What a Coaching Conversation Should Look Like

This is a guest post by Gregg Thompson. Gregg is the author of THE MASTER COACH:  Leading with Character, Building Connections, and Engaging in Extraordinary Conversations and President of Bluepoint Leadership Development.

(Note: in this article, Talent refers to the person being coached.)

Be A Great Coach

At the risk of sounding too idealistic, there are few things in life that are more rewarding or more meaningful than being instrumental in helping others have better lives. I often refer to coaching as a calling or mission because I believe there is something inside each of us that comes alive when we have an opportunity to be of real service to others. One of the key foundation stones upon which successful coaching is built is conversation – the dialogue you have with the people you are coaching.

But this conversation involves much more than just talking with others about their goals and dreams. As a coach, your job is to create a space in which other people will regularly have conversations that not only uncover new ideas and generate innovative solutions, but that result in entirely new attitudes and behaviors, and that forge commitments to make significant, sustained personal changes.

However, while rich dialogue can uncover new ideas and generate innovative solutions, this kind of interaction alone is not coaching. Where dialogue pursues new ideas, coaching pursues entirely new attitudes and behaviors. Dialogue is the talk; coaching is the walk. How many conversations do you have during an average day? How many of them really matter? The great coach understands why some conversations matter and some conversations do not. Most on-the-job conversations involve the exchange of information, instructions, advice, and opinions and have relatively predictable outcomes. While these conversations are quite suitable for normal business transactions, they are quite ineffectual in the coaching process.

 

“A coach is someone who can give correction without causing resentment.” -John Wooden

 

Elements of a Great Coaching Conversation

How to Manage A Players

How to Manage A Players

Whether you’re leading a football team or an entrepreneurial venture, you want to hire the best and the brightest.

You want A Players.

 


“On average, an A Player produces at least two times the work of the B Player.” -Rick Crossland

 

Hiring A Players is only the beginning. Keeping them engaged and performing at the highest level is a leadership challenge.

In this short video interview, I speak with Rick Crossland about A Players and how to manage and lead A Players.

I previously interviewed Rick on How to Become an A Player. In today’s interview, I asked him about leading and managing A Players.

Rick is an author, speaker, and consultant. His nearly three decades of experience developing, recruiting, and leading high performers is evident in every chapter of his new book, The A Player: The Definitive Playbook and Guide for Employees and Leaders Who Want to Play and Perform at the Highest Level.

We discuss:

 

3 Definitions of an A Player:

  1. Top 10% of industry
  2. Employee you would enthusiastically rehire
  3. An employee that makes you say “wow!”

 

How to Manage an A Player

“Leaders must be a step ahead.”

 


“Leaders must be a step ahead.” -Rick Crossland

 

How to On-Board the A Player

How Innovation Really Works

U.S. Companies are failing at innovation!

That bold statement was at the top of a letter I received, and it got my attention. I started to read about the reasons many organizations are struggling to innovate. It led me to the research by Anne Marie Knott, PhD. She’s a Professor of Strategy at the Olin Business School of Washington University. She was previously an Assistant Professor at the Wharton School. Her research is focused on innovation ranging from entrepreneurship to large-scale R&D. Her new book is How Innovation Really Works: Using the Trillion-Dollar R&D Fix to Drive Growth .

I followed up with her to talk about innovation, R&D, and what can be done about the current problem.

 

Companies Have Become Worse at Innovation

You say that companies have become worse at innovation despite the fact that it’s more important than ever. Why is this?

While companies have become worse at innovation, I don’t actually argue that innovation is more important than ever. It has always been the chief source of companies’ as well as the economy’s growth. I think the reason if feels innovation is more important is that companies’ R&D is only 1/3 as productive as it was in the past. Therefore, they need to do three times as much to generate the growth they used to enjoy–actually more than three times because each additional R&D dollar is less productive.

 

Research: Companies’ R&D is only 1/3 as productive as it was in the past.

 

What’s RQ?  

The catchy answer is that RQTM (short for research quotient) is the company equivalent of individual IQ—it’s how smart companies are.  The precise answer is that RQ is the percentage increase in revenues a company gets from a 1% increase in R&D investment.  So companies that have high RQs derive more revenue, profits and market value per dollar of R&D than low RQ companies.

 

How was it developed?

