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Developing a Coaching Culture

by Stu Lewis – Sandler Training of Chattanooga

Remember that song by John Fogerty? Oh, put me in, Coach - I'm ready to play today; Put me in, Coach I'm ready to play today; Look at me, I can be Centerfield….” 

That ballplayer so eager to get in the game and perform at a high level, you know the big leagues, the show as they call it.

I love baseball, and with the warm weather finally here, I can’t help but think of the challenges that lie ahead for the coaching staff of my team, the NY Yankees - an aging team that must win now!  I am sure they will “interview” many players during the season to perform at the desired levels.  When one of the “candidates” gets his chance to perform, he knows full well that his every move will be evaluated, analyzed and scrutinized. After all, it’s the Yankees, a culture where anything less than winning a World Series is considered unacceptable. What happens to that player if they go 0-5 with 3 strikeouts for 3 games in a row?  Do they get benched, yelled at by the manager, sent back to the minor leagues?  Perhaps all scenarios are possible.  If they have the ability to perform at a high level but aren’t, it is the coaching staff that will shoulder the workload to grow that player to be their best. 


Since the bubble burst in 2008, many organizations have rethought their approach to growing their people and are reinventing their cultures to adopt a coaching mindset.To create a coaching culture in an organization one has to first differentiate coaching from supervising.  Supervision emphasizes the use of authority and tends to be reactive to behavior in need of correction. Most managers employ a supervisory role some or most of the time. Coaching places more emphasis on persuasion, planning, encouragements, and repetition as a means of improving performance.  The coach looks at each performer and says:  “This individual need to improve in these areas”, then comes up with a program for improving those skills.  Appraisal of those areas is often based on the life-cycle of an employee.  To develop a coaching mindset and culture, one has to look at the life cycle of an employee and determine where they are in the life cycle. Yes, all employees have a ‘life-cycle’ within an organization.  Some are longer than others. 


This table represents the path that employees follow in their position ‘life-cycle’.  The better we understand where our employees are in this chart, the easier it will be to coach to their core competencies and determine what that coaching plan looks like.


A newer employee is often highly motivated, but low in competence.  Initial evaluation, feedback, performance assessment and reinforcement are the crucial beginning steps.  The function of the coach is working through performance strategies that will enhance the necessary activities and behaviors.  Building in the areas of self-esteem and habit development is also critical. Before the baseball season opens, there is training, conditioning and building the mental toughness necessary to be successful.  During this stage, company employees are typically willing to learn and are willing to invest in their own personal development.


As a person moves into stage 2, their competence and motivation come together.  The employee is becoming competent at what they need to do and are happy to be part of the team.  This is the time to maximize productiveness and effectiveness by ensuring the tools are being used to their best affect.  One of the coaches most important roles at this time can be helping to plan and set benchmarks and goals to ensure the employee stays motivated and successful.  The right coaching at this stage can be seen as the assistant who becomes almost like a big brother to the ballplayer.  This type of support is so crucial over a 162 game season!  For companies, constant feedback and support will maximize your top performers.


The third stage encompasses high competence, but a lower motivation. Coming into work has turned into a chore rather than an opportunity.  They have become less productive and now is the time that they need support.  Unfortunately, managers often perceive the stage two individual as needing little attention; then they begin to wonder why that stage two employee is becoming a stage three. Coaching now concentrates more on ensuring the internal motivation of the person is stoked and catches fire on an on-going basis.  Once a pitcher has won a Cy Young Award or has won a world championship, motivation has to be nurtured.  Managed employees are no different.  In the high rejection world of sales where you are only as good as your last big win, they can often forget their successes and be overwhelmed by negativity.  A coach can guide them past the roller coaster of highs and lows and re-concentrate their efforts on the winning mindset and behaviors that got them where they are. 


The last stage of the performance quadrant is low competence and low motivation.  This is the “minor leagues graveyard” in your organization if coaching has been absent throughout the life-cycle.  Individuals in this quadrant are counting the days until they can get out and have no interest in improving their performance or effectiveness.  They are doing what they need to do to stay, and that’s all.  If this employee had been coached through the stages, had a clear, positive and dynamic career path, would they ever reach stage four? 


As with any situation, the first step is always admitting that you have a problem.  The second step is quantifying the size of the problem so that you can best make a decision of how much time, effort and resources you are going to dedicate toward it.  And the third step is to ask yourself this question:  What happens if I do nothing?  Will I be filling my “minor leagues graveyard” with former top producers or will I have failed as a manager?


The Major League Baseball season is 162 games. How much time does your organization have to start coaching winners?


Stu Lewis is Vice President of Training and Client Development for Sandler Training of Chattanooga.  He is a former Sandler Training franchisee in Florida, and an award winning sales trainer and coach


©2004 Sandler Systems, Inc. Sandler Training ( is an international sales and management training/consulting firm. For a free paperback edition of Why Salespeople Fail And What To Do About It, call Sandler Training Chattanooga at: 423.702.7934 or e-mail

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