Recently at Sales Architects, Lee Salz posed a challenging scenario for sales managers to weigh in on.
It involved a company dramatically changing its client/salesperson relationship model. He asked veteran sales managers and other thought leaders how they would recommend a sales manager execute the strategy knowing that it would be met with resistance.
After sharing my recommendations, I found myself thinking about the leadership retreat I had facilitated the previous week that focused on how they could communicate a clearer vision of where the organization was going. The organization was in the midst of a major reorganization and strategy overhaul that was causing major emotional upheaval.
Confusion about the company’s vision
The leadership team was concerned because employees had expressed confusion about the vision. Furthermore they were not responding in an engaged, “Let’s make this happen!” way.
Instead, they were growing increasingly more fearful, worrying about what would happen next. The emotional climate was growing increasingly more negative.
I found myself thinking that with just a little modification, the recommendations I gave for the hypothetical sales manager in the Sales Architects scenario could be applied to this change initiative, or any change initiative, for that matter.
The following list, modified from my response to the Sales Architects scenario, can be used by your senior leadership team to make sure you lay the foundation for successful execution. It can help your team make sure you give your managers what they need to communicate in a confident, compelling way and drive optimal results.
If you are a mid-level manager who did not play a role in the strategic decision, you will also find recommendations that address your unique role in the process.
1. Keep explaining the “why” until they get it
Remember that people are far more likely to execute a strategy wholeheartedly — even if they disagree with it —if they understand the “why.” To paraphrase Nietzsche: “People can handle almost any What, if they understand the Why.”
If you weren’t involved in the decision, do your homework so you thoroughly understand the rationale. Get feedback on whether your explanation makes sense. Explain the reason for the initiative to someone not in your company and see if they understand it and can see its validity. Tweak your message until it makes sense to someone without your background knowledge of the situation.
Also, don’t assume explaining it one time will suffice. Often when people are shocked by news, their brains lose their ability to process information.
2. Anticipate objections and generate valid answers
If you are part of the senior team that made the decision, this should be straightforward. If you weren’t and don’t have enough information to answer some of the potential objections and questions that might be raised, seek out the answers.
Here’s an example of how you can frame your request: “I want to make sure I present a compelling message to the team, so part of what I’ve been doing is making a list of potential questions and objections. There were four that I couldn’t answer because I don’t have the information. Can I get your take on them?”
3. Present a compelling “future story”
Describe what this new approach will do for them, their customers, and the company. Describe what you envision things being like 6-12 months in the future.
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Think in terms of telling “future stories” such as: “So for instance…with this new approach…when an existing client does X, instead of Y happening, we’ll now respond by doing Z…which will enable you to new, desired response and the customers to get whatever increased value the new employee response will deliver.” Notice how asking this makes you look like the nothing-short-of-excellence person you are.
4. Make sure you address the WII-FM for all parties
As you describe the future story, make sure you describe how this will benefit them (the WII-FM, or the “what’s in it for me?”), their customers, and the company (and therefore their job security).
5. Don’t BS
While you want to explicitly state the good that this change will produce, you don’t want to be dishonest. As you know from being on the receiving end of “company spin,” all it takes is one dishonest message from a leader to irrevocably damage trust.
You also don’t want to be that kind of leader, right?
So, don’t try to pretend certain outcomes or changes are a great thing when they actually are a net loss for your team. Also, don’t try to hide from the downside realities. Honestly acknowledge them.
6. Relate human-to-human, not role-to-role
Often, I see leaders putting on their “game face” and relating as “The Leader,” rather than being a genuine human being.
This alienates employees. Don’t be afraid to be real, to be authentic. Judiciously share the concerns you have about its effect on your people and how you took that into consideration. Interviews with employees at client companies going through downsizings have repeatedly shown me how powerfully it affects employees when they can see — and hear — how much their leader cares about them and the impact their decisions will have on them.
The more real you are, the more “bondable” you become, and therefore…the more your people will want to do their best for you.
Tomorrow in Part II, we’ll cover the other six components of helping your employees execute your strategy.