Written by Maxine Wang
What makes a good coach? This question has plagued me as a Coach ever since I started my journey as CAC until now where I have started my journey to be a better coach as a CPC. Towards the end of 2020, I started an informal conversation with an insurance agency leader, Ng. An adolescent as a leader with less than four years leadership experience. The conversation revolved around building a successful agency with sustainable income for its members. As I hoped to grow further as a Coach, I presented Ng with a possible collaboration that I will be his Agency Coach where I will coach him to achieve said vision of “Sustainable & Successful Insurance Agency” and meanwhile I will also be able to fulfill my coaching hours & experience.
Due to bad relations, Ng was forced to run independently without the support of his original agency. This has led him to try many different methods with no avail, leading five of his agency members to only achieve 500K worth of production, a sub-par performance in the industry. He has associated these performances to the poor ability of his team members, as individually as a sales agent he always successfully performs above the benchmark.
In our informal conversations, it dawned on me that he doesn’t require someone to coach him on a singular issue. It was clear as day that whatever challenges he faces is not something that can be solved with a quick fix, it requires a system overhaul in another word, there is a goal that he will need to set in order to benchmark his agency performance to that of the industry. As I was a frequent speaker cum trainer in the eyes of the agency force, he believed that through our informal conversation, a simple motivational session was sufficient to push his people to run at his pace which was a common extrinsic solution that many Insurance Leaders believe to be enough. Utilizing my questioning ability that was learnt during CAC days, I was able to raise his awareness on the matter to a higher level, focusing on a goal instead of issue. Thus, we entered into a collaboration, with me providing business coaching to him.
In order to officiate the relationship, I offered Ng a contracting session where we sat and had a conversation on what could be the possible goals or direction that he hopes his agency can move towards. To get a better definition of success, I spent a fair amount of time in clarifying terms such as, “Success” and “Sustainable”. Where we both reached a consensus that “Success” is represented by an Agency that produce a production growth of 20% every fiscal year, whereas “Sustainable” means the income level of his team members. The numbers for income level were set at RM60,000 per annum for first year agents, where as RM96, 000 per annum for second year agents onwards. In the end, we set the goal of “Sustainable & Successful Insurance Agency” with a common language of what number represent each word. With numbers representing words, it made the coaching journey more focused. Not only that, in the subsequent session, we managed to probe deeper and instead of jumping to crafting the action plans on how to achieve the goal, we’ve identified three key focal points that need to work on. And this served as my approach to this business coaching.
The first focal point focuses on “Sales Activity” of his members, in the industry we coin the term Vital Behaviours (VB). Majority of “boss mentality” leaders tend to look at only results, inshort, how much sales was brought in. The lack of interest in the activity of the agents serves as the downfall for many leaders. It was a difficult focal point as Ng was indeed the same breed as the other industry leaders who only believing in result, not the activity. We spent two hours in a coaching conversation to look at what should be the focus, it was through reflective questioning that he was able to finally see how little he understands about his agents. As the conversation continues, we set a few activities as vital behaviours and how many should be the standard. They are ten new names, ten calling, five fact find, and three presentations which will be tracked daily with a review session at the end of every week. The review session also acted as my opportunity to sit in and shadow Ng as he performs coaching for his team members, we will dwell further into this on the third focal point. As we rolled this down to the agency members, Ng also realized that his members didn’t have sufficient understanding on the Why, What and How of doing the Vital Behaviours especially there wasn’t any proper training for them, hence immediately, we’ve identified a knowledge gap here. In order to minimize the knowledge gap, I’ve proposed and provided training on a monthly basis for a duration of six months.
At the beginning of the executions, there were many intrinsic challenges from the members as it was common for leaders to implement something new without checking with the members. In order to bridge the trust gap between me and his members, I also offered a monthly one-to-one coaching with his members, to help untangled any possible obstacles and challenges along the way. Nine months in, the members managed to develop a discipline to self-run the review session with input from Ng. They also achieved their 20% growth comparing to the whole of 2020 after four months of practicing the vital behaviours.
The second focal point focuses on “Recruitment” of Ng himself, where he would like to achieve eight new recruits at the end of 2021. It is a known fact that majority of leaders have complacent mindset, expecting the same few agents to perform at peak efficiency forever, this is not ideal as growing 20% consistently without new bloods will mean each and every agency member would be pushed to their limits at every year. Ng was quick to agree to this as he has maintained the same five members for the past two years and experiencing this challenge first hand. However, having awareness does not represent actions, in order to ensure accountability both of us had agreed to a set of vital behaviours for Ng himself to adhere. They are ten new names, ten calling, and five BYB, similarly they will be tracked daily and to be reviewed bi-weekly with me. With possible knowledge gap as a young leader, I had directed him to a few seasoned leaders in the industry to obtain the necessary skill and knowledge to be more effective in recruitment.
