HBR: 4 Signs an Executive Isn’t Ready for Coaching

Are you investing in the right people? Do you have people who are uncoachable? Below is a blog from the Harvard Business Review by Matt Brubaker and Chris Mitchell:

4 Signs an Executive Isn’t Ready for Coaching

The stigma of asking for or being assigned an executive coach is vanishing quickly. The growth of the industry tells us so. In the U.S. alone, $1 billion was spent on business, personal and relationship coaches last year, according to IbisWorld, up about 20% from five years earlier. And the number of business coaches worldwide has zoomed more than 60% since 2007, according to one coaching association. But while executive coaches have improved the performance of many already-good managers and sanded the rough edges off many less effective ones, they aren’t a miracle cure. In fact, we have seen many companies waste considerable sums by assigning coaches to managers who just aren’t ready to be coached, no matter how effective the coaches may be.

So how do those who control the coaching purse strings — HR, talent managers, and other buyers — avoid throwing money away on uncoachable executives? Considering that a year’s engagement with a top executive coach can cost more than $100,000, it’s an important question.

From nearly 35 years of coaching hundreds of executives, our firm has noticed a pattern of red flags that indicate when a coaching investment will be wasted. Here are four things to watch out for:

  1. They blame external factors for their problems.

When things go wrong, does this person always have an excuse? Maybe they point a finger at the quality of their team, a lack of resources, or even their boss.

When leaders argue about the validity of your reasons for offering coaching, or offer excuses or defenses for poor results, it can be a sign that they lack self-awareness. Before any coaching can be effective, they need to wake up to the ways their actions affect others.

One CEO we worked with was known for his smart turnarounds of a large media company. But he was struggling to get along with his executive team. Finally, several board directors suggested he should seek out a coach. After multiple sessions, he had shared little information about himself, and we were no closer to figuring out the root of the problem. Stymied, we suggested that we observe the next executive team meeting.

Suddenly, all was clear. We were shocked by how he controlled the conversation in the room. He simply spoke over other people with a volume of words that was unfathomable. When he left the room to take a call, his team members erupted with frustration. It was obvious that this CEO was completely out of touch — something that became even more apparent later on, when he asked us to tell the board how positively he was responding to coaching.

Leaders like this often ignore criticism if it doesn’t jibe with their view of themselves — and such feedback is easy to ignore if it’s buried in a performance review or mentioned briefly in a larger conversation. Conducting a non-judgmental, just-the-facts 360-degree review could help them see the reality of their situation. Until they can see what others see and why it matters, they won’t examine their behavior, and coaching will be useless.

  1. You can’t get on their calendar.

Some leaders claim to be receptive to coaching but just can’t find the time. They may cancel sessions at the last minute, constantly reschedule, or, when they do show up, be visibly distracted. They lack space for coaching both in their calendar, and in their mind.

Unlike the oblivious leader, the too-busy leader is often quite likable. They will apologize for being hard to pin down, and be very direct about how busy they are. Don’t be surprised if they’re flattered to be offered coaching. But coaching can’t be crammed into the schedule of a leader who wears their busy-ness as a badge of honor. Their inability to prioritize is a sign they need coaching, but their unwillingness to make room for it suggests they won’t be a good coaching investment.

A brilliant engineer we know had been promoted three times in four years, and by the time he was nearly 30 he was a group president at a U.S. manufacturing company. Diligent, humble, and smart, he could hold a room spellbound with only a marker and a whiteboard as he worked out solutions to highly technical problems. However, as adept as he was at the technical aspects of his job, he now had 20 people reporting to him whom he had no idea how to manage.

After three months of coaching, his superiors could see it was going nowhere. The executive often rescheduled his sessions, telling his coach he didn’t have the time. He believed he couldn’t set aside the time to improve himself. That made him uncoachable.

HR managers should do some reality testing to ensure the too-busy leader is willing to make room for coaching. To benefit from coaching, too-busy leaders must make the space to be fully present, both during the coaching sessions and after, doing the difficult work of developing new mindsets, skills, and habits. Ask this person what tasks or responsibilities they’d be willing to give up or delegate, even temporarily, to make time for coaching. If they struggle to think of any, give them a gentle but firm ultimatum as part of a career planning conversation: that they have plateaued at the company and won’t go to the next level until they make time for self-development.