I didn’t set out to develop RQ (though I knew I needed such a measure from my time in industry).  I actually stumbled upon it while trying to solve an academic puzzle, in much the same way that Percy Spencer stumbled on microwave cooking while working on combat radar systems for Raytheon.

Once I discovered RQ, however, I went through a similar process companies go through with their R&D.  I worked out the theory to characterize how it related to growth; I tested alternative versions; then I validated that the current version matches theoretical predictions using 47 years of data across the full spectrum of US companies conducting R&D.

 

What are its implications?

RQ has a number of implications.  First, by tracking their RQ over time, companies can determine whether their R&D capability is improving or deteriorating.  If companies could have done this 30 years ago, it’s likely R&D capability wouldn’t have deteriorated so much.  Second, because RQ is derived from economic theory, companies can use RQ to determine how much an additional dollar of R&D should increase revenues, profits and market value—this helps them set their R&D budgets.  Third, RQ provides investors a way to value R&D, so now even Warren Buffet can invest in technology firms.  More importantly, when investors know how to value R&D, they won’t pressure companies to cut R&D in pursuit of current profits

 

Why Most Companies Fail at R&D

Why do most companies fail at R&D?
“Failing” probably applies more to projects than to entire R&D systems (which is where RQ applies), but if you’re asking why companies have gotten worse at R&D, I have a few thoughts.  I’m going outside the range of my evidence with this answer, but I believe the demise began with the “financial management” trend in the 1980s.  This was the idea that any company could be managed by anyone simply by controlling “the numbers” (think T. Boone Pickens and Carl Icahn). “The numbers” meant cost reduction in the case of operations and rank ordering investments by ROI (return on investment) in the case of new investment.  R&D can’t be managed that way.  A good R&D system has many longshots.  On average Industrial Research Institute (IRI) member companies report that it takes 125 funded projects to achieve a single commercial success.  The problem is that no “number” can identify the single success up front.  Companies have to carry portfolios of projects with the hope that that the “1 in 125” is in there.  If you throw out all the projects whose ROI can’t be quantified with confidence, you throw out all the lasers, geosynchronous satellites, and other exciting things we developed at Hughes.

 

“The most widely held misconception is that R&D should be more relevant.” -Anne Marie Knott

 

Your book walks through several misconceptions about innovation. Let’s talk about just one.

The most widely held misconception (80% of consultants and 90% of investment analysts/managers) is that R&D should be more relevant. This seems completely plausible.  After all, who wants to be “irrelevant.” The problem with that logic is best captured by the Steve Jobs quote, “A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”  He’s entirely correct, as the iPod, iPad and most especially iPhone attest.  Work done by researchers at Duke supports his intuition.  Ashish Arora, Wes Cohen and John Walsh found that while customers are the most prevalent source of external ideas, those ideas have the lowest ability to increase sales.

 

“People don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” -Steve Jobs

 

Companies need more radical innovation. Would you share some context about this misconception?

Fuel a Lifelong Love Affair with Your Customers

The Transformational Consumer

It’s time to rethink what you sell. And your customers. Don’t forget to rethink your marketing, your competition. And, don’t forget your teams.

That’s the message from Tara-Nicholle Nelson, author of The Transformational Consumer: Fuel a Lifelong Love Affair with Customers by Helping Them Get Healthier, Wealthier and Wiser. She is the founder of Transformational Consumer Insights and the former VP of Marketing for MyFitnessPal, where she led the team that grew the platform to over 100 million customers.

 


“The best..measure of innovation is change in human behavior.” -Stuart Butterfield

 

The Growing Demographic

What are Transformational Consumers? How is this changing company strategy?

Transformational Consumers are a massive and growing group of people who see all of life as a series of projects to change their own behavior for the healthier, wealthier and wiser. They know that this behavior change will be hard, but they believe with all their hearts that it’s possible, and they believe that they can change anything about their lives if they can master their own habits and behavior.

So they are constantly on the lookout for products, services and content they think might help. They are early adopters, and they tend to have great influence on the buying behavior of the people around them.

I like to joke that if you have ever been vegan and paleo at different times in your life, you’re probably a Transformational Consumer. Most entrepreneurs are Transformational Consumers. The head of product for Airbnb once told me that they see both their hosts and their guests as Transformational Consumers.

