I stood in front of the National Sales Team I managed and could feel the cynicism
staring back at me. Certain they knew the script, they braced themselves for the “start of the fiscal year motivational speech”—the speech delivered by every sales leader since the dawn of quotas. The basic format of the speech goes something like this:
“You are the best darn <INSERT NAME> sales team that any manager has had the pleasure of working with. Last year you really came through with <INSERT ACCOMPLISHMENT AND QUOTA OVERACHIEMENT>. I know you can do it again, that you are hungry to go out there and show them just how good you really are. It’s a big target of <INSERT QUOTA NUMBER> but with the talent on this team, we are going to know it out of the park. Let’s get out there and make it happen!”
For a bonus, throw in a few sports references and you’ve got yourself some motivation right? No? So how come as sales managers we rinse, repeat and pull this same speech out year in and year out? And sticking to the script is not limited to the fiscal year kick-off. To keep the team motivated at our monthly or quarterly meetings, we again turn to “the script”, albeit in a slightly abridged form.
Why do we do it? Because it is a script that we know. It is predictable.
Cut back to me standing in front of my team of seasoned, experienced professionals who were more than familiar with the realities of a sales career (see Graphic 1).
In that moment, I made a decision to throw away the sacred speech that had been passed down through generations of sales managers in favour of trying something new. I decided I would focus not on the group as a whole, but rather on each individual and drill into his or her vision of success.
Going around the room, I asked each person to complete the sentence with one short statement. The sentence started with “our next fiscal year going to be a breakthrough success because…”. Then as a group, we knitted together a shared vision of what we were going to accomplish. And we did not stop there. With a clear, shared vision of success in mind, we then worked collaboratively on allocating our scarce time and marketing resources to best serve that vision.
The decision to move out of the sales manager comfort zone and beyond the predictable had created the dynamic of motivation that “the script” had always sought to create but rarely had. Choosing to improvise created a new story for my team in a way that would ultimately see everyone engaged beyond the confines of that meeting.
What would you do if you find yourself facing that room of professionals who know all to well what is coming? How do you take the uneasy step of improvising and build a new story for your team? Here are a few tips:
- Gut feel and instinct kick-in for a reason. You know when a message is tried and true but when you get the feeling that it is landing as old and tired, pay attention and change it up. People want to be surprised.
- Trust yourself and others. Bigger and better accomplishments are waiting to be discovered if you trust yourself and your team. Trust that the ideas are there and that the team has the intention and ability to see them through to a successful conclusion you will accomplish more if you focus on the positive.
- Shut up, listen, and observe. As managers, there is pressure to act like we have a Magic 8-Ball that will provide all the answers. Because of that, sometimes we unwittingly talk too much as a way to convince ourselves that we do in fact have all the answers. More often than not, however, people have their own answers. They just need the time and space to figure things out. Stop talking and give people that time and space. Be aware that there are so many valuable messages pertaining to what people want and need that are not put into words. Pay attention to what is communicated through silence, actions, and energy level.
I hope these tips help you to break with the standard scripts that might be holding back your team from doing their absolute best. The year I made that all important decision to improvise with my team, I was rewarded by seeing us deliver far beyond the objectives that had been set for us. More than that, I felt a great sense of pride from seeing how each person had turned his or her personal vision of success into reality.
What has your experience been in trying out a new script?