  1. They focus too much on tips and tactics.

Some leaders eagerly agree to coaching, but then avoid the deeper inquiries required for meaningful transformation. They’re willing to modify behaviors, but not beliefs. They view coaching as medicine that, if taken regularly, will help them get ahead.

The quick-fix leader becomes frustrated when their coach asks questions that require self-reflection. They want answers, not questions. “You’re the expert, you tell me,” they’ll say in response to questions from the coach, or “What if I did this?” Everything comes back to tactics. (A related warning sign is if a leader asks how quickly the coaching can be finished — especially if they demand that the cycle be compressed.)

Although coaches sometimes offer suggestions, their real job is to help executives uncover the assumptions driving their behavior. Only then can a coach help them challenge self-limiting beliefs that block their development. However, the quick-fix leader has little interest in this process.

One CEO we worked with was leading a family business that had recently been sold to a large company. He was told by a leader in the new parent company (who himself had benefitted from coaching) that coaching would help him make the transition. The CEO gladly accepted, wanting to be seen as a peer.

However, it wasn’t long into the first coaching session that he showed his entire focus was on “doing whatever other successful people did.” The coach worked tirelessly to shift the conversation to the CEO’s purpose and goals. Each time, however, he shifted the discussion back to the “secrets of success” of other organizational leaders he wanted to emulate. Ultimately, he was passed over for a permanent role on the parent company’s leadership team, and left the organization.

To prompt this kind of leader to be open to self-reflection, remind them of all the other times they vowed to change but were unsuccessful. They then might realize they need to work on more than just changing their game plan. Or, introduce them into a preliminary mentoring conversation with one of the leaders they admire. Tell the mentor to share their experience of struggling to develop.

  1. They delay getting started with a coach to “do more research” or “find the right person.”

To be sure, it’s important to have a good fit between a leader and his coach. But a continual rejection of qualified coaches should give you pause. A related red flag is if the person is acting confused, and asking repeatedly why coaching has been suggested. Assuming you’ve clearly explained why coaching is necessary, this could be a defense mechanism and a signal that the person is not ready to confront their shortcomings. It usually stems from insecurity.

Being coached can be daunting, and not everyone is ready to take it on. We remember a physician leader who was hired to turn around a business unit of a large medical center. When his staff challenged him, he became emotional. Told by his boss that he needed a coach to help him control his emotions, he was hurt and angrily asked “Why?” — failing again to control his emotions. He was too full of hidden fears for the coaching to be useful. His boss eventually reassigned him, and ultimately he left the organization.

Reframe coaching as an investment the organization is making in their development rather than a personal fix. Tell them your firm provides this resource for high-potential, top performers to accelerate their success. If this leader can view coaching as something positive to help them achieve their goals, they may warm up to the process.

When Going Coach-Less Is Not Viable

After hearing us say that a certain leader is not a good candidate for coaching, an executive who brought us in will often say a variant of this: “Well, he must be coached. We can’t let him continue to manage others the way he has, but we can’t fire him easily either because we need his skills badly.” But imposing coaching on someone who just can’t handle it at the moment isn’t going to help anyone. Companies are better off directing their people development investments elsewhere — skills training or academic programs are often better options.

Invest your coaching budget in people who have shown the willingness and the capacity to change, and you’ll get a much better return on your investment

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Eighth Anniversity

The Year in Review

Below are the top ten views for the year:

HBR: Are Sales Incentives Becoming Obsolete?

Everwise: Seven Tactics to Boost Learning in the Workplace

HBR: Good Leaders Are Good Learners

GT: 5 Things a Great Leader Would Never Do

HBR: 6 Reasons Salespeople Win or Lose a Sale

HBR: How to Improve Your Sales Skills, Even If You’re Not a Salesperson

Ben Franklin’s Third Virtue – Order

HBR: What Most Companies Miss About Customer Lifetime Value

HBR: What Creativity in Marketing Looks Like Today

HBR: 3 Ways to Make Time for the Little Tasks You Never Make Time For

Thank you for your support over the past year.

 

 

HBR: The Most Common Reasons Customer Experience Programs Fail

What are your Costs-to-Acquire, Customer Penetration, and Customer-Lifetime Value? Do you have a Customer Experience strategy? Below is a blog from the Harvard Business Review by Ryan Smith and Luke Williams.

