Archives for February 2011

Improve Sales Results with 3-D Coaching

I responded to another blog’s call for coaching ideas today, and it dawned on me that it’d be a good post for the Neuron Nexus.

I recognize that there are many variations of coaching and many professional and personal settings in which coaching can be applied, but because of my background, when I hear the word “coaching,” I usually think of work performance improvement, behavioral coaching, and specifically, sales coaching. So, I’ll share some of my work on work performance coaching and sales coaching for skill improvement. For this post, I’ll assume an employer/employee relationship throughout, and will assume you’re the coach.


  • This is the process of analyzing, diagnosing, facilitating, guiding, directing, setting goals, developing action plans, and recommending strategies and tactics to improve an employee’s work performance.
  • For this sort of coaching, the circumstances are usually imposed (not voluntary), the supervisor’s involvement is significant (50/50-ish or perhaps even somewhat greater for the supervisor), the focus is on work behaviors, and external judgment is high (by this I simply mean that the coach is actively judging the situation [not the person] and forming opinions of how to improve performance – it’s not based solely on the insights from the employee).


As a performance coach, you:

  • Act as a change agent or catalyst who helps employees shape behaviors and improve performance in a supportive yet demanding environment.
  • Identify performance gaps, win commitment to learning, construct applied practice, and drive continual application and reflection to lift competence, achieve greater results and improve work performance.


As with most organizational consulting or performance improvement work, it’s important to:

  • Identify “what is” or the current state (A)
  • Identify “what should be” or the future desired state (B)
  • Develop plans to guide “what will be,” closing the gap between (A) and (B).
  • Follow-through to ensure good execution, behavior change and improved results.


I recommend a “Pre-Observation Analysis” where you review reports and results, discuss the current situation with the employee, consider other situational factors and any circumstances surrounding the employee’s performance, and possibly even discuss the employee’s performance with others who have insight to it.  During this phase, you can begin to formulate some hypotheses to validate (or invalidate) in the next stage, “Observation Analysis & Diagnosis,” where you observe the employee working and form opinions about possible improvement plans.


When observing employees, you may experience the Hawthorne effect (people behave and perform differently, often better, when they know they are being observed).

In the end, it doesn’t really matter that much, because the goal is improved performance, so if you can validate that it’s possible, even if due to the Hawthorne effect, it’s a move in the right direction.

As Robert Mager suggests, if they can do it with “a gun to their head,” it’s not a training problem, and if they don’t perform later without the gun, you have a different issue. Robert Mager and Peter Pipe address this squarely in their book “Analyzing Performance Problems” with an awesome flowchart for choosing the best solution to improve performance. Ferdinand Fournies also nails this in his book, “Why Employees Don’t Do What They’re Supposed to Do, And What To Do About It.”  I’d highly recommend both of these books for your performance coaching library.


During the observation stage, you should be able to pinpoint several ways to improve performance. Rather than just blurt these gems out in the heat of the moment, I’d recommend a more thoughtful and focused sit-down discussion, when you can have an engaging conversation with the employee. If you’re coaching an outside sales rep, however, I’m not suggesting that you shouldn’t offer some coaching in the car or try to shape behavior between calls, but I’ve found that a formal meeting with focused attention will produce better results.

In the meeting:

  • Set the stage for the meeting as positive, helpful, encouraging, focused on behavior, and results-oriented. Explain your agenda and the value to the employee and confirm your goals are aligned.
  • Start the performance discussion by reviewing what you observed and gaining the employee’s perspective and consensus on “what was.” (Actually, when applicable, this is something that can be done in the car or shortly after observation, and then recapped here.)
  • Lead and facilitate a discussion to draw out what the employee thinks will help, if they have ideas. Be open to ideas that you haven’t thought about, if they seem logical and might work. If you know from experience that your ideas will produce a better result, you might try leading the employee to those ideas through questioning.  (With someone less experienced, competent or confident, you may need to be more directive.)  It’s always better to orchestrate their “A-ha!” moment, if you can.  But, don’t be afraid to also offer your ideas and then settle together on the best ideas to try. Unless you’re in a life-or-death business, there’s an integrity issue, or there is some other valid reason against it, consider letting the employee try (at least some of) their ideas, even if you don’t think they will work. Occasionally, you’ll be pleasantly surprised. And if it doesn’t work, the employee will likely be more open to your follow-up suggestion. I know — it’s hard — but it’s worth it.
  • Lastly, end with an action plan to incorporate the new skills as soonas possible. If possible, they should use the new skills immediately, but no later than the next business day.

