Coaching lessons from John wooden

A Lesson on Coaching from John Wooden

John Wooden was from a south-central town in Indiana called Martinsville, which is a stone’s throw from the wooded property I call home in Monrovia. I didn’t choose to highlight Coach Wooden because of that, though. Instead, I am starting my series on influential coaches with Coach Wooden because he is inarguably one of the finest leaders to develop his players to achieve extraordinary successes.

His personal record touts stats like: 10 national championships, seven of them in a row, which set the record. And, he led his teams to 88 consecutive victories with 38 straight tournament playoff wins and four perfect seasons with only one losing year – his first – in 41 years of coaching.

My hope is to bring some John Wooden to the contact center.

It’s no secret: the contact center game is changing. It’s more mainstream to connect agent experience with customer experience. Happier agents make for happier customers, after all.

But, who is most responsible for agent experience? Is it an HR thing? Or maybe the responsibility of upper management?

Nope. It’s you, the manager, who plays the biggest part in impacting your agent’s experience. In fact, you account for 70 percent of their experience. Their success and development is directly influenced by your leadership. So, your primary job is to provide ongoing development through frequent and consistent coaching.

The challenge managers face, then, is time. When managers can only spend (on average) 7 percent of their time coaching, there is little room for error. This amounts to a little over 33 coaching minutes a day (assuming an 8-hour day). With a staff of 10 people, that’s only about 16 minutes to dedicate to each agent in a week.

Coaching has to happen, and it has to count.

This is where John Wooden’s insight comes into play. While we can assume he probably didn’t have contact centers in mind when talking through his coaching lessons, a team is a team, and a coach is a coach.

“A coach is someone who can give correction without causing resentment.” -Coach John Wooden,

So, how do you give feedback in a way that motivates and empowers your agents and avoids resentment? It comes down to three things: how you communicate, your consistency, and your relevance. Keep reading for three rules to give feedback that empowers agents without causing resentment.

1. It’s not just what you say, it’s how you say it.

Perception is reality. You must minimize the ways your coaching could lead to misunderstandings or resentment.

There will, inevitably, be times when you have to give tough feedback. Brushing things under the rug, or delaying the conversation, is only hurting your agents. You’re preventing them from reaching their full potential. But how can you coach in a way that helps your agent see the value of your feedback? How can you give constructive feedback without making agents get defensive or offended?

Engage them in a conversation, instead of mandating a pre-defined, specific change.

Ask your agent what they could have done differently to better the experience. Ask the agent to put themselves in place of the customer and ask how they would have liked to get help for the inquiry.

Remember, a team is a team. The coach and agents should have the same goal.

Emphasize what’s in it for them. Help your agents see why a change in behavior or process is worth their time. Whether it’s to provide faster service, or get better answers; a good agent will care how their behavior impacts the experience they give.

There’s no blueprint for perfect coaching. And, there’s no perfect coach. No two agents or teams are identical, after all. Shifting your mindset toward coaching your team rather than managing them is the right place to start.

2. Consistency is key.

Human beings like consistency. The more agents understand about the feedback process, the more likely they are to value your coaching.

Two things should always be consistent: Timing and your approach between agents.

Timing: Your agents should know what to expect, and how often to expect it, when you coach them. When coaching feels sporadic or reactionary, agents can feel blindsided. When they know what to expect, and how often, they can see coaching sessions coming and be in the right mindset to receive both constructive feedback and praise.

But, consistent feedback doesn’t mean every agent should be on the same cadence. Coaching should be individualized, and you should be flexible enough to allow your agents to drive the frequency of coaching. A recently onboarded agent, for instance, has different coaching needs than a tenured agents.

Agent approach: Though the cadence can have some variety, you need to coach with fairness between all agents. Here, too, perception is reality. You don’t want any agent to feel targeted by more frequent, or tougher, coaching. Feeling picked on, or like the coach is playing favorites is a motivation killer.

One final consideration here: Don’t forget about your highest-performing agents. Some coaches fall into the trap of being hyper-focused on their lowest-performing agents. When your best agents feel less valued or taken for granted, you run the risk of turning them complacent.

3. Real support needs real substance.

A major component of agent experience is having the tools and skills to empower your agents. Especially with scarce time available to coach agents, you have to make it count.

To truly support an agent through meaningful coaching and development, feedback has to be actionable and relevant.

Consider what each of your agents need most, and then provide feedback they can actually apply to their work. Connect the dots between the feedback given and how it can be put into practice. If you don’t, your coaching is just another interruption in the agent’s day. If an agent has no clear takeaways they can apply, your coaching is null and void.

People are the most important asset in any company, and especially in a contact center. If your company truly cares about your customers, then, it should do more to nurture and empower the team members that work with your customers. Start with a solid coaching program that focuses on giving correction, not causing resentment.

For more information, check out our post with five data-backed ways to improve your coaching this week.