The Most Common Reasons Customer Experience Programs Fail

Most customer experience (CX programs) are positioned as strategic, but quickly veer away from business objectives and become simply about tracking CX metrics. Time passes slowly, data continues to mount, and paralysis sets in. Big, strategic goals evolve into score improvements and incrementalism instead of gleaning useful insights that allow change with confidence.

So where does it all go wrong?

Most CX programs are broken in similar ways:

  1. They are not designed with change or innovation in mind.
  2. They have “soft” metrics rather than real business goals.
  3. They move slowly and without purpose.

Mistake #1: Forgoing change and innovation

Ask your CX program leader about the purpose of the program. If the answer is something other than, “So we can make intelligent changes that benefit the customer and the business,” you may have a serious issue. CX programs must be about change.

At the most rudimentary level, basic programs track performance over time. Yes, that’s useful, but why is it important? Because you want to improve over time. This means you must do things differently than you did them before. While it’s not complicated, this is a frequently overlooked premise to having a CX program—it’s about change.

Effective CX programs prioritize the importance of what gets measured and stack those data against your desired outcomes—what’s called “driver analyses.” Good driver analyses unlock the method for having the most change in the fewest possible moves.

While executing driver analyses enables change, it’s not actual change. It’s just more data until you do something with it. The reasons change doesn’t often happen are reporting paralysis, the lack of “think time,” and failure to collaborate.

Reporting paralysis can occur when teams are so wrapped up in distributing data, ensuring data quality, or writing up insights that they forget the purpose of data. If you “measure everything and report everywhere,” you’re not being strategic with your data.

Building in “think time” can help with this. Instead of just measuring, manufacturing, and distributing, build in time to understand the implications and applications of the data. This will give you clarity and confidence in what you’ve seen, how the pieces of the puzzle fit together, allow hypotheses to be formed and plans for change to be made.

Collaboration is also important if CX is going to result in any real change. CX experts must work with other departments and stakeholders to push the agenda for customer-focused improvement. Yes, it’s hard to do this when no one has time to meet, much less collaborate. But the CX program is uniquely positioned to try to make this happen anyway. They own the customer, they’re the advocate, and they have the analysis. Most importantly, the CX program reminds everyone else why they have to make time for the customer, above all else.

Mistake #2: Linking metrics to business outcomes

Most CX programs use their own tracking measures as emblems of success or failure. If a score improves, that number is heralded and CX teams use it as evidence of innovation and improvement by the team. Often, these results are accepted at face value.

But the problem with this approach is you really can’t control for all other things that could cause scores to rise, and you can’t assume that a rise in scores is good for net revenue. When it comes time to set key performance indicators (KPIs) for the program, be sure to match them up against input from both your CMO and your CFO.

What are the kinds of things you might want to consider? Here are some examples:

  1. Cost to Acquire and Serve a Customer (CAC and CSC): The better you understand your customer and prospect base, the more you build experiences and services they crave, the lower your CAC and CSC should be.
  2. Customer Penetration and Share: Customer penetration is simply increasing the number of customers you have. Share of wallet is the ultimate measure of how they spend their money when the ultimate point-of-sale (POS) decision occurs. Study the drivers and barriers of both to optimize here.
  3. Customer Lifetime Value: This is the net present value of all future customer revenues with account for attrition and your discount rate. It’s a complex measure, but the best firms understand it and make it a central part of their scorecard.
  4. Customer Churn: A well-run CX program can contribute to gains against customers shifting away from your brand (attrition) or abandoning it altogether (defection).

There is place in the world for performance benchmarking survey metrics like net promoter score (NPS). Many firms aren’t sufficiently sophisticated with respect to the above measures, so measuring NPS or other metrics may be the only empirical evidence available. When this is the case, though, be certain to study KPI success or failure with caution. A satisfied customer is not necessarily a profitable one.

Mistake #3: Moving slowly, without purpose

A CX program is a living, breathing thing. It’s either in a state of growth, peak productivity, or decline. CX programs are like mountain climbing — if you aren’t confidently moving through the problem, you may be wasting valuable energy trying to figure out where you’re going.

While it’s critical that CX programs be well designed and methodologically sound, sometimes wasteful activities are allowed to creep into the design process and bog down the program. Lack of momentum and sluggishness spell doom to a CX program, and leadership must propel the program.

