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May 10, 2011 / PACE Australia Pty Ltd

To Bring or Not To Bring Your Agenda To A Coaching Conversation

Article by Keith Rosen – Executive Sales Coach, Author and Global Authority on Sales and Leadership

To Bring or Not To Bring Your Agenda To A Coaching Conversation. THAT Is The Real Question Managers Struggle With


It doesn’t matter where I deliver my management coach training program. Whether it’s in Europe, the U.S., or Asia, there is still some confusion (and even resistance) about when it’s appropriate for the manager to bring their agenda to a coaching conversation and when to park it at the door. I still attest that the most challenging thing for a manager to do (or not to do) when delivering authentic, effective coaching is to detach from the outcome during that conversation and unhook themselves from their own agenda when speaking with someone. While doing this may sound practically impossible to some managers, it is not.

Now, I’m certainly not suggesting this is easy. Of course this is challenging to do! After all, you, as the manager have goals and numbers to reach. Your success is in effect, tied directly to the success of your team and how well they do. I get that.

Mediocre Performance Cannot Be Accepted


Here’s where the ‘however’ comes into the equation. Lets distinguish between two types of conversations you have with your direct reports. One is where you have an agenda. That is, there’s something you need them to do, or change or try. Maybe there’s been a change that’s been sanctioned from the top. Maybe a new policy or new compensation structure is being rolled out. Maybe there’s a need to conduct a specific customer, pipeline or forecast review. Or maybe you’re dealing with an underperformer and, given their responsibilities and the expectations in their position; mediocre performance is not an acceptable option.

It’s Not A Coaching Session


Clearly you have an agenda and a defined goal or objective in this type of conversation. And that is okay! But do yourself a favor. Don’t label this type of conversation as a coaching session. Instead, here’s where you can enroll that individual or your team in your agenda and create deeper buy in around what you need them to do in a way they are now engaged in the conversation and more willing to do it. Not because their boss told them they have to do it but because they see what is now in it for them and how they can benefit. That is, rather than going from “What” they need to do to “How” they need to do it, weave in the “Why.” Now, the conversation sounds like, “Here’s what we need to do, here’s why it’s important to you/what’s in it for you/our team/the company, now lets discuss how we can achieve this together.”

Conversely, if you have scheduled a coaching session with your direct reports under the premise that it is ‘coaching,’ they are to drive the agenda and you are there to support them in achieving what matters most to them. If this is the expectation you have set and then, during that very conversation you say something like, “I know you mentioned that you wanted to use this coaching session to talk about what the next step in your career looks like and how you can get there. However, before we do that, I have a few concerns about your performance that I think we should address first.”

BAM! You just blindsided them. The old ‘bait and switch!’ I can guarantee you this. If you engage in this tactic, it is a surefire strategy to erode the very fabric of trust, as well as the commitment to their job and to the company that each manager is desperately looking to create within their team.

It’s Not Meant to Be a Performance Review


During a pure coaching session, it is the direct report who drives the agenda. That’s the value of coaching. They get to focus on what they want and what’s important to them, not what you want them to do. Coaching is not meant to be a performance review. That’s a separate conversation, so treat it and schedule it as such. A pure coaching session is meant to be all about them, not about you. I know this may come as a shock to some managers, especially in certain cultures across the world (both in geographic location as well as in the culture of the organization,) that your direct report can actually have the space as well as the ability to tell you what they want or need rather than you telling them what they want, need or have to do.

Coaching Is A Powerful Way To Communicate


To add to this confusion, even though at times you have a specific agenda that you need to address; whether it’s a deal review, forecast review or even when speaking with an underperformer, it doesn’t mean you won’t be coaching them. Realize that, at the core, coaching is simply a more powerful way to communicate. This richer form of engagement begins by asking better, well rounded questions that focus not solely on the result but on the process as well. And this can happen during every conversation you have.

Here’s an example to drive this point home. During a training event in London, a director in the U.K. made a powerful observation. He said, “Keith, there are times I have to get other people who don’t report to me directly to work with me or collaborate on a shared goal. These people can be other managers, stakeholders, partners, customers, even my boss. But it’s not like I will actually tell them I’m coaching them. Instead, I’m just going to ask them better, more strategic questions to drive deeper engagement and buy in. I’m going to get off of my agenda for a moment and take the time to better understand their point of view, respect their point of view and then together, collaborate on a new possibility we can both create together that would support our shared goals.” Bingo! That was his ‘aha’ moment and an accurate distinction as well.

To recap; although every conversation presents you with an opportunity to ask better open ended questions, draw a very clear line between a coaching session, a strategy session, a deal review, your agenda and a performance review conversation. If you continue to muddy the waters by poorly defining the boundaries around these distinct types of conversations, you are not only eroding trust but you’re leaving it up to people, especially your direct reports, to decipher what your real intentions are. And if you do not set clear expectations and honor them in every conversation, whether you like it or not, as human beings, our default file is fear.

Consequently, through the eyes of your people, they are thinking,

“What is my manager’s hidden agenda here?

 Why are they asking me these questions?”


Then managers wonder why their people won’t open up to them!

The best managers are very clear about their intentions and expectations in every conversation and realize the collateral damage that can be caused when you continue to change the rules throughout the game. If you want to eliminate the majority of challenges and communication breakdowns that you are faced with throughout each day, while continuing to build the trust you need in every relationship, be mindful of how effectively you are managing the expectations in every conversation you have. 
Article by Keith Rosen – Executive Sales Coach, Author and Global Authority on Sales and Leadership

One Comment

Leave a Comment
  1. Paul Archer,PACE Australia / May 12 2011 5:49 pm

    This is a very good article and we understand the point the author is putting across. Putting your own agenda into a coaching conversation just kills the communication. How many times do we run coaching role plays in our sales leadership workshops, when we observe the manager 3 minutes into the converstaion already starting to “give advice”. What we hear is “what I think you should do is…….”. !!

    However, we disagree on one point. Using our RIGOW coaching conversation structure, we believe it is OK for the Manager to set the “objective” of the coaching session. “We are here today to look at how you can take things with the XYZ account to the next level”. Using RIGOW, a sales manager can very effectively drive the objective , perhaps focussed on a result to be delivered, by using the RIGOW coaching structure. It works fine as long as within the structure, the manager uses great questions and listening to let the sales person come up with the answers. And yes, the “Why” is always critical to get strong buy-in.

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