Sunday, April 13, 2008
HOW NOT TO COACH
(Note: As we prepare to conduct our annual Brand Positioning & Marketing Communications College in Chicago, from May 13th through May 15th, we will focus this week’s as well as our upcoming Dispatches on those critical skills that we aim to build and improve upon during the College. If you are interested in information about attending, please visit our website (www.bdn-intl.com) or call our Central Division Office at 1-800-255-9831 (620-431-0780). In addition, at the end of this week’s article, we invite you to visit a link to one of our many teaching tools on Coaching—a short mpeg clip of a client demonstrating How Not to Coach.)
Over the past eight years that we have been writing Dispatches, we have on many occasions featured the value-added skills of coaching—particularly for marketers seeking to reach higher levels of creativity, competitiveness, and customer response to their communications. And when we work with clients in our various workshops, we always spotlight “Coaching for Success” as one of the most important, core client responsibilities.
But, looking back at many Dispatches articles, it appears that we have consistently offered techniques for “How to Coach,” but never approached the subject from the converse: “How not to Coach.” Actually, most of us are already pretty adept at “How not to Coach.” That isn’t meant as an insult, by the way; rather, it’s meant as an observed generalization about human behavior, and about how we all (or most of us anyway) have been trained to respond to the thinking, ideas, and the work of others…since the time we were children. If you think about it, we learn at a very early age how to “find what’s wrong” or “what’s missing” from something. And at that early age we were probably rewarded by our teachers with a “well done” for pointing out someone else’s mistakes. Then, too, there seems to be that inherent human need - is it in our DNA? - to, as the Chinese proverb reminds, “have the supreme satisfaction of finding something wrong for ourselves.”
Whatever the source of this natural ability we seem to have to find fault, identify problems with something, or state concerns we have about something, the behavior itself is really a contra-coaching behavior. Of course, a top-notch coach in any field must be able to recognize problems or deficiencies his charges are having - so that she or he can then help them overcome those very problems. But a coach who responds to these deficiencies by simply stating them, isn’t adding any real value. No, the productive coach, the one everyone wants to listen to and follow, always has ideas and techniques (direction!) to offer his team so they can take their performance to the next level.
As another way to help us all get better at marketing coaching, in this week’s Dispatches, we offer a list of the Ten Most Common Ways of How not to Coach…at least ten that we tend to see most often in our work. See how many of these you have also observed…or perhaps even used.
BOATS & HELICOPTERS:
- Start your comments to the creative agency with the much over-used (and usually devoid-of-meaning) “Great job,” and then proceed to identify a dozen things that need fixing.
- Early in your comments use “trigger” expressions such as “My concern here is…” or “What’s really troubling me about this is….” Phrases like these invariably trigger a response in the listener’s mind that goes something like this: “I better get ready to defend; in fact, let me quickly start organizing my many counter-arguments.” And while these counter-arguments are taking shape in the listener’s mind, guess what? He isn’t really listening any longer.
- Ask a stupid, non-productive question at the beginning - one that is guaranteed to generate a solid “NO” and some further counter-arguments. Such a question might be, “Do you really think these approaches will appeal to our target customer?”
- Ask for the creative team’s recommendation before commenting on the approaches you think are the most opportunistic. That way, if they respond with one that you think is not particularly opportunistic, you’ve already entered into a negative dialogue…talking about ones you don’t like when there are some you do like. A good way to waste time and to imply that work overall is lacking (when, actually, it is not).
- When getting into your specific comments, tell the communications agency team all the things that you don’t see. Like in the old days in grade school when you could choose the one item in five that doesn’t fit. Make no mention of the things you DO see that you like.
- Ask the creative team to “strengthen” or “enhance” the work, without being more specific than this. Maybe even say that you aren’t exactly sure what’s missing but that they should “go back and tweak things some.” (Imagine an NCAA coach at halftime telling his players who are woefully behind that “I’m not sure exactly what we’re doing wrong here, but we’re just not scoring. So go out there and score some more.”)
- Or take the opposite approach: tell the team exactly how you want them to re-word the copy or re-draw the core visuals. Act like you are the creative director and not the client who should be providing positive direction.
- When you can’t think of anything else to articulate what you would like to see, just blurt out something like, “Why can’t we have a campaign like the MasterCard ‘Priceless’ Campaign?”
- Don’t bother to organize your comments into Overview, Specific Direction, and Next Steps. Instead, just think out loud—sort of a stream of consciousness approach. This way everyone will have to work extra hard to try to figure out exactly what you want them to do…and each listener can then set the priorities for herself.
- Don’t bother to complete your commenting with a re-statement of the Next Steps (or even to ask the team what steps they think they should take based upon the comments). This will keep things unclear so that the next time everyone meets there will surely be important actions that have been neglected—and you will be frustrated.
Had enough? We sure have. Maybe you’re thinking that we have just demonstrated the very observation about human behavior that we made at the start: namely, it’s a lot easier to identify things we don’t do or things we do wrong. Point made (we hope)!
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Richard Czerniawski & Mike Maloney
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