True CX leadership comes from:

  1. Ownership. There must be a program owner: a single person who is ultimately responsible for the success and quality of the program.
  2. Expertise. The leader doesn’t have to know everything about the business, research methods and analytics, or strategy to be effective. But the more they know about each, the more effective the program will be.
  3. Resources. Multi-million dollar budgets aren’t necessary to create or capture value. Start with a basic budget commensurate with those of an IT program. Let them demonstrate value to earn more resources.
  4. Empowerment. Give your leader the authority to be successful.

Going slowly when you don’t intend to is clear evidence that the program has slipped into neutral in the leadership camp.

There are many obstacles and detours that can prevent full ROI from your CX program. In our experience, these three are the most common. To avoid them, remember that CX programs are not merely about watching scores go up and down. The goal is to create experiences that add value to the customer and the firm simultaneously, and this requires constant change. So think about what ideal experiences you want customers to have, and work backwards from there. Work quickly. And re-invent as needed.

Original Page: https://hbr.org/2016/12/the-most-common-reasons-customer-experience-programs-fail

 

HBR: What Creativity in Marketing Looks Like Today

“The changes happening in consumer behavior, technology, and media are redefining the nature of creativity in marketing. Do these changing roles require a new way of thinking about creativity in marketing?” Below is a blog from the Harvard Business Review by Mark Bonchek and Cara France:

What Creativity in Marketing Looks Like Today

What makes marketing creative? Is it more imagination or innovation? Is a creative marketer more artist or entrepreneur? Historically, the term “marketing creative” has been associated with the words and pictures that go into ad campaigns. But marketing, like other corporate functions, has become more complex and rigorous. Marketers need to master data analytics, customer experience, and product design. Do these changing roles require a new way of thinking about creativity in marketing?

To explore this question, we interviewed senior marketing executives across dozens of top brands. We asked them for examples of creativity in marketing that go beyond ad campaigns and deliver tangible value to the business. Their stories — and the five wider trends they reflect — help illustrate what it means to be a creative marketer today.

  1. Create with the customer, not just for the customer

Everyone likes to talk about being “customer-centric.” But too often this means taking better aim with targeted campaigns. Customers today are not just consumers; they are also creators, developing content and ideas — and encountering challenges — right along with you. Creativity in marketing requires working with customers right from the start to weave their experiences with your efforts to expand your company’s reach.

For example, Intuit’s marketing team spends time with self-employed people in their homes and offices to immerse themselves in the customer’s world. Through this research, they identified a pain point of tracking vehicle gas mileage. Based on these marketing insights, Intuit created a new feature within its app that combines location data, Google maps, and the user’s calendar to automatically track mileage and simplify year-end tax planning.

Brocade, a data and network solutions provider, created a “customer first” program by identifying their top 200 customers, who account for 80% of their sales. They worked with these customers to understand their sources of satisfaction and identify areas of strengths and weakness. Brocade then worked with sales teams to create and deliver customized packages outlining what Brocade heard is working or not working, and what they would do about those findings. Later, Brocade followed up with these customers to report on progress against these objectives. The results? Brocade’s Net Promoter Score went from 50 (already a best in class score) to 62 (one of the highest B2B scores on record) within 18 months.

  1. Invest in the end-to-end experience

Every marketer believes the customer experience is important. But most marketers only focus on the parts of that experience under their direct control. Creative marketers take a broader view and pay attention to the entire customer experience from end to end. This includes the product, the buying process, the ability to provide support, and customer relationships over time. That takes time and resources – and it also requires bringing creative thinking to unfamiliar problems.

Kaiser Permanente believes that as health care becomes more consumer-oriented, the digital experience becomes a key differentiator. The marketing team instituted a welcome program to help improve the experience for new plan members. Members are guided on how to register for an online member portal, which provides access to email your doctor, refill prescriptions, make appointments, and more. The welcome program required coordination with many areas of the business. As a result of this program, about 60% of new members register within the first six months. These members are 2.6 times more likely to stay with Kaiser Permanente two years later.

Like many retailers, Macy’s has traditionally spent 85% of its marketing budget on driving sales. Each outbound communication is measured individually for immediate ROI. However, recently they began to take a more holistic approach, focusing on lifetime value and their most profitable segment, the “fashionable spender.” This group looks across the business to gather behind-the-scenes information on the runway, newest clothing lines, and aspirational fashion content. The metrics also changed. Macy’s started evaluating engagement per customer across time and platform instead of per marketing message per day. The results? In the last year, customers in the top decile segment increased digital engagement by 15%, cross shopping by 11% and sales by 8%.

