I’m assuming you’ve seen the value of ride-alongs from my last post and have made the commitment to doing them — so now what? Before we go any further, I need to caution you that ride-alongs can be a great success in coaching your employees to higher performance, or they can be a horrible disaster which forever spoils the abilities of the people under your leadership. The outcome is heavily based on the role you take and your commitment to stick to that role no matter what. With that said, let’s spend some time identifying which roles exist during a ride-along, the objectives of those roles, and how to set proper expectations with the people filling those roles.

As you may have already guessed, just as there are only two seats in a service van, there are only two roles in a ride-along: the observer and the performer. The observer is tasked with three main objectives: discovering the degree to which skills are currently being applied by the performer, stimulating critical thinking and self-evaluation in the performer, and developing the performer’s skills and behaviors taught in prior training sessions. The performer has but one simple duty, and that is to demonstrate his or her mastery of skill. Of course, the technician fills the role of the performer and you, as the manager, will attempt to fill the role of the observer. I say attempt, because this is where things can go completely wrong in ride-alongs. Hence, the importance of setting role expectations is critical, especially for you.

As an observer, you must not only come to terms, but you must be comfortable with the fact that crash and burns will occur and must be allowed to occur. No one sell is more important than the growth and self-confidence of your technician. As soon as you take over a call and attempt to close the deal yourself, you’ve sent the message, “I don’t trust you can handle this.” This message not only kills the self-confidence of your technician, but it also causes him to despise all future ride-alongs, feeling that they’re just an opportunity for you to “show off.” So set the expectation, first with yourself and then with the performer, that your role is strictly to observe, listen, and facilitate a debriefing to identify areas for improvement after the call is over. If you can master this, then you will have overcome the biggest hurdle to a successful ride along.

Next month, we’ll continue our discussion on ride-alongs by highlighting four additional expectations that need to be set prior to jumping in a truck.