To keep this from becoming a book, I’ll end this post with my 3-D Coaching process, which is a great way to teach and coach skills and behaviors, once you’ve reached consensus on the ideas (or those which are skills-related).



1. You articulate the agreed-upon expectations for behavior and provide clear instructions for the employee on what, why and how to do it.

2. The employee paraphrases the expectations and instructions back to you. *

3. As needed, provide feedback on the employee’s version until they summarize to your satisfaction.

* Do not leave this stage until the employee’s version is satisfactory.


4. You demonstrate that behavior (probably role play but perhaps live observation) to the employee.

5. The employee demonstrates the behavior (role play first) back to you. *

6. As needed, provide feedback on the employee’s version until they demonstrate to your satisfaction.

* Do not leave this stage until the employee’s demonstration is satisfactory.


7. You confirm the employee’s agreement to use the new skills, per the action plan.

8. The employee applies the new behavior in their work environment.  

9. You observe (the first few times, and then as a follow-up later) and provide further feedback and coaching, as needed.

* These understanding checks are critical for this method to produce the best results.

Later, if the employee does not do what they’ve summarized and demonstrated, you might need to conduct one refresher session, but it’s not likely to be a training issue at that point. Something else is in the way of performance. This is where Mager/Pipe’s flowchart or Fournies’ book and his 16 Reasons for non-performance will really come in handy.

I hope you’ve found this helpful. It’s been very effective in organizations where I’ve implemented it, but there are many ways to get from point A to point B… and I’d enjoy hearing some of yours, or your feedback about these ideas. 

By the way, I know a lot of people who do great work in this field, and can help both individuals and organizations improve performance through coaching. I may publish a list at some point. Would anyone find that helpful? If so, drop in a comment and let me know.

As always, thanks for reading!  Be good out there.



Mike Kunkle

Contact me:

mike_kunkle @ mindspring dotcom

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I’m a Worry-Wart | Heretic | Luddite

It’s official – I’m a worry-wart, a heretic, and a Luddite.

There, I said it.

I feel like a heretic lately, even though I swear I’m not and don’t generally like Luddites. And I rarely worry too much… well, until lately. What’s got me going?

Are you sitting down?

What’s My Problem?

Social learning, informal learning, microlearning, and other bright-shiny-object learning thingies.

See? I told you. I’m a worry-wart, a heretic, and a Luddite. I’m so disappointed in myself. And I’m probably one post-publish away from a good lashing by the training community, including some bright, talented and published people whom I respect. But I don’t own a conflict-avoidance filter, so I’m going there anyway. I need to get this out and I do seriously invite responses by those who believe differently. Hey, it’s likely I have something to learn here.

Objects in the Rear View Mirror | Perspective

To toot my own horn for a moment, I’ve orchestrated some major organizational performance lifts in my career and delivered multi-million dollar returns on training investment. I know that isn’t common in the “training” or “learning” industry, so maybe that’s why I’m seeing things differently. (I’m not 100% sure about that, but I am pretty certain someone will tell me where to put that statement. 😉  I seriously don’t mean that to be egotistical or demeaning, I have just had a somewhat different, hardcore performance focus than many (but certainly not all) of the training industry folks I’ve met.

