The Maraia Minutes


Turning Lawyers and Other Professionals Into Coaches

Volume 13, Issue 2

The most progressive professional service firms are starting to realize the incredible power of a relationship driven culture. They want to transform their culture into one that is more business development oriented because they know doing so leads to higher profits, and they enjoy a competitive advantage in the marketplace. After thoughtful consideration, the leaders of these firms realize that they will need to upgrade partners' skills so they can become better coaches. From there, it's just a hop, skip, and a jump until these leaders start thinking: We should provide some training to our partners on how to be a coach. I think it's fantastic that some of these firm leaders see the value in teaching their professionals coaching skills so they can assist others in upgrading their business development skills! However, I'd offer these ideas to keep that effort grounded and wired for success:

1. Successful business development coaching requires a mixture of 50% expert coaching skills and method, 40% subject matter expertise, 5% credibility, and 5% passion for the people they are coaching.

Before we can develop the coaching skills in your partners (internal coaches), we need to be sure they are skilled and experienced in the subject matter they are coaching around. In other words, if you want them to become effective leadership coaches, they must have some experience (and credibility) with leadership themselves. If you want them to become effective business development coaches, they must understand the relationship fundamentals themselves. This is common sense. If I plan to coach Kobe Bryant, I better know quite a bit about basketball or my credibility and effectiveness as his coach will suffer. I also need to know a great deal about the psychology of professional basketball players. You don't have to be a top rainmaker to become an effective business development coach, but you had better know quite a bit about how to develop business.

2. At Maraia & Associates, Inc., we develop your partners' coaching skills in two stages. In stage one, we make sure that the partners who want to become internal business development coaches are skilled in business development. Here are some quick questions to test whether they understand the relationship fundamentals:

Have they built a healthy practice for themselves? [If not, they won't have much credibility with the partners, managers or associates they will be asked to coach.]

  • Do they have a system for reaching out to the people in their network?

  • Can they teach that system to others?

  • Do they understand how to best develop a variety of practices?

  • Do they know how to use speaking to grow their network?

  • Do they know how to write an actionable business development plan?

  • Are they effective in executing on their own business development plan?

  • Do they understand the difference between networking and selling?

  • Do they know how to operate comfortably in a room full of strangers?

  • Do they know how to ask for the business tastefully?

  • Do they know when it's counterproductive to ask for the business?

  • Do they know how to effectively use article writing to build relationships?

  • Do they know how to make the most of their non-profit board service?

  • Do they know how to make the most of industry conferences?

  • Do they know how to work a room effectively and naturally?

  • Do they know how to measure success in a sales meeting?

  • Do they know exactly how to prepare for a meeting with a prospective client?

  • Do they know exactly how to prepare for a networking meeting?

  • Do they know how to measure success in a networking type meeting?

  • Have they identified their ideal client, and do they know several strategies they can use to add more of those kind of people to their network?

  • Are they really good at following through on their own business development and relationship building?

  • Do they operate with a daily or weekly set of metrics for keeping score in their relationship building efforts?

If their answer to most of these questions is anything other than an emphatic YES, they really need the strong foundation provided by a business development skills program BEFORE learning coaching skills!! Ideally, this program will include both training and personal coaching. If you undertake training and don't couple it with effective coaching, very little skill development (i.e. behavioral change) will result!! An added benefit to working with their own coach is this: Once they are recipients of great coaching they will have had exposure to a model for how to coach effectively. Perhaps you know someone who said they got into coaching because they were inspired by a great coach.

It would seem reasonable to think your rainmakers might make great coaches. Almost universally our clients find that is not the case. Your best rainmakers probably do not have the skill set or temperament for coaching others. Nor are they willing to devote the time to doing so. Indeed, they are gifted at generating work, but they are spectacularly uninterested and unskilled in how to coach others to do the same.

3. In the second stage, once we've established that partners have first hand knowledge of how to develop their own practice AND have had some success in doing so, it's time to learn the skills of becoming an effective coach.

It's extremely important to remember that the skills needed to be an effective business development coach are entirely different from the skills needed to be an effective rainmaker. Your internal coaches will need BOTH sets of skills to be effective. Note: This is just as true for outside coaching organizations as it is for internal coaches. You will want to hire only those companies that are strong in both! Most of our work is with Am Law 200 firms. We know of too many law firms that have been seduced by a competitor's sales pitch. Our competitors go light on their coaching experience (where they are weak) and play up their knowledge of sales. The irony is that these organizations don't even have to possess deep knowledge of selling and building relationships; they just need to know more than the people to whom they're selling!! Many of our competitors have poor or mediocre coaching skills, but the marketplace doesn't know any better. For all practical purposes, most buyers lump coaching skills together with rainmaking and relationship skills. That's a selection flaw that many firms eventually regret.

It has been our experience that law schools and lawyer training tends to teach skills and behaviors that are antithetical to effective coaching behaviors. For example, when giving feedback the typical lawyer will start with: "Let me tell you what you did wrong..." That is an extremely ineffective coaching behavior. Here are some quick questions to test your understanding of the skills needed to become an effective coach:

  • Do you know how to move your partners to take action?

  • Do you know which behaviors to avoid as a coach?

  • Do you know the most effective behaviors found in the best coaches?

  • Do you know which business development activities will frustrate your partners and which ones they'll embrace?

  • Do you allow for a wide variety of approaches to relationship building?

  • Do you know how to communicate genuine caring and support to the people you are coaching?

  • Do you know what de-motivates partners in the business development arena?

  • Do you know how to give feedback that professionals will embrace and act upon?

  • Do you know how to help professionals shift their attitudes toward selling and networking?

  • Do you know how to help people build skills? [Hint: It's best done one skill at a time.]

  • Which coaching model(s) will you use with the people you are coaching?

  • Do you know how to use questions to prompt your partners to take action?

  • Do you know how to use questions to promote learning and attitudinal shifts?

  • Do you know how to help your partners move forward when they get stuck?

  • Do you know how to help your partners create a business development plan that works?

  • Do you know how to get your partners to network with greater purpose?

  • Do you know a variety of systems professionals can utilize to be more effective at business development?

  • Do you understand the psychological hurdles partners face in building a practice?

  • Do you know how to help your partners set up a system for staying in touch?

  • Do you know how to help your partners identify and pursue the best opportunities?

At Maraia & Associates, all of our "train the trainer" programs include extended coaching for one very pragmatic reason: If you fail to include at least 6 months of follow up coaching for this type of skills program, there is a strong likelihood that your partners will lapse back into old behaviors and none of the new skills will stick. In short, your investment in the training program will be wasted.

It's also crucial to consider some of the organizational obstacles to teaching your partners coaching skills: Most professional service firms do not compensate, encourage, or promote partners who have great coaching skills. In fact, it's been our experience in working with professionals who've agreed to take on a coaching role in their firms that their priorities are as follows:

1. Practice their craft (law, accounting, consulting or engineering)
2. Develop their own book of business; AND (IF THERE IS TIME LEFT)
3. Help others develop their book of business.

I can't tell you the number of professionals we've coached who had never made the time for number 3 until they received our coaching. They get so caught up in the first two activities that they never get around to helping others develop despite their good intentions. Good intentions simply aren't enough!!

Despite the challenges spelled out above, this kind of skills training initiative, if done well, can lead to organizational transformation and lasting culture change. Done poorly, it becomes another failed initiative that hardens partners' resistance to business development training of any sort, and also, ironically, resistance to business development.

Copyright 2010 Mark M. Maraia Associates