  1. Turn everyone into an advocate

In a fragmented media and social landscape, marketers can no longer reach their goals for awareness and reputation just through paid media and PR. People are the new channel. The way to amplify impact is by inspiring creativity in others. Treat everyone as an extension of your marketing team: employees, partners, and even customers.

Plum Organics gives each employee business cards with coupons attached. While shopping, all employees are encouraged to observe consumers shopping the baby category. When appropriate, they ask a few questions about shoppers’ baby food preferences and share business cards with coupons for free products as a gesture of appreciation.

For Equinix, surveys revealed that a third of employees were not confident explaining its company story. The company introduced an internal ambassador program for its more than 6,000 employees. This program gives employees across all disciplines and levels tools to educate them on the company, its culture, products and services, and how they solve its customer’s needs. More than 20% of employees took the training online or in workshops in the first few months of the program, and employee submissions to its sales lead and job candidate referral programs were up 43% and 19% respectively.

Old Navy has traditionally dedicated their media budget to TV, particularly around back to school. However, over the past few years, they’ve focused on digital content to engage kids around positive life experiences and giving back. Through this approach, the 2016 #MySquadContest led to 32,000 kids sharing their “squads” of friends for a chance to win an epic day with their favorite influencer, creating 3 million video views, a 60% increase in social conversation about @OldNavy, and a 600% increased likelihood of recommending Old Navy to a friend (versus those that viewed TV ads only). In addition, the program led to record breaking donations for their partner, The Boys & Girls Club.

  1. Bring creativity to measurement

The measurability of digital engagement means we can now know exactly what’s working and not working. This gives marketing an opportunity to measure and manage itself in new ways. In the past, marketing measured success by sticking to budgets and winning creative awards. Today, the ability to measure data and adjust strategies in real-time enables marketing to prove its value to the business in entirely new ways.

Cisco has created a real-time, online dashboard where the entire marketing organization can look at performance. The leadership team conducts a weekly evaluation to assess, “Is what we’re doing working?” This analysis can be done across different digital initiatives, geographies, channels, or even individual pieces of content. The result is an ability to quickly adjust and re-allocate resources.

Zscaler, a cloud-based security platform for businesses, created a Value Management Office. The Office helps each client define, quantify, and track their unique business goals associated with Zscaler implementation. Zscaler and their clients hold each other accountable to specific, measurable, time-based results.

OpenTable recently launched a companion app just for restaurants to make better use of the data they’ve been collecting through their reservation system. Restauranteurs can now get a handle on their business right from their smartphone, allowing them to easily answer questions like “How did your last shift perform?” The app can tell them if they are running light on bookings, and soon they’ll be able to activate marketing campaigns to increase same day reservations. More than 50% of restaurant customers on OpenTable’s cloud-based service are already using the app, visiting an average of 9 times a day, 7 days a week.

  1. Think like a startup

In the past, marketers needed to be effective managers, setting goals well in advance and then working within budget to achieve those goals. Today, creative marketers need to operate more like entrepreneurs, continuously adjusting to sustain “product/market fit.”

The start-up Checkr represents a trend we are seeing more of in the Bay Area in particular. Marketers are adopting the business practices of entrepreneurs such as lean startup and agile development. For its background check solution, Checkr wasn’t getting the results it wanted from traditional sales and marketing tactics as it expanded into new market segments. They realized they had to think beyond marketing as promoting an existing product. Adopting an agile method of customer testing and rapid iteration, they worked with engineering to rethink the product and bring a “minimum viable product” to market for these new buyers. As a result of this integrated, agile approach, the company easily hit some early 2017 revenue targets with conversion rates that are four times what is traditionally seen in the industry.

 

The changes happening in consumer behavior, technology, and media are redefining the nature of creativity in marketing. The measure of marketing success isn’t the input, whether that’s the quality of a piece of content or a campaign, but rather the value of the output, whether that’s revenue, loyalty, or advocacy. Marketers of the past thought like artists, managers, and promoters. Today’s marketers need to push themselves to think more like innovators and entrepreneurs — creating enterprise value by engaging the whole organization, looking out for the entire customer experience, using data to make decisions, and measuring effectiveness based on business results.

