Performance Associates’ Simon Toy on coaching, leadership & emotional intelligence

Since 2001 Performance Associates (PA) has been working across a range of industries including pharmaceutical sales, healthcare, manufacturing, IT, finance, insurance and FMCG, helping clients to develop and enhance their coaching capability.


Whilst coaching as a capability was definitely shown to unlock potential and deliver improved performance, it was a programme that PA delivered for a global healthcare provider in 2008/9 aimed at embedding coaching across the entire organisation, throughout Europe and the U.S, that provided the impetus for our shift towards a focus on creating a coaching culture, rather than just the development of coaching skills. It was discovered that any disconnect between an organisation’s leadership and its customer facing personnel with respect to the coaching approach led to a diluting of the coaching benefits. It was identified that for coaching to become culturally embedded, three elements needed to be present:

1. There was a need for good coaching training

2. Internal coaching champions needed to be developed and supported

3. Senior leaders in the business had to be actively supportive of any coaching initiative.

Following research conducted by our psychologists in 2012/13, including a meta-analysis of all available research relating to sales performance, PA was able to illustrate a direct correlation between high levels of certain Emotional Intelligence (EI) elements and the most successful sales professionals. Knowing the link between Emotional Intelligence and sales performance enabled us to further refine our approach towards coaching with our clients.

The role of the leader

The latest research into the impact of EI within organisations has highlighted the need to integrate the concepts into leadership and coaching models. Only when this philosophy is embraced do organisations realise the full benefits of EI, about which management gurus such as Warren Bennis have been quoted as saying:

“More than any other asset, more than IQ or technical expertise, (EI) is the most important overall success factor in careers…and accounts for 85-90% of the success of organisations and their leaders.”

In essence, integrating Emotional Intelligence research with sound attitudinal-based coaching practice, and aligning this with effective leadership flexibility, is the only way to transform the softer art of coaching into the harder science of organisational sales results. This is now the cornerstone to PA’s approach to coaching.

It is vital to understanding the link between coaching and EI with leadership styles. Leadership is important at all levels within an organisation and a flexible leadership approach (that is to say using the appropriate style at the right time with the right person) hugely increases the likelihood that business results will be delivered, both now and in the future.

There are six recognised leadership styles from an EI perspective and it is suggested that a flexible leadership approach positively impacts on the feel or mood of an organisation, which in turn impacts on long-term financial performance.

Interestingly, although a coaching style is highly beneficial to organisational performance, research reveals that, when asked, colleagues’ feedback is that coaching is often the least effectively implemented style used by their managers and leaders.

Simply put, if coaching is not used effectively as a leadership style, the likelihood of coaching delivering benefits to an organisation drops dramatically.

An integrated approach

Working with several clients since 2014 using an integrated approach, PA helps our clients to benefit from all that we have learnt over the past two decades as our understanding of how Coaching, Leadership and Emotional Intelligence combine to dramatically improve sales performance.

The process starts by meeting with the key stakeholders in the sales leadership team to explain the EI principles that have the strongest correlation within a sales interaction. This meeting outlines how the EI principles are to be introduced to the salesforce and how the leadership team needs to use coaching to support the initiative. It is critical that there is full support and buy-in from the leadership team. They need to demonstrate the behaviours that should cascade throughout the organisation.

An assessment of the coaching capability would be established with 1st line sales managers, with any training provided if required. The critical stage of the initiative is then to train the 1st line management community in how to specifically coach EI. Drawing on the latest research relating to the development of a ‘growth’ mindset, it is essential to both identify and challenge/overcome all barriers within this population. Without this step the approach will usually not succeed.

The next phase is to introduce the EI elements to the salesforce themselves. As with the previous stage, if this is not done well the perception will usually be that it is ‘being done to us’ rather than being seen as an opportunity to develop.

The final element of the puzzle has been the most critical element of embedding EI principles into the client’s own sales process. PA provides highly experienced EI Sales Coaches who are paired with an individual sales representative for the duration of the programme (usually a minimum of six months) and who spend one day per month conducting In-Call Emotional Intelligence Sales Coaching which augments the coaching provided by the 1st line managers. Our focus is not to provide a conventional sales model, but to work with the established sales model, specifically focusing on the EI elements of selling that have correlated with increased sales performance.

We have run this type of initiative in a multinational insurance company, a global manufacturer, and a UK-based pharmaceutical company, on differing scales. All of them were on a shared risk basis with a commitment to increase sales above the projected sales trend by between 4 and 6% over six months or 8 and 12% over a 12-month period. This has been achieved in all of our collaborations.

Simon Toy is Managing Director, Performance Associates. To find out how Performance Associates can help you achieve 4-6%
growth in the next six months, contact us on