Exceed Expectations

By Kim Wright Wiley

The job of a coach is not to provide the “rah-rah,” but to help a player develop strengths and mitigate weaknesses. The job of a sales manager, who also coaches the team, is the same. Properly prepared sales reps don’t freeze up on calls, feel confident in any situation, and are able to think on their feet because the coach has prepared them well for the game.”Our job as coaches is to keep people focused and motivated,” says Rick Peterson, peak-performance expert and former pitching coach for the New York Mets and Oakland A’s. “Coaches don’t just hope for the best, they proactively identify the skills it takes for athletes to perform at their highest levels and then train them, mentally as well as physically.”Peterson started out as a pitcher himself, but while getting a college degree in psychology, he realized he was more interested in applying behavioral science to sport. During his time with the Mets and the A’s, he helped a number of pitchers – Pedro Martinez, Barry Zito, Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder, Johan Santana, Tom Glavine, and Roger Clemens – achieve peak performance. His successes were chronicled in two books, Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game by Michael Lewis (W.W. Norton & Co., 2003) and John Feinstein’s Living on the Black: Two Pitchers, Two Teams, One Season to Remember (Back Bay Books, 2009). Peterson later joined New Jersey-based Spring Lake Technologies as an advisor and speaker, and he’s now bringing his “pitching professor” principles to the business world.In the process of analyzing what separates a good pitcher from a great pitcher, Peterson developed the Peak Performance Triangle. The first two sides of the triangle, which represent skills and competencies and physical conditioning, are self-explanatory, but the third side, representing performance-based behaviors, is the often-overlooked psychological part of the game – the mental and emotional skills that allow an athlete to climb from mere competence to peak performance.”The great thing about the triangle is that you can plug it in to any career, whether you’re a Broadway star, a teacher, a baseball pitcher, or a salesperson,” says Peterson. “In terms of business, people understand that they must have certain skills and competencies, but they often overlook the part that physical conditioning plays. Great salespeople speak well, present themselves well, and can meet the deadlines and demands and handle the travel schedule. There’s also an aura that physically conditioned people have that goes beyond how they look. They give off a feeling of, ‘I’m here with a purpose. I’m sure of myself.'”But much of Peterson’s work has gone into defining and delineating the third part of the triangle – the performance-based behaviors. “We know that successful people have certain personality traits,” he says. “They don’t lose focus, they don’t become demotivated. When something slows them down, they take a deep breath and get back on task.”Are some people just born with these traits? Yes, but Peterson stresses that they can also be developed, something he’s experienced in his own life. In college, he became anxiety-ridden before baseball games and realized that “the hardest thing about baseball wasn’t developing the skills, it was developing performance-based behaviors, such as being well-disciplined, self-motivated, diligent, and understanding how to overcome fear and doubt.” He saw that “the top performers had a mental state that allowed them to stay composed under pressure.”Peterson began to study the personality factors that correlated with peak performance on the field and quickly realized that his program had a similar application in the business world. “Some managers concentrate so hard on helping people develop their skills that they overlook a key part of coaching, i.e., understanding how their salespeople think and act under pressure. And they often simply don’t know what personality traits to look for and how to measure them. For example, peak performance occurs when subjects are at about a seven on a one-to-ten scale of relaxed to driven. They’re engaged in the process but not so much that it overwhelms them.”Sometimes managers fail to understand this. They hire extremely intense personality types who don’t know how to modify that intensity, and then they wonder why these “players” come apart in the field.Peterson’s move to Spring Lake Technologies was a natural one, since Spring Lake’s SmartSeries applications provide specific coaching to leadership teams on how to create change based on behavioral science. SmartHiring helps you avoid expensive hiring mistakes by determining if that sales candidate who looks so great on paper actually has the right stuff to do the job. SmartProfiling shows where you stand with existing staff by isolating the dominant behavioral traits for each person and helping managers understand why employees are performing at their present level. And SmartSelling shows salespeople how to modify their behavior to better align with each prospective client.Even after the right people have been hired and analyzed, the manager/coach’s job isn’t over. Peterson points out that baseball is one of the few sports that allow a coach to stop the action and talk to a player in the middle of the game. “When a coach runs on the field to talk to a pitcher,” Peterson says, “he has maybe thirty seconds to redirect what that person is doing. It’s a step-by-step process, just like in sales, so a manager has multiple opportunities to talk to sales reps and help them see the changes they need to make.”There’s a balance to it. You can’t say, ‘Here, give me the ball and I’ll do it for you.’ Nor can you say, ‘You’re on your own out there.’ An ideal manager realizes that there’s no one prototype that works for all situations, because no two sales professionals are identical, just as no two pitchers are alike. And each buyer is like a new batter at the plate who has different stats and therefore needs a different approach. The managers are the ones who must bring the objectivity, the fresh read, the ability to see the situation as it’s unfolding. They might say something like, ‘Slow down and give this guy more details,’ or ‘If you want to connect with this person, here’s the way to do it.'”And in tough economic times, when a salesperson might feel like a pitcher losing his control, an objective read from an involved manager is even more valuable. “When it comes to sales calls, you’re not going to succeed every time,” says Peterson. “In economies in which people are nervous, there’s even less room for error. By identifying the behaviors that allow people to perform and giving your sales reps solid feedback throughout the process, you can coach people through hard times and help them overcome fear and doubt.”Savvy managers/coaches can also help their team go from good to great. One of the performance-based behaviors that peak athletes demonstrate is a willingness to make adaptations before they’re required to do so. Peterson cites the case of Tiger Woods who, just after winning the Masters by 12 strokes, decided to revamp his game. “Not many people would have seen it that way,” says Peterson. “Most people have to fall on their face before they realize they need to make a change, but winners change even when things are going well.”Of course, everyone isn’t a Tiger Woods, which is where coaching comes in. In 2005 Tommy Glavine had stalled out. “His game was outdated and he was really struggling,” says Peterson. “He had won 260 games by pitching a certain way, and when we first presented him the information that the batting average against his type of pitching was 400, of course he didn’t want to hear it. There are also salespeople who don’t want to hear that they need to change their game, but when we showed Tommy the hard data about the level of success he could have with a different kind of pitch, he was willing to redesign his plan. He turned his game around and went on to be on the all-star team for the next two years.”All this goes against the old school “rah-rah” type of management, which is peppered with phrases such as, “If it’s not broke, don’t fix it,” but Peterson believes that great managers, like great coaches, fix things before they break. “Leaders make proactive changes, as opposed to reactive changes,” he says. “And those changes are most often needed in the third side of the triangle. I can’t tell you how many pitchers I coached over the years who had the first two parts of the triangle down. They had skills and physical conditioning, but they still couldn’t tap their full potential because they lacked the performance-based attitudes.”Peterson believes that the single most valuable performance-based behavior is a willingness to follow a process. Once while he was running a sports psychology seminar in Chicago, he realized that Michael Jordan, who at the time was playing baseball, was in the group. Jordan approached Peterson afterward and said that he was fascinated by the idea of performance-based behaviors and that for years he had done all these things instinctively.”I asked him at what moment he knew he could be Michael Jordan,” says Peterson. “In other words, when did he know he could be not just good, but great. He told me a story much like the Tiger Woods story, about a time in college when his basketball coach Dean Smith showed him game footage and helped him see that he’d had a good year but not a great year. He said his coach explained that for him to be great, he was going to have to prepare at an incredibly high level.”Talent alone is never going to be the difference. What separates the peak performer is preparation. People at the absolute top of their game – the MVPs, Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods – they don’t focus on outcome, and neither do great salespeople. They focus on process.”For more information on the SmartSeries sales application software, visit www.springlaketech.com. For information on Rick Peterson, visit www.rick-peterson.com.