 

 

Original Page: https://hbr.org/2017/03/what-creativity-in-marketing-looks-like-today

 

 

HBR: Organizing a Sales Force by Product or Customer, and other Dilemmas

Sales can be full of double-edged swords. How do you leverage the edge you want and blunt the ones you don’t? Below is a blog from the Harvard Business Review by Andris A. Zoltners, Sally E. Lorimer, PK Sinha.

Organizing a Sales Force by Product or Customer, and other Dilemmas

HP announced in March that it was combining its printer and personal computer businesses. According to CEO Meg Whitman, “The result will be a faster, more streamlined, performance-driven HP that is customer focused.” But that remains to be seen.

The merging of the two businesses is a reversal for HP. In 2005, HP split off the printer business from the personal computer business, dissolved the Customer Solutions Group (CSG) which was a sales and marketing organization that cut across product categories, and pushed selling responsibilities down to the product business units. The goal was to give each business unit greater control of its sales process, and in former CEO Mark Hurd’s words, to “perform better — for our customers and partners.”

The choice — to build a sales organization around customers or products — has vexed every company with a diverse product portfolio. It’s not uncommon for a firm such as HP to vacillate between the two structures. And switching structures is not always a recipe for success.

Let’s rewind the clock to 2005 at HP, before the CSG was eliminated. Most likely, those responsible for the success of specific products (say printers) were often at odds with the CSG. The words in the air may have been something like “Printers bring in the profits, and our products are not getting enough attention” or “The CSG people want customer control, but we have the product expertise.” And from the CSG sales team, we can imagine the feelings, “We are trying to do the best for HP and for customers. The printing people are not being team players.”

Especially when performance lags, people in any sales structure see and feel the disadvantages and stresses that their structure creates. But they often see only the benefits of the structure that they are not operating in. The alternative looks enticing. Unreasonably so.

HP’s dilemma illustrates one of many two-edged swords of sales management. These swords are reasonable choices that sales leaders make that have a sharp beneficial edge, but the very nature of the benefit is tied to another sharp edge that has drawbacks. Unless the undesirable edge is dulled, the choice cannot work.

Consider a choice like the one HP made recently to organize its sales force by customer rather than by product.

  • The beneficial edge: Salespeople can understand the customer’s total business, can cross-sell and provide solutions (not just products), and can act as business partners rather than vendors for their customers.
  • The undesirable edge: Salespeople will have less product expertise and focus. And it will be difficult for the company to control how much effort each product gets.
  • Dulling the undesirable edge: The company could create product specialists to assist customer managers (although this would add costs and coordination needs, and would work only if salespeople and the culture were team-oriented). It could also use performance management and incentives to manage effort allocation.

    Sales is full of such double-edged swords. For example:

  • If you hire mostly experienced people, they will become productive rapidly. But they will come with their own ways to do things and may have trouble fitting into the new environment.
  • If you drive a structured sales process through the organization, things will be more transparent and organized, and coordination across people will be easier. But out of the box thinking will be diminished, and managers might use the defined structure to micro-manage their people.
  • If you give salespeople customer ownership and pay them mostly through commissions, you will attract independent, aggressive salespeople and encourage a performance-oriented culture. But this will discourage teamwork and create a brittle relationship based mostly on money.

The effective sales leader recognizes the two edges of each of these (and other) choices. He or she works to sharpen and leverage the good edge, while dulling the impact of the other edge. The overly optimistic leader who sees the benefits of only one choice will lead his or her sales force into peril!

We have offered a few examples of double-edged swords of sales management. There are many, many more. Do add to our list, and tell us how you leverage the edge you want, and blunt the one you don’t.

 

HBR: Ineffective Sales Leaders Can Cause Lasting Damage

Is your vison or strategy going in the right direction? Are you retaining the right talent? Are you serving your customers? Or managing your sales team badly? Is your culture wrong for your vision and strategy? Below is a blog from the Harvard Business Review by Andris A. Zoltners, Sally E. Lorimer, PK Sinha.

Ineffective Sales Leaders Can Cause Lasting Damage

Success in a sales force requires having strong talent up and down the organization. A weak salesperson will weaken a sales territory, a bad sales manager will damage their team and dampen results in their region, and a poor sales leader will eventually ruin the entire sales force. For even the most seasoned among us, it can be difficult to recognize the signs of a poor sales leader and the possible damage the person can do — especially when they appear to do some good early on.

