7 Tips for Employee-Driven Field Coaching
Feature Story – by Ted Power
65 percent of employees report they want more feedback than they currently get.
Your field coaching protocol probably follows the gold standard of most life sciences sales organizations. A manager rides with each representative once every five to six weeks and then completes a field coaching report (FCR), which includes observations, feedback and suggestions for employee development. Sound familiar?
That all seems reasonable. After all, managers are responsible for setting goals and improving performance, so it makes sense they would direct the field coaching process.
But what if they weren’t solely responsible? What if field coaching was a two-way street?
About 90 percent of the time, your sales representatives are out there on their own. They have responsibility for their results, so why shouldn’t they share responsibility for their own development toward meeting those outcomes?
Here are some of the benefits of employee autonomy, related to life sciences sales. Representatives may:
- Be healthier, happier, and more engaged.
- Be more likely to take a job and less likely to leave it.
- Feel more ownership and responsibility for results.
- Feel empowered to make decisions and be more creative on the road.
- Feel more incentive and feel greater intrinsic motivation to develop their skills.
- Be more productive, with more workplace well-being, job satisfaction, commitment, loyalty, lower burnout and higher work engagement.
The Manager-Led Coaching and Feedback Conundrum
When we combine the research on employee autonomy with what I like to call the “feedback” conundrum, a clearer path on how to transform your field coaching process begins to emerge.
Let’s start with a few statistics, albeit seemingly contradictory ones, which might confuse more than help at first.
According to researchers, 65 percent of employees report they want more feedback. We are told that people prefer to get constructive feedback, though they hate to give it. Yet studies also show that people hate critical feedback and that it rarely works. We are told that the ratio of feedback needs to be weighted to be 5-6x more positive than negative to make an impact. And only direct, candid, critical feedback makes a difference in performance. Also people prefer to get positive, strength-affirming feedback.
Some people feel so threatened by critical feedback that they will actually start avoiding the person who delivered the feedback. (If you’ve ever had a negative or reluctant reaction to scheduling a field coaching ride-along, you may have witnessed this.)
Do people hate and avoid feedback, or do they seek it out, learn from it and use it to improve? According to researchers, the answer is yes.
Researchers at NYU recently published a study that tracked people’s heart rates during mock negotiations. Afterward, each participant took turns giving and receiving feedback. In the findings, both givers and receivers of feedback felt anxious, but researchers noted that it was those receiving unsolicited feedback who experienced the most erratic heartbeats.
So, what is it? Do people hate and avoid feedback, or do they seek it out, learn from it and try to improve?
According to researchers, the answer is yes. They do both. It depends less on what the feedback is, and more on how we get it. Researchers from the Neuroleadership Institute cite employee-initiated feedback as better for outcomes because it reduces social threat.
- Both sides feel less threatened and stressed—when the employee has shared accountability for their own coaching, the FCR, and information in it, a more collaborative, two-way exchange of information takes place.
- Employees initiate feedback more quickly and regularly, instead of waiting for the formal ride-along to happen.
- Employees can expand requests for feedback beyond the visit, asking additional people for feedback, and reducing the potential for bias.
- Employees can get the specific feedback they need, on topics and skills where they most want to improve.
- Managers can respond by introducing some of the things they observed, in the context of the employee’s comments, and with greater insight into the employee’s perspective or blind spots.
Here are seven tips on how to facilitate a more autonomous, employee-driven field coaching process:
- Give a representative greater ownership of the FCR: Make the representative responsible for initiating the FCR prior to the ridealong in your coaching solution — calling on them to set objectives for the day and identify areas in which they want/need more coaching and feedback. Other sections of the FCR can be owned by the rep as well, including the performance and acknowledgement (with comments) sections.
- Hold representatives accountable: Create systems of shared responsibility. Setting goals, committing to results and giving and receiving feedback should be an expected component of everyone’s job, appearing in job descriptions and tracked through your coaching platform.
- Establish both trust and transparency: Coaches and managers are used to controlling the FCR process. They will need to adjust to an employee-driven process, so it is important that they be willing to trust sales representatives. The best way to “trust but verify” is to establish transparency and intermediate milestones that keep employees on track and coaches up to date on their progress toward agreed-upon goals.
- Make a feedback-rich culture an organizational priority: The process of giving, receiving or requesting feedback will be heavily influenced by the culture you create in your organization. From the top, leaders should communicate their support for a culture of open, employee-driven feedback conversations.
- Provide tools and processes to support coaching: Offer a powerful mobile coaching solution that not only includes coaching and feedback tools but also includes real-time, “self-service” access to developmental and training resources to meet individual needs.
- Give employees actual power: True autonomy means authentically enabling people to ask for the feedback they need, from the people they want to hear from, with the expectation of getting timely, honest responses. Therefore, coaching should not just be limited to standard FCRs but allow for a continuous stream of feedback from multiple sources outside of manager work-with sessions. Another good option is to have other people conduct field visits with representatives on occasion, such as field trainers and marketing team members, and to capture feedback in your coaching solution.
- Establish clear norms and expectations: Letting employees drive the FCR process doesn’t imply there is a free-for-all, or an abdication of the need for process. In fact, process is even more important. Be sure you’ve communicated the expectations for new FCRs and hold all employees accountable for their part in that process
Are you ready to empower your representatives to take more responsibility for their coaching and development?
Ted Power is chief customer officer for iCoachFirst. Email Ted at firstname.lastname@example.org.