One important takeaway here is that this is not a niche: over 50% of US adult customers we surveyed said that they use digital or real world products several times a week, or more often, in an effort to reach their healthy, wealthy, wise goals.

The power of this framework is that it offers businesses a lens through which to more powerfully understand the real-world journeys their customers are taking as they aspire to live better lives. And that shows you how to increase customer engagement, brand love, loyalty and repeat business, as well as reach new audiences. Once you understand your real-life customers’ real-world journeys, that surfaces limitless opportunities to innovate new products, features, services and even marketing messages and content that remove resistance points and trigger progress along customers’ paths.

 

Rethink Your Customer

How do companies go about rethinking their customer?

Your customers are not just the people who currently buy your product or your current social media followers. I urge companies to shift to the point of view that their customers are all the people out there who are struggling with the high-level, human problems that the company exists to solve.

Go out into the real world, do customer research, watch how people operate in real life. You can even start this process by just doing some online listening on the blogs and social media sites (not your owned channels) that your audiences frequent online (reddit, etc.).

Your goal is to understand and, ideally, visually map out your customers’ real-world journeys of going from having the problem you exist to solve to no longer having that problem. You need to know what stages they go through along their journey, what gets them stuck and unstuck, where they go to do research when they need to know or find something and what words and phrases they naturally use as they try to reach their goals.

 

 

Remove Resistance

Tell us more about resistance. How do you remove it?

Think about it: Anytime you try to level-up your life, whether it’s trying to reach a weight loss goal, to work out more, or to start a side business or meditate every day, there’s a force that pops up in all of us that Steven Pressfield and Freud both call Resistance. It’s the same force that creates procrastination, causes us to get distracted or to sabotage ourselves. It’s generally the force that makes it really, really hard to make behavior changes stick.

In your customers’ journeys toward their healthy, wealthy and wise goals, Resistance includes any sort of quit point, obstacle, friction or common point of failure. These are the things that get people stuck. There are tons of spiritual, emotional, psychological and neurological root causes of Resistance, but suffice it to say that people often know what changes they need to make; they just find it very difficult to actually make them.
This creates a major opportunity for companies to win the love of the people they serve by focusing on removing Resistance.

You can remove Resistance from your customers’ journeys by creating features and products that take friction out of their path, by reducing the difficulty or cost or number of brain cycles they have to go through to create the habits or changes they want, or by inserting progress triggers into their real-world journey.

For example, at MyFitnessPal, we learned during customer research that one of the biggest obstacles (points of Resistance) that people experience along their journey from living an unhealthy life to living a healthy one is the cost of eating healthy food and the difficulty and time involved in cooking healthfully. So every team in the company explored how they might help remove those Resistance points. When it came to content, for example, we created all sorts of recipes and meal plans for feeding a family healthy, home-cooked food on the same budget we learned people were spending on a fast food family dinner ($20). We also created all sorts of video, recipe and meal-planning content to reduce the time and increase the ease and deliciousness of our customers’ home cooked meals.

 


“If we can keep our competitors focused on us while we stay focused on the customer, ultimately we’ll turn out all right.” -Jeff Bezos

 

Rethink the Competition

The First Step in Solving Your Biggest Problems

 

This is a guest post by Mark Miller. Mark is the best-selling author of six books, an in-demand speaker, and the Vice President of High-Performance Leadership at Chick-Fil-A. His latest book, Leaders Made Here: Building a Leadership Culture, outlines a clear and replicable approach to creating the leadership bench every organization needs.

 

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” -Lao Tzu

 

Take the First Step

I’m guessing much of your life and leadership is devoted to problem-solving.

If you aren’t trying to fix the problems you currently face, you are probably attempting to anticipate, and proactively respond to, problems on the horizon. Maybe the problem you are trying to address is how to continue to fuel your current success – a good problem to have, but a problem nonetheless. Problem-solving is a part of a leader’s ever-present reality.

I’ve been searching for years for ways to make my investment in this critical activity more fruitful. Today I’ll share some practices that have helped make our team’s problem-solving efforts more effective.

Let’s begin our deep dive on the topic with a mistake I’ve personally witnessed thousands of times. Before I share it, brace yourself for a blinding flash of the obvious! Are you ready?

 

“Problem solving is a part of a leader’s ever-present reality.” -Mark Miller

 

Don’t solve for symptoms.