willing to do the self-awareness exercises needed to show himself that his behavior is getting in the way of the ultimate goals of the organization, there’s nothing you can do. You need to give it up.” FE