Social Learning | Informal Learning

Back to the topic. Look, I support the concept of “social learning” as it’s being talked about today. But for the record, social learning isn’t new, just the tools we’re using today that are new. Informal learning has been happening since we emerged from the primordial ooze. I guarantee it was around before Mager or Gilbert.  But okay, I agree with the idea of creating platforms to harness, direct, or at the very least “encourage” it. Smart move. Encourage the sharing of information, learning, and especially finding the answers you need when you need them. Not much different than the concept of job aids, EPSS or other performance support aids. Just an evolution aided by more technology and the changes in interaction brought about by the social media movement. (Is that the big deal here? Maybe I am so ingrained in social media myself that I’m not seeing this as something magical?)  I’m still at a loss about how it’s going to improve organizational performance, though. What am I missing?

Microlending. Er… Learning.

Microlearning isn’t new either, but given the glut of information available today, the pace of change, and the myriad of tools for dissemination, finding ways to support learning in snippets (again, what you need when you need it) is smart. Orchestrating that may be quite an execution challenge – do you know anyone who’s implemented a great EPSS system lately? But that’s another post.

How’s That Been Working For Ya?

The other thing I worry about is that informal learning has been working so poorly for so many years, that now we’re going to try to make it a formalized, ineffective channel. LOL, okay, I say that partly tongue-in-cheek, but I am also partly serious. Come on, you know what I mean. In most organizations, there isn’t formalized training with learning objectives and experiential learning activities designed for every level employee in every function of every department. So how do people learn how to do their jobs? The person next to them. Good ol’ on the job training. Then, they “pick up” stuff over time, from various people or sources… informal learning.  Does this “work?”  Sure. It’s been “working” for years.  Knowledge varies widely and performance is all over the board.  Usually, I go into organizations and “fix” that problem for key positions, so effective learning occurs and performance improves, but that’s probably why I’m jaded. Because I don’t even do that with just formal training, but formal training embedded in aligned performance systems.

Is It OJT?  (If the glove doesn’t fit, you must acquit.)

Back to the topic. So, if we’re talking about providing some structure for OJT to ensure consistency and best practices, with preparation, good explanations (chunk, sequence, and layer, oh my!), communication checks, demonstrations, trial runs with feedback, and some performance observation with coaching to get performance going well… by golly, I’m onboard. But that’s structured OJT and (in some cases/places) that’s been around for years, so I don’t think that’s what we’re talking about here, either. Otherwise, we’d be talking about training everyone on teaching skills, communication skills, and coaching skills, and then have them teach each other and newcomers, especially rewarding managers and top performers to share their knowledge. (Hooo boy. Don’t even get me started on teaching OD and performance consulting to every single organizational manager, because that’s their real job. No, let’s not go there. 😉

Bright Shiny Object, Right Corner Pocket

So, I guess what I’m really worried about here is that at the focus on all these bright shiny objects and buzzwords takes the focus off the big performance picture. Organizational learning, formal or informal, micro or macro, and whether “learning” or “training” or “education,” is not an end in itself. Well, at least not to me, especially not if I’m a CEO and paying for it.  It is a means to the end of organizational performance, gained through the good, collective performance of individual employees.  And although it’s probably never been different during times of evolution (remember when programmed instruction, video, CBT, WBT and blended learning were each the Next Big Thing?), I worry that critical training, OD and real performance work is getting lost in the glare.  Perhaps it’s my own limitation, but I can’t yet imagine a world where well-designed and implemented training isn’t going to be required to ensure employees know what, why, how, where and when to do things (apply skills in the most effective way to produce the desired goal). Or, that various organizational systems won’t need to be in alignment.  Since we rarely seem to get to that phase of performance development, and since it is proven to be effective, why isn’t *that* the brightest, shiniest new object in the business and training/learning/performance worlds? And how is social learning, microlearning or informal learning going to get us there?

Please Don’t Hurt Me

Take your best shot. Please. I probably need to be straightened out and I’ll take it well. I certainly need to stop worrying. Maybe the answer is that these things co-exist and will support each other, but I only hear about some of them. The bright shiny ones. Not the boring ones that are brutally hard work (and not solely training/learning work).

Lastly, death threats are not necessary. Fight with your brain. Most of this is somewhat tongue-in-cheek, anyway. (The key word being “most.” 😉

With thanks in advance for your thoughts,


mike_kunkle at mindspring dotcom


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