X Factor. What is it?! Turns out the employee X factor is….


What X factor should you look for in top employees?

You have a lot to pick from: integrity, character, humility, work ethic, coachability, curiosity, competence, and actual performance. Take a second to think through which quality most directly correlates with employee success in our organisation.

According to Mark Roberge the answer is? Coachability—and your ability to coach.

That’s what Roberge says. He’s the former CRO at Hubspot and author of the phenomenal book, The Sales Acceleration Formula.

How to hire for coachability? 

Here’s the challenge: Coachability is incredibly difficult to teach. It sits as part of our character that’s heavily cemented by the experiences in our lives. According to Mark, we should make it the primary factor we look for when hiring, precisely because of the difficulty to improve it after you’ve hired that person. To filter out coachable candidates from those who aren’t, he recommends incorporating role-playing into the hiring process.

Mark role-plays in every interview for his sales teams. He follows this format:

Step 1: Ask the candidate to act as if he or she were on the phone with the goals of a) uncover answers to discovery questions and b) set a meeting to discuss further.

Step 2: Conduct the simulated call.

Step 3: Ask the candidate to evaluate how he or she did.

If the candidate can self-identify opportunities for improvement, he or she is moving higher on the coachability scale, whether or not you agree with the assessment. If however, the candidate simply says “I did great,” blames the product for being too complex, cites a lack of prep time, or mentions other external factors outside of that person’s control, consider that a red flag.

Step 4: Give the candidate some feedback. Specifically, tell that person one thing he or she did well and one thing he or she could improve upon.

Watch the candidate’s reaction very closely. If he or she takes notes or nods in agreement, those are good signs. If, however, his or her eyes glaze over or they fire off overly defensive arguments, another red flag.

Step 5: Run through the exercise again.


Humbly receiving feedback is vital, but a change in action—applying said feedback—is even more important. During the second round of the exercise, Mark looks to see if the candidate listened to the feedback given, and evaluates how well he or she applies it.

Mark’s approach effectively separates good hires from bad hires or great hires from mediocre ones. Foremost, they reveal tangible insights into how self-reflective someone is, how they react under pressure, and whether they can translate feedback into action. Additionally, an exercise like this gives the candidate a taste of what it will be like working for you.

Top performers—who are constantly looking to improve—will actually find this type of feedback attractive and will, therefore, be more likely to accept an offer from you. Conversely, candidates who are turned off by the exercise and may self-select out are likely those you don’t want on your team.

Lastly, as Mark says, this exercise gives you a head-start on training, making the employee’s first day, week, and month a simple continuation of what they’ve already experienced, rather than feeling 100% new.

How to grow your coaching ability.

Ambitious, growing companies critically need to hire coachable people, but what if their managers don’t know how to coach well? Why is this so common?

It’s believed to be part of the problem, as suggested at TINYcon, lies in how companies typically promote people. In most cases, employees move into management roles as a reward for excellent job performance at their previous position. But how many received a promotion because they excelled at leading people? Regardless of exactly how managers achieve their positions, it’s sincerely believed all managers need assistance so they constantly improve as coaches. Mark shares these tips about kicking your coaching abilities up a notch.

People over numbers

How much time do we spend looking at outcomes, metrics, performance, and KPIs? As Scott Maxwell of OpenView pointed out, the act of measuring actually does nothing in and of itself. Yes, we should know the numbers most important to our business and gain insight from them. But we shouldn’t dedicate too much time gathering and sorting through those numbers. Said another way, you likely already have enough data aggregation platforms, CRM dashboards, accounting software and Google sheets to make informed decisions.

The numbers, then, are just a reflection of how well you’re helping your team grow. Mark, as well as several other TINYcom speakers, validated the idea that you can affect performance best not through better measurement, but by improving your people. If you invest time, money, and effort into growing your individual team members into the incredible people they can be, you’ll see the payoff.


One-on-one coaching

To start, follow the example of great leaders, schedule weekly one-on-one coaching sessions with each of your direct reports. This is straight out of Mark’s playbook and something every leader at Chill has been practicing and implementing this year. He recommends two key tactics within these weekly sessions.

Have your team members self-prescribe what they need to work on and how they’d like you to help. Literally ask “What area do you want to work on?” and “How would you like me to help you with that?” Doing so creates a more collaborative, trusting relationship that, in turn, yields higher buy-in. The alternative—top-down directives—leads to defensiveness, discouragement, and disdain. When you and your team aren’t on the same page, provide candid feedback as a guardrail that guides them back on track while still maintaining a collaborative approach.
Stick to one or two opportunities for improvement at a time, rather than listing off 30 things that should be better. Determine which change requires the least effort while producing the most impact—and focus there first. Then, as they improve, focus on the next item on the list.
Mark presented a great analogy to explain this idea: If you’re working on improving your golf swing, you don’t want to hear that you need to shift your stance, rotate your grip, rotate your hips more, and follow through better—all at once. Our brains and bodies just can’t process that many changes simultaneously. You can improve your technique better when you focus on only a few things at a time and master them before moving on. For example, start by simply shifting your stance and taking 100 swings. You’ll do better without being overwhelmed. Then, take another 100 swings with the new stance and add in the grip rotation. You’ll do even better.

Qualitative and quantitative measures

While we should focus on improving our people, quantitative measurements help frame conversations with our team and drive practical application. Knowing the metrics that best indicate company success, and tying feedback directly to those, drives team improvement.

Wrapping up

The framework above should give us a good starting point for improving how we interact with our teams. Initially coaching begins at the Individual Development Plan stage with regular weekly, fortnightly and monthly health check ins. OKR’s are our way of measuring how our teams are performing. This is an opportunity for us to provide individuals zen like focus to achieve their goals while providing a collaborative approach to success.

Mark believes coaching begins before an employee starts with your company and should never end. Everyone in business should seek constant improvement, and for managers that includes instruction on their coaching ability.


Credit: Source:

Huffington Post. Mark Roberge The Sales Acceleration.

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