Phil Higgins on the Eight-Step Coaching model used by pharmaceutical giant Pfizer

Any successful, professional sports person has a coach, whose role is to encourage, challenge and motivate the athlete to achieve their true potential. In the working environment, the same principles apply. The benefits of coaching include an increase in the individual’s overall performance, greater motivation through an acknowledgment that the individual is being developed, leading to greater retention and succession planning.

Eight Step Coaching Skills at Pfizer PharmaceuticalsProfile of culture and aims of coaching programs:

Pfizer is the world’s largest pharmaceutical company, with a 1000+ strong sales force in the UK alone, each of whom has a line manager, whose primary responsibility is to coach them. The main purpose of coaching is to help people help themselves. Representatives mostly work unsupervised. The area manager’s role is to build capability in the representative, so that they can be self-reliant, successful and motivated salespeople. Fully recognizing the benefit of effective coaching has encouraged Pfizer to develop a coaching culture, particularly within the field force environment. Such an aim involves each newly appointed line manager and trainer undergoing a coaching skills course as part of their initial training. In addition, managers and trainers have the development of their people as an integral parameter in their performance-management objectives.

The field force has the opportunity, annually, to provide feed back to their area manager. Such feedback can be invaluable to the coach, as their work is largely unobserved by anyone other than the coachee. When done proficiently, coaching is a subtle form of questioning and listening, allowing the coachee themselves to establish their own goals and plan. Often coaches may not be aware of their own coaching strengths and weaknesses. This feedback process has significantly motivated the area managers and improved the overall quality of coaching.

The Model Chosen for Pfizer Success

In developing a coaching culture, Pfizer adopted a standard coaching model in the UK in 1997, following its successful application in the US. The model was developed in the US by Steven J Stowell, Ph.D. and is used by many well-known companies, such as AT&T, Boeing, Mobil Oil and PepsiCo amongst others. The 8 Step Model is the result of extensive research by Dr. Stowell and the CMOE organization, in which they discovered that there are 47 behaviors that ‘world class coaches’ demonstrate. These behaviors are then distilled into eight steps. The model is circular, and implicit is its flexibility and continuity. A coach can use any stage of the cycle for his interaction as it provides a framework to the discussion. The 8 Step Model has proved itself to be more effective in the Pfizer environment than many other well known coaching models and programs. While many organizations may utilize other coaching models easily found today, most of these models imply that the coachee is already motivated to make some kind of change in their behavior – either they know what they want to achieve, but don’t know how to go about it, or they want some other result than that they are realizing, but don’t know how to go about it. There can be occasions, particularly when coaching a direct report, when the current behaviors are not seen as affecting the outcome for the individual. As such, they are not necessarily motivated to change their behavior. For example, a manager might want to coach a junior about their expenses being frequently late, but to the junior, this is not a problem. In short, there is no motivation to change behavior, and this is where the 8 Step Model comes into its own.

The model’s impact on success

As a past area manager at Pfizer, my intention was to encourage the representatives to fulfill their job requirements independently, rely­ing on a strong sense of self-reli­ance and self-motivation to gener­ate sales. The frequency of accom­panied visits averaged one day a month. To improve the support offered, I piloted telephone coach­ing to augment the accompanied visits. The focus of my sales call coaching also shifted to ‘pre-call’ coaching, where my primary focus was in enabling the representative to get into the optimal ‘state’ to sell, maximizing that selling oppor­tunity, rather than the traditional post postmortem of everything that the representative could have done and possibly didn’t.

After a few weeks, I noticed that my team was much more energized and motivated at work and that they were thinking through the structure of their calls in a produc­tive way. After a three-month pilot period, a survey was completed where the statement, ‘overall, tel­ephone coaching has helped me become more effective’ resulted in an average score of 7.3 (where 1 = strongly disagree and 9 = strongly agree).


One of the most effective ways to invest in people’s development and to encourage them to achieve beyond their limitations is by using coaching, and in particular (though not exclusively) through the relationship between the manager and their direct reports. In Pfizer’s case, the company has gener­ated an environment where high expecta­tion of performance is supported and a coaching culture is alive and well.


Phil Higgins worked as a district sales man­ager, then associate training manager at Pfizer for 12 years. He is now managing director of Peak Performance Training and Development. He can be contacted through The 8 Step Model course and material is available from the Center of Management and Organizational Effectiveness (CMOE), and further information can be obtained at

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About the Author
Phil Higgins
Phil Higgins has been a consultant and facilitator for more than twenty years working most of that time in the commercial world of sales. He has extensive experience in training and managing sales teams for the Pharmaceutical industry.

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