It was challenging for Ng as the first two months of this strategy. He was a very well-developed sales agent however very poor at executing recruitment related activities. Disciplined was also a tough challenge as he was not used to being monitored and tracked. There were many situations where he developed a “blame frame” and started to point things outward whenever he was unable to perform his vital behaviours for recruitment. Eventually he was able to develop the discipline to adhere to his vital behaviours, achieving a whopping result of nine new recruits at the end of October, 2021.
The third and final focal point focuses on “Leadership Capabilities”. It was a challenging focal point as majority of the measurement is through qualitative measurement. However, it was important to keep Ng accountable, hence aside from the qualitative aspect we had also set quantitative measurement. These include coaching session, monthly kick start & pick-me-up sessions. Coaching session are broken down to one-to-one and group coaching, both involve me observing to provide feedbacks. Qualities that are being measured in session are based on the coaching competencies, with heavy emphasis on Active Listening, Establishing Trust & Intimacy, Powerful Questioning & Coaching Presence. As mentioned during focal point one, the weekly review also acted as a platform for Ng to practice Group Coaching. Where as for one-to-one coaching it is on request basis. Monthly kick start is conducted on the first Tuesday of every month, where I will also sit in to observe and provide feedback as a speaker. Qualities that are being measure are synonymous to delivery skills, they are Story Telling, Analogies, Analogies, Metaphor, Body Language & Tonality. Similarly, Pick-me-up sessions are hosted on a need to basis when agency are facing low energy, measuring criteria are identical to Monthly Kick Start with an addition of Relevancy added into the observation points. It was crucial for Ng to ensure these are run consistently as by the end of each month, a review session between Ng and myself will also take place.
Of all three focal points, this serves as a challenge to myself as it requires a lot of active participation. Two months in, there was a lot of situation where I was more directive due to lack of knowledge and skill on Ng part. In order to measure the effectiveness of his practice, I utilize the one-to-one coaching session I have with his members. Getting their feedback on whether Ng has become a better leader in the agency. It was very satisfying to see all members were showing positive sign to changes in Ng, where it was apparent when they requested an “Appreciation Day” for Ng. This has never happened before in the history of his agency.
It was indeed a very rewarding experience for me, as not only did Ng has achieved his goal of “Sustainable & Successful Insurance Agency” by his definition, they are now still fighting beyond for a greater breakthrough in year 2021. Being my first business coaching experience, I think there are a few points to unpack. These points also helped me better to understand the question that I asked in the beginning, “What makes a good Coach?
One of the abilities that truly set a Coach apart is, “Stay Curious”. There were many situations with Ng where I could have accepted a certain truth, that help makes my journey easier. It was through constant reminder that I told myself, “is that truly it?” This push me to ask further, dig deeper and eventually reach a point where not only my Coachee, but my own awareness was raised through challenging my own thoughts.
Aside from that, is the ability to “Research”. There are many Coach in the insurance industry that believe they are at peak knowledge and there is nothing else to learn. This couldn’t be further from the truth, I remember sleepless nights that I spent reading case studies or books that talks about leadership, sales or even recruitment. It expanded my horizons and allowed me to ask even more effective questions. I believe clarifying from Coachee perspective alone provide too many different blind spots. So, with the added knowledge through research, it will provide me with better resources of asking questions.
Lastly, and highly controversial is the ability to “Empathize”. Comparing notes with Coaches from different generations, I notice a transformation in the way it was done. When I spoke to some of my senior coaches in the industry, they would say stuff along the line of “Just tell them what to do, they require some tough love!” To some of the younger coaches where they believe that sometimes things are not within the Coachee’s control and they require someone to stand by their side as they power through the situations. I believe both sides have their merits and demerits, so I practice what works best for me, which is to empathise but also ask the difficult question when there is a need. As truly as a coach, my responsibilities lie in supporting my clients to achieve their goals.
There are definitely many other abilities that can help a Coach do better but these are the three that I identified through this experience of coaching Ng. Being in this journey made me understood how much more there is to learn from the many different Coaches around the world. A spirit that I hope to continually develop, wonderfully said by Russell M. Nelson, “You are never too old to learn, you are never too young to teach.” As time grows, I believe I will eventually build a brand of coaching that is personally and exclusively best represent who I am and who I hope to be.
With that in mind, I would like to think I will slowly be able to provide a definite answer to the question, “What Makes a good Coach?”