Culture – The #1 Job

The story is always the same.  As a strategic planning consultant and facilitator I work with executives in all different organizations: corporate, government, associations, universities, nonprofits, and churches.  In all cases the planning focuses on activities and directions for the future of the organization.  The one thing I have a hard time getting my clients to understand is the importance of focusing on their culture and values.  It is so much easier to focus on new buildings, i.e.:   “Alas, our ills will be cured with this and that new offering.”

All the well laid plans of strategy and tactics do not mean a hill of beans if nobody acts on, or executes the plans. The actions and efforts of any organization are an outgrowth of the culture.

IBM had a period in the 90s when they faltered.  Eventually leadership righted the ship, brought in new management, sold off divisions, and refocused the direction.  Their cultural DNA would not allow for subpar performance.

Throw a rock in the direction of any organization and you will hit their culture.  Great products . . . throw a rock.  Poor customer service . . . another rock.  The latest political scandal, the press release of record profits, the child abuse antics of another