By Lauren Owen
As you grow your business, adding employees or even locations, you will need to develop managers who are responsible for achieving sales and profit goals. Mastering your financial coaching skills is essential to profitable growth.
Many owners are comfortable discussing marketing, operations or human resources, but struggle with conversations about financials. How can you get people engaged in this important topic? Here are some tips for creating financial insights and driving action using goal-focused, solutions-oriented coaching conversations to jump-start your managers’ financial success.
Tip #1: Switch from boss mode to coach mode
Easier said than done when you are itching to pass on your hard-earned wisdom! Unlike bosses who excel in telling people what to do, effective coaches lead others to discover their own solutions by asking insightful and probing questions.
The goal is to get people to act. This happens when conversations leave managers understanding their situation and “owning” the call to action. And while it is easier to tell them what to do (you are, in fact, the expert), when you lead someone to discovery through inquiry, the solution is their idea. People don’t argue with their own data!
Be a curious, open-minded collaborator instead of a subject matter expert, and you’ll be on your way to impactful financial coaching interactions.
Tip #2: Get good at asking powerful questions
Good coaches/bosses ask questions that give managers opportunities to:
- Clarify their understanding of the issues.
- Say what they believe is important.
- Share more than just the facts.
Powerful questions give you, the coach, the opportunity to:
- Gather information about your manager’s agenda.
- Clarify your understanding of the issues.
- Connect with and understand the manager better.
Tip #3: Ask open-ended questions
Open-ended questions begin with “how, what, when, and where.” They cannot be answered with one word (like yes or no) so they yield more information that goes beyond surface-level.
Avoid asking questions that begin with “why.”
Asking someone to justify a position can feel accusatory and lead to defensive posturing instead of collaborative problem solving. For example:
NOT “Why are your sales so disappointing?
INSTEAD “What would it take for you to get back on track with the sales goal?”
Tip #4: Don’t stall meetings because “we need more information”. Be prepared!
Before the meeting, make sure everyone is on the same page. Clearly define the outcomes you’re after so everybody knows what will make the meeting a success. This will focus your conversation on the best strategies for achieving those outcomes. Only then can you develop an appropriate agenda.
Consider in advance what information you will need to support the agenda. When will you need it and who will provide it? For example: Do you have the pertinent financial statements? Not just any statement, but the most recent income statement, including a percent of sales column and a year-over-year comparison for assessing trends. Have you identified the essential Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and gathered current figures? Do you have relevant industry benchmarks for comparison?
Preparation makes meetings efficient, productive, and impactful. Confirm responsibilities of all attendees, and make sure everyone is clear on logistics like date, time and location. Choose a time and place that will be free from interruptions.
Tip #5: Keep the conversation focused on the desired outcomes
At its onset, clarify the purpose of the meeting. Clearly state the desired outcomes and confirm the agenda. Then execute the agenda. Here is a structure that works well for discussing financial results and establishing a profitable pathway forward:
- Assess – Where have you been; what is going well or not so well?
- Prioritize – What are the most important things to work on now?
- Brainstorm – What drives superior performance in your priority areas? What’s getting in the way?
- Measure – How will you measure success? What are the targets?
- Engage – What are the most essential elements of the plan?
Tip #6: End every meeting with a clear call to action
Use a flip chart, white board or screen share to summarize these in writing:
- Who will do what, by when?
- What major milestones (rocks) and timelines will reflect progress?
- What are the essential next steps? Be very clear.
- Set a date for when you’ll check back on progress.
Tip #7: Reflect and focus after the meeting
Within a day or two of the meeting, follow up with a quick chat or email to reflect and share:
- Positive outcomes and insights based on meeting’s purpose.
- Goals and commitments agreed upon.
- Definition of improvement – what will confirm we are on the right track?
- Related ideas that came up since the meeting.
- Things the manager will continue working on.
- Things you will concentrate on during the next visit.
- Stated calls to action.
- Your follow up plan (check in date, time, location).
Tip #8: Practice!
With any skill, reflection, practice and observation helps you improve. Evaluate your own effectiveness and seek opportunities to lift your skills. Consider these practice activities:
Reflect: Think about a time in your life when someone asked a question that made you dig deep, gain insight, and take action. What was the question? What made it so powerful?
Practice: Avoid giving advice in any conversation for at least one day. (Bonus points to parents of teenagers who pull this off!) You will be surprised at how often you find yourself slipping into expert/boss mode.
Observe: Listen to expert interviewers and observe how they use open-ended questions to get people to relax, reflect, and share.
Pro-Tip: Use the time you would have spent giving advice to ask open-ended questions that lead others to develop their own solutions.
Don’t get me wrong – bosses do not need to give up sharing expertise. But bolstering coaching skills with these tips can take your financial conversations to a new level. One that makes an impact, drives action and gains traction.