January 2009 - Channel Crossing: Management

Coaching on the DR Court, Part 2

By Leo Gorcey

In the December issue, I shared how creating a coaching culture in the direct response industry may be one of the keys to the future prosperity of our business. I also shared two tips to create a coaching culture in our DR organizations. First, practice the true meaning of respect, and second, coach to overall performance, not just to numbers.

This month, I continue the theme of building a coaching culture with more practical advice.

Performance improves by building people up, not by beating people up. The idea that people are internally motivated toward peak performance is not a new message. In the 1950s, Abraham Maslow announced to the world that human beings are innately motivated toward confidence, esteem, achievement and mastery (peak performance) when they are nurtured and supported.

Promoting a culture of fear and top-down coercion has the opposite effect of enhancing performance. A smiley face at the end of a nasty e-mail does nothing to mitigate the destructive force of a fear-based message.


If we insist on replacing face-to-face interaction (and now even phone interaction) with e-mail, then, at the very least, we need to look at how we phrase e-mails and the impact those e-mails have on co-workers, clients and customers.

Coercion (management by fear, force and control) produces employees that work the system and hide out in a culture of shame and blame. Even worse, employees disengage, costing the company plenty in lost creativity, lost time, lost potential and high turnover, to name a few. High performers simply move on to more meaningful opportunities.

In the 1960s, Douglas McGregor echoed Maslow’s message, saying that the assumption that people need the “stick and carrot” treatment to perform was costing corporations millions and that managers would get all the performance they desired and more by switching to what McGregor called Theory Y management.

Theory Y, McGregor argued, means treating employees with respect and assuming that employees’ personal goals and the organization’s goals can and often do coincide. And given a nurturing, supportive environment, most employees blossom, which, in turn, benefits the organization by way of lower costs and higher revenue.

But cynicism and smoldering fear that liberating employees to excel would result in chaos and anarchy plugged the ears of most corporate managers to McGregor’s message.

Questions are more powerful than statements when it comes to coaching. Questions create a learning environment. Asking the right questions and listening hard to the answers can transform a DR work environment from one of just “getting by” and occasional peak performance to consistent above-and-beyond creativity, problem-solving and extra-mile performance-and for little or no expense.

Try exploring questions like: “What’s broken in our organization?” “How are we all participating in allowing it to stay broken?” “Where are we not serving our clients, customers and each other in the highest and best ways possible?” “What’s not being said in our meetings?” “What can we not discuss in our organization?”

“What ‘sacred cow’ processes need to be inquired into to improve our performance?” “Do we feel safe raising difficult issues with colleagues and higher-ups? If not, why not?” Based on the answers to these questions, we must be willing to risk changing the way we think and behave together so we can cut down on unintended results and co-create the results we all want.

Coaching is always about change. DR organizations often confuse managing and supervising (or, worse yet, disciplinary action) with coaching. Although coaching may, at times, include correction, managers and supervisors traditionally function to monitor processes and maintain the status quo. Coaching, on the other hand, is about change.

If there’s no sustainable improvement, coaching is not happening. Coaching is about comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable. If anything, coaching is about killing the status quo.

Trust is the fastest way to get things done. A results-oriented coaching environment is one in which fear is replaced with trust. Peak performance is rarely sustained in a fear-based culture because the root causes of problems and poor performance remain hidden-buried under layers of bureaucracy and organizational defenses that make fundamental problems and chronic low performance “undiscussable.” Coaching, therefore, is not possible.

In a fear-based culture, peak performance qualities such as ownership, empowerment, creativity, accountability, personal development and creative problem-solving are nearly non-existent. Ironically, these qualities often pop up as one-word sentiments printed sparingly on inspirational posters dangling from office walls. The “ownership culture” lingo may be tossed around at meetings, but rarely, if ever, acted upon.

So, how do we go about replacing fear with trust? The response is simple, but not easy.

Communicate more openly and honestly, practice humility, cultivate curiosity and inquiry, make space for disconfirming points of view, recognize and affirm one another frequently, and make a habit of truly “seeing” one another and respecting each another. Be more open to teaching one another and learning from each another in new and different ways. Take the time to understand each person on levels that go beyond our likes, dislikes, judgments, opinions and differences.

As we cooperate with each other to cultivate such an environment, coaching can take us to the next level of thinking, where we can co-create the results we all want.

Leo Gorcey is a direct response performance specialist with expertise in training call center teams, coaching DR leadership teams and partnering with direct marketers to increase revenue. He can be reached at (541) 531-7419, or via e-mail at [email protected]



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