Your showroom staff will only be as strong as the weakest employee, so help them become stronger.

As I’m writing this it’s the very beginning of a new year. I love this time of year. It brings us a clean slate - a brand-new calendar - new challenges and opportunities - and of course, the inevitable resolutions. It’s also a time to reflect. And as I reflect on my past and current involvement in this great industry, I continue to be so grateful for the many (oh, so many!) blessings that have been bestowed upon me: unbelievably terrific family, great health, lots of varied interests. And high on the list, I’m still able to write a couple of columns every month, teach 25 or so workshops every year and do consulting for wholesalers, manufacturers and independent dealers. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

Several of my consulting clients call me “Coach.” I love the title. One of the main things I try to do when working with business owners or showroom managers is to teach them how to be better coaches, mentors, trainers, bosses for their employees. There’s not room to explore all the pieces of that complex puzzle, but we do have room to hit a few high spots.

As I’ve stated more than once in this column, PEOPLE are every company’s most important asset. You’ve also seen this before: hire the best, train the best, motivate the best, communicate the best, and compensate the best, and you enhance tremendously the odds that you can be the BEST.

I also preach, plead and encourage all of you to develop written job descriptions for all employees and to do at least once-a-year (twice is better) job performance evaluations. Every employee deserves to know what the job entails and how they’re doing.

If you are a “boss” (coach), whether with 500 employees under you or just one, you have an obligation to be the very best coach you can be. Here are 10 guidelines (I’m calling them the “10 Commandments Of Coaching”) that you can follow to help you be a great coach.

The 10 Commandments Of Coaching

1. Goal setting.If you’ve read this column for any length of time, you already know how strongly I feel about this. It’s the beginning of a new year and a perfect time to establish sales and gross profit goals for every salesperson and manager.

  • Sit with each person and arrive at a mutually agreed-upon goal. Use historic data and some futuristic crystal ball gazing to arrive at the numbers.


  • The goals have to be realistic and achievable.


  • The goals have to be good for the company and the salesperson.


  • If you guess wrong early in the year, adjust them midway.

    2. Ongoing feedback. Employees want, need and deserve to know how they’re performing. So give salespeople a monthly report card. Show this year’s actual results vs. the established goals vs. last year’s numbers.


  • Learn to give recognition and rewards in a timely manner. Get the book “1001 Ways To Reward Employees” by Bob Nelson - then put some of those items to work for you.


  • As the “coach,” you must continually offer suggestions for improvement and communicate in a way that is positive and well received.

    3. Two-way communication. When performance evaluations are well planned, documented and delivered, you will have set the stage for great feedback. You will not only be helping (coaching) the employee, but you will learn a lot about your company, other people and yourself.


  • Good two-way communication will only happen if you - the coach - have established a good working relationship with the employee.


  • Be open-minded and receptive to constructive comments coming back at you. Employees need to be able to disagree, offer suggestions and be heard.

    4. Day-to-day coaching. Being a good coach is a day-in, day-out, never-ending process. You have to be in tune, aware and sensitive to what’s going on.


  • Everyday you should be asking questions of the employees and making encouraging/constructive comments.


  • You should have a plan - something more formal than the “seat of the pants” method most of you use. There should be a formal, written training program that starts day one and never ends.


  • Good coaching involves continual follow up. You can’t just render suggestions and advice and forget it. You have to watch and monitor on a continuing basis.

    5. Team meetings. When I owned my business we had a team meeting every Friday from 8 a.m. to 9 a.m. We used them to work on product knowledge training, selling skills training (I’ll bet very few of you do any of this - shame!), administrative information, etc. We had an agenda. Everyone contributed. We started and ended on time.


  • Team meetings are one of the coach’s best means of communicating and mentoring.


  • There is an art and skill to putting together and facilitating good meetings. There are numerous books and tapes on the subject. Go to school and become a student of “great meetings.”

    6. Individual development. Every member of your team is different. The old cliché of “different strokes for different folks” is oh-so-true. Your responsibility as a coach is to determine what drives, motivates, encourages, excites and challenges each one of your team members.


  • Identify where each individual needs to be better or more productive and then start coaching.


  • People will learn and grow at different speeds. Not everyone will be an “all star.” But your job as the coach is to help everyone become the very best they can be.

    7. Personal growth. Do you really know what each team player’s aspirations and ambitions are? Do you know what their “hot buttons” are and how and when to push them? As mentioned above, everyone is different and your challenge is to discover what makes each person want to work harder, sell more and be more proficient at what they do.


  • Once you identify all these “hot buttons” you have to develop a plan of what, when, how, why, how much, etc., for each person.


  • If you’re not sure what drives your folks, ask them. For some it will be money; for others, regular, well-delivered “atta boys”; and for others, an extra day off might be the key.

    8. Empowerment. This is something too many coaches have a hard time doing: Empowering their employees to do their jobs. Do a mutually agreed-upon job description and then let the employee run with it. Employees are bright - and with the right coaching and encouragement, they’ll find a way to get the job done. It may not be exactly the same way you would have done it, but so what? As long as it gets done and is done well.


  • Here’s another book suggestion: “Empowerment Takes More Than A Minute” by Ken Blanchard. Read and heed.


  • As the coach, your job is to point the way, stand back and observe, monitor results - while coaching when and where necessary.

    9. Recognizing results. Here’s another area of human resource management that requires a separate set of skills - learning to recognize and reward team players for the efforts of their labors. See the aforementioned book under No. 2.


  • Give salespeople monthly reports. Compare them to their goals (see No. 1).


  • Do a “Hero of the week/month/year” award for outstanding achievement.


  • Recognize outstanding results both privately and publicly.


  • Learn how to say “thank you” for all sizes of accomplishments.

    10. Assistance. You’re the coach. Are you there to do your job? Or are you stuck in your office doing “your thing?”


  • Coaching is a daily, ongoing, never-ending responsibility.


  • Everyone can do better. Surveys over the years have concluded that employees work at about 70% of their capacity - both in terms of productivity and efficiency. Your job as the coach is to help move this figure up: 100% may be a lot to hope for, but 80%, 90% or 95% is a whole lot better than the norm.

    Think about this. A chain will only be as strong as its weakest link. Your company or showroom staff will only be as strong as the weakest employee. The coach’s job is to identify the weakest team members and to do everything possible to help them become stronger. It’s a never-ending job, but the results for the company and you individually are wonderfully rewarding. Good luck to all you coaches out there.

    -Coach Darlington