Consider two examples.

An education technology startup hired a sales leader who came from a large, well-respected firm. He had extensive market knowledge and a stellar track record. Although good at scaling and operating a sales organization, the leader was unable to succeed in a rapidly changing environment that needed experimentation and nimbleness. The mismatch between the startup’s need and the leader’s capabilities set progress back at least a year.

A medical device company hired a vice president of sales with an intimidating management style. He ruled by fear. Achieving goals was everything. He tolerated (and even encouraged) ethically questionable sales practices. Results looked excellent at first, but the sales culture became so unpleasant that good performers began leaving in a trickle, and then in a flood. The average tenure of salespeople dwindled to just seven months. The damage to the company continued for years after the VP was replaced.

The reasons that sales leaders fail fall into four categories:

  • Direction. Poor understanding of the business, leading to errors in vision and strategy
  • Talent. Inability to pick and keep the right people for the team
  • Execution. Poor processes serve customers and manage people badly
  • Culture. Inappropriate values damage the very core of the organization

When such failures are coupled with a leader’s egotism or lack of self-awareness, it’s unlikely that the leader can lean on others to overcome his own deficiencies.

Yet ineffective leaders can do some good in sales organizations. They can bring about needed change quickly. Leaders who lack sensitivity have an easier time eliminating poor performers. Leaders who are intimidating can use their muscle to implement difficult changes that past leaders avoided — for example, an organizational restructure that disrupts an existing power hierarchy.

But unless a poor leader can overcome or compensate for his deficiencies, eventually the bad will overpower any temporary good. A tyrant, for example, may fix some things in the short term but create other problems at the same time. For every gain, there are likely to be multiple missteps with the sales force’s vision, team, execution, and culture. A key and very visible marker of ongoing or impending trouble is when talented people on the leader’s team become frustrated and depart the company.

It can take years to repair the damage done by an ineffective sales leader.

First, it takes time to replace the leader and reconstruct the sales team. When a health care company hired the wrong leader for a sales region, it took more than three years to rebuild the team and recover from the initial error of putting the wrong person in charge.

Second, it takes time to reverse the questionable decisions that ineffective sales leaders make, especially decisions that affect sales force structure or compensation. Weak leaders at a technology company made a decision to restructure the sales organization using a model from their own past that did not match the current situation. Again, it took more than three years to undo the damage.

Third, it takes time to rebuild the culture a poor leader creates. Poor leadership at a medical device company had allowed an unhealthy “victim” culture to pervade the sales force. Salespeople had no confidence in their leaders, and managers were willing to accept salespeople’s constant excuses for poor performance.

Bringing about change required replacing the company’s president, followed by more than two years of sustained focus on transforming the sales force using the following process:

  1. Create a fresh vision, reflecting a culture in which salespeople trusted their leaders and in which all salespeople were held accountable for results.
  2. Communicate the vision using every opportunity, including sales meetings, videoconferences, and the company’s intranet.
  3. Rebuild the team starting with a new vice president of sales who had integrity and judgment, and was willing to replace anyone on the sales team who could not adapt to the new culture.
  4. Realign sales support systems and rewards by overhauling the systems for recognizing and rewarding performance and creating accountability.

These four steps are a good starting point for any company seeking to recover from poor sales leadership.

Bad sales leaders can sometimes bring about change in a broken environment and make temporary gains. But they will wreck a sales force unless they are replaced quickly.

S+B: What It Takes to Stay Ahead of the Competition

Are you maintaining a high level of performance? Are you aware of new and innovative products on the market? Below is a blog from the STRATEGY+BUSINESS Blog by Matt Palmquist.

What It Takes to Stay Ahead of the Competition

Bottom Line: For companies, sustaining a consistently high level of performance requires unique capabilities that may differ sharply from the strategies they used to succeed in the first place.

Leading firms set themselves apart by achieving a high level of performance and meeting or exceeding consumers’ expectations relative to the competition. It’s usually an arduous, years-long process. But sustaining that level of performance is a completely different challenge — one that few companies can overcome in the modern business landscape.

