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From Home Furnishing Business

The Art of Teaching, Training and Coaching


By Tom Zollar


Over the years, I have received many questions about the concepts of teaching, training and coaching. Are they the same? Or, are they separate functions and activities? If separate, what does each do? How do they interrelate? The concern is how to best use the trifecta to improve sales team performance.

Most would agree that training is extremely important in any performance related endeavor, be it sports, music or selling. Julius Caesar presented his opinion a long time ago when he commented about an army that his legions had just defeated. “For lack of training they lacked knowledge, for lack of knowledge they lacked confidence, for lack of confidence they lacked victory.”

When people know more about what they are doing, they gain confidence and are better able to compete, because they anticipate winning instead of fearing defeat. While this is a great reason to train people, it shouldn’t be the primary reason. The more a selling staff learns about both the products and how to help customers create the comfortable and stylish living environments they desire, the more they will sell and the greater success businesses will have.

Even knowing this, some retailers are reluctant to invest the needed time, effort and money into training their sales staff. One of the most common reasons we hear is: “What it I train them and they leave?”  I think Harry Friedman had the best answer for that, which is: “What if you don’t train them and they stay?” The bottom line is that a fully trained sales staff that consistently provides superior service when helping people is the best way to maximize sales performance.

So how do we get them up to speed? Do we teach them, train them or coach them?

To be successful requires all three. While we often use the words interchangeably, teaching, training and coaching are very different. They are three different activities that work together to create learning in a way that sticks and becomes a consistent tool.

A skill is a habit of doing the right thing at the right time in a process. Based on proper knowledge and behaviors, it is applied to an activity consistently and virtually automatically, almost without thinking:

Knowledge (Teaching) + Behaviors to Apply It (Training) + Supervised Practice (Coaching) = Habit (Skill)

Teaching and training are critical preparation functions for the performance of an activity. They form the foundation for greatness. While the behaviors are initially presented in training, coaching encourages and reinforces the behaviors until they become habit. When delivering a successful outcome consistently occurs, it is a skill.

Now that we have a better understanding of how they work together, let’s look at each function separately and focus on what can be done to make each one more effective.

Teaching is the act of educating someone. It is the process of giving knowledge to another person. Often presented in a class or group environment, teaching can also be done individually. While we can and do teach behaviors, in a performance environment it is more focused on giving information about why and what, than how.

Adults normally only expend energy to learn about things they think will get them something they want. The first step in adult education is to ensure the audience understands why the information is important to learn. One of my professors called it the WIIFM Principle—What’s In It for ME? His point was that most adults will not try very hard to learn something unless they feel they will get something from the process. Before beginning any training, make certain the audience understands what they will get from the program and how it will benefit them.

The best way to give people information is through a mixture of media. Lectures and discussions are good to get the message out. However, most people tend to remember best what they read or view graphically. Supporting printed material allows students to read and study.

This is particularly important for company policies, systems usage, product knowledge and the selling process. In most cases you will have a policy manual and your office staff can create a systems process manual for the sales staff to use for training. Product knowledge is more difficult with most stores offering a variety of products and vendors.

The Furniture Training Co. has an online general product knowledge program to get any new hires started and most vendor websites provide access to specific product information. Remember teaching is the giving of knowledge. In order to measure success, have tests and quizzes to verify staff has learned the information.

In order to maintain excellence in the customer experience, a printed selling manual os required to explain how customers should treated in the store. Even though this process is mainly behavior based and therefore more of a training function, it is critical for the manual to provide solid reasons that support the behaviors you train them to use.

Support of all training with print or online information access is crucial.

Training is the process of introducing the target audience to the behaviors or actions to use when applying the knowledge taught to an activity to achieve the desired results. It is not only demonstrating what to do but also interacting with trainees to ensure they can use the behaviors and apply the knowledge they have. Training can begin in a classroom environment, but is usually most effective when done individually or in small groups allowing for individual attention.

Since this function is focused on what students do with the information, demonstrations are a must. Don’t assume the audience has learned to do.

Role playing several times proves they can do it. Golf pros don’t just demonstrate how to grip and swing a club, then leave students. Instead, students hit many buckets of balls in front of the pro before moving to the next phase of training. While most trainees do not enjoy role playing, it is essential they demonstrate the ability before trying it on a customer.

It is like a pop quiz. The real test comes when they hit the floor and the trainer must truly become the coach.

Coaching takes place during and after the training process. It involves a skilled individual working with the trainee over time to maximize results from the use of the newly developed expertise. As discussed in previous articles, coaching is possibly the most important part of the process.

It is the quality control element that helps ensure a high level of performance is achieved when the staff does the right things at the right time with the right people—the customers. It starts in the training process during role play and other demonstrations. The coach observes the performance and offers feedback for improvement until satisfied that the student can do what has been taught. Experience has shown that left to their own devices, most people revert to old habits or easier methods if not held accountable on the sales floor. The focus of the ongoing coaching role in a store—to track, observe and give feedback for improvement on the sales floor—will maximize a team’s performance.

A training program should include segments to address three areas the selling staff needs to be proficient in—selling skills, product knowledge, and administration and operations. Each segment should begin with the WIIFM process so they know why they need to learn it. Next, would be teaching the information needed to support that step. Finally, train them on behaviors to apply the information they have. Once they are through the initial program they should either be mentored by a qualified staff member or closely monitored and work with a coach on the floor.


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