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Is coaching the missing link as an accelerator to embed Category Management capability?

11/13/2020 By

We welcome this guest post from Mark Bassington, Director at Future Purchasing

Future Purchasing regularly talks to new clients who tell us that they have tried category management several times but never make it stick, is this true of your organization?

As the conversation progresses and we discuss what they did and what they do now the most common topics are “we developed a toolkit,” “we had some training on the toolkit” and “we developed a number of strategies,” either with or without external support. These approaches invariably focused on the short-term delivery of strategies and not the long-term embedding of an enduring category management capability.

In this article, we will explore coaching as the missing link in sustaining and embedding category management.

Some facts and data about L&D

A Dec 2019 study by HBR identified that in terms of L&D:

  • only 12% of employees applied the new skills learned in L&D programs to their jobs
  • only 25% of respondents believed that the training improved their performance
  • If you don’t embed new information within a week, 75% will forget it
  • Our brains have a limit to the amount of new information we can absorb in a short space of time
  • Delivering learning (spaced repetition) over a more extended period in smaller increments allows us to retain 80% after 60 days
  • The report concludes that not only is the majority of training ineffective, but the purpose, timing and content is flawed

Transferring & Embedding capability

Our experience and client feedback show us it is only through a blended mix of training, facilitation, mentoring and coaching on real category projects over a sufficient period that category management process, skills and ultimately capability can be truly embedded.

This approach, delivered by experienced practitioners, also enables the transfer of deep category and process knowledge, engagement skills and confidence.
category management

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Embedding competence

We understand the developmental journey that many of our clients take: moving from “unconsciously incompetent,” where you think you do great category management but don’t fully understand what it involves, to “unconsciously competent,” where you are delivering world-class category management outcomes as second nature.

Our consultants work hand-in-hand with client teams supporting them on this journey, typically over a couple of category strategy development cycles over six months. In time, the support reduces and changes from mentoring to coaching as the client teams build their capability and confidence.

Mentoring to achieve conscious competence

In the initial cycle of the category management learning, we will typically utilize a more directive style offering guidance that will both develop and challenge the category manager’s thinking. Sharing our experience, we will provide insights and expertise in the specific tools and show to apply them to best effect.

So you should expect effective category management training to:

  • Draw on experience and knowledge to help people visualize a variety of possible outcomescurrently outside of their own understanding
  • Share category success stories that inspire people to raise their ambition and embrace the tools and techniques
  • Show people how others have used the category management process in different contexts to deliver value
  • Direct people in how to populate templates, engage with stakeholdersand conduct research
  • Guide people in how to apply strategic analysis tools to collated data to gain insight and drive creative thinking around strategic options
  • Offer advice on possible ways to deal with ‘difficult’ behaviours
  • Provide ‘tips and tricks of the trade’including short-cuts and workarounds when appropriate

Mentoring will ensure the category manager understands the toolkit and the processes have developed a high-quality category strategy and are “consciously competent.”  But ending the learning journey at this stage could mean that the skills and capability are still to be embedded.

The coaching phase

Critical to embedding capability is the coaching phase, this is less intensive, but in this phase, our consultants listen closely, engage openly and ask questions designed to challenge the category manager, expand their world view and enhance performance. The questions act as a stimulus to the imagination, prompting people to uncover the unseen and develop their approaches and solutions and really embed the understanding to:

  • Challenge people to apply category management strategically and encourage them to think ahead when deciding how to apply the process
  • Promote a systematic and robust use of the relevant category management tools and techniques
  • Stimulate people to stretch their thinking, ask themselves to reveal questions about ‘what, who, why, where, when and how’ of the category
  • Ensure there is adequate focus on identifying and proactively engaging with the stakeholders who have an interest in the category
  • Prompt people to think clearly and deeply about consequences, options, roadblocks, opportunities, risks and contingencies
  • Ensure people confront issues fully and uncover root causes of obstacles, whether self-imposed or external
  • Help people develop their own solutions and decide on courses of action to which they are committed

To conclude

Mentoring and coaching matters! It makes employees and teams feel genuinely valued, both equipping and motivating them to perform at their best. The capability to truly deliver outstanding category management results benefits not only the bottom line of the organization but staff retention, as we all like to be part of a real success story.



Disclaimer: the opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official position of Spend Matters