There’s plenty of substantive advice available on how to attain high-quality performance in the first place. Researchers have variously touted the ability of firms to create barriers to entry for competitors, for example, or to draw (pdf) on unique capabilities to differentiate themselves. But rivals learn quickly, once-novel strategies can eventually be duplicated, mistakes can be made, and complacency can set in. What it takes to sustain top-quality performance, therefore, is also deserving of study — but it has received comparatively little attention from researchers. Indeed, most analysts have implicitly assumed that the capabilities required to attain high-quality performance are the same as those needed to sustain it.

A new study aims to shed light on the issue by analyzing which capabilities enable companies to sustain a consistent and high level of performance. It should be noted that for the study, the quality level and consistency of performance are two distinct concepts. Whereas a firm with a high quality level outshines its competitors in the short term, consistency involves maintaining that high level with minimal variance for a five-year period.

The authors analyzed data on 147 business units within large companies in the manufacturing sector that were based in either the U.S. or Taiwan. The reason to zero in on U.S. firms is obvious: They tend to set the tone for the global economy. The researchers chose to study Taiwanese firms as well in order to consider the differences between Eastern and Western cultures in their management approaches and assess any impact on performance. (In the final analysis, no significant differences between them appeared.) Taiwan also has a well-established reputation for advanced manufacturing.

To assemble a sample, the authors reached out to executives whose companies had won awards or earned acknowledgment from associations dedicated to recognizing high-performing businesses. The authors conducted surveys with quality or operations managers at the firms, who could speak to the specific strategies employed, and with general managers, who could field questions about the firm’s overall performance and the nuances of its business environment. For a subset of companies, the authors also obtained financial-performance data from the business unit’s accountant as well as internal audits that gauged the quality of its products and services.

After controlling for firm size, competitive intensity (pdf) of a given industry, and level of uncertainty faced — in the form of rapid technological developments or changing market conditions — the authors found that four particular capabilities emerged as integral to sustaining high-quality performance:

Improvement. This capability was defined as a firm’s ability to make incremental product or service upgrades, or to reduce production costs.

Innovation. Defined as how strong a company was at developing new products and entering new markets.

Sensing of weak signals. Defined as how well a company can focus on potential banana peels in order to improve overall performance, including analyzing mistakes, actively searching out production anomalies, and being aware of potential problems in the surrounding business environment.

Responsiveness. Defined as a business’s ability to solve problems that crop up unexpectedly and to use specialized expertise to counter those complications.

But these capabilities influenced different aspects of sustaining high performance, the authors found. For example, innovation capabilities primarily help firms maintain a certain level of quality, whereas the capacity for improvement affects mostly the consistency component. That’s probably because innovations are typically unique events that meet customers’ immediate needs and establish a certain level of quality, whereas incremental improvements are geared toward ensuring the long-term reliability of products and services, which translates into consistency.

Meanwhile, a firm’s capability for responsiveness had no significant effect on consistency, but had a decided positive impact on its level of quality — presumably because responding to quality-related problems quickly and efficiently is also a way of exceeding customers’ expectations in a one-off way.

Sensing of weak signals had a strong positive effect on consistency, but a moderately negative impact on the level of quality. This suggests a potential trade-off, the authors note, because maintaining both a high quality level and consistency is essential to sustaining performance. The authors speculate that a focus on sensing weak signals mandates that firms spend a lot of time collecting data and analyzing the occasional blip, which could cause them to get mired in minutiae and distract them from the more important tasks associated with sustaining a high level of performance. Although the benefits may pay off over time, a concentration on preventing failures rather than seeking out successes could also lead firms to take a short-term view and be overly conservative, too concerned with simply surviving, and to thus shy away from taking chances.

Intriguingly, the capabilities that increase consistency (improvement and sensing of weaknesses) are unaffected by the level of competitive intensity or uncertainty surrounding a firm, whereas those that affect the level of performance (innovation and responsiveness) depend heavily on the external context, the authors found. Presumably, the value of innovation and responsiveness is higher in the face of unanticipated external shocks, whereas improvement and sensitivity to failure are capabilities that are more internally oriented. As a result, firms may need to invest in certain capabilities more than others, depending on their business environment.

Source:An Empirical Investigation in Sustaining High-Quality Performance,” by Hung-Chung Su (University of Michigan–Dearborn) and Kevin Linderman (University of Minnesota), Decision Sciences, Oct. 2016, vol. 47, no. 5