Coaching a Winning Team

May 1, 2007
Some simple but effective coaching strategies helped California rep Nelson & Associates improve communication with its employees.

Pat Riley, Tony LaRussa and Tony Dungy coached their teams to world championships by motivating their players to work toward common goals.

Some basic coaching strategies these coaches use can work in the electrical world, too. One rep firm shared its playbook for coaching its employees with other members of the National Electrical Manufacturers Representatives Association (NEMRA), Tarrytown, N.Y., at its recent annual conference.

Kurt Nelson, president, Nelson & Associates, Santa Fe Springs, Calif., and Tara Lockie, the company's director of corporate development, taught two sessions on employee coaching at NEMRA's 37th Annual Conference in New Orleans earlier this year. The first was a seminar titled “Coaching — The Missing Link Between Planning and Achieving.” The second session was one of four “best practices” case studies that were part of the NEMRA Manufacturers Group (NMG) forum.

Nelson saw the importance of coaching early in his career while making calls with principals. “I learned so much between calls,” he says. “I asked questions of the principal and we always talked products. As a result, I and the other members of my generation made the most of our time.

“Now we're equipped with cell phones and Blackberries. There's no time for composing ourselves for the next call or talking strategy. Our practice of coaching is an effort to give back the time we need to improve our performance.”

Nelson and Lockie turned to consultant Tom O'Connor, president, Farmington Consulting Group, Farmington, Conn., for help in developing a customized coaching strategy. Nelson quickly learned that open communication between managers and employers is just as important for an independent rep as it is for a coach or manager of a professional sports team and his players. O'Connor's coaching process taught Nelson that he relied too heavily on e-mails and should instead communicate face-to-face with employees whenever possible. “I thought e-mails were efficient and saved time,” he said. “But I learned how de-motivating they could be, especially if the person I was communicating with was only four feet from my office.”

Lockie coached Nelson on his interpersonal skills, and helped him learn how to do a better job of giving positive reinforcement to employees. “It was very basic, with an actual ‘cheat sheet’ providing me with ways to say, ‘Well done.’ It was pretty mechanical but it got me started.”

Lockie said their coaching strategy includes formal and informal coaching. Employees spend 30 minutes preparing for formal coaching sessions, which are scheduled private appointments. Topics discussed may include careers, sales performance, training and task completion dates. “The informal sessions are more in-the-moment, conducted in-person by phone or e-mail,” said Lockie.

The coaching process helped improve company morale, teamwork and communication. While it was in place, the company enjoyed its largest sales growth, and major improvements in telemarketing performance and the effectiveness of its sales plan.

Lockie said managers need to view coaching as a journey, and that they shouldn't expect immediate results. “There are going to be ups and downs during the course of the journey,” she said. “You'll miss some appointments, or you won't be performing as well as you want to at various times during the journey. What's important is to regroup and don't give up on the process. Don't say it doesn't work. Realize that you're never going to get to the point where you are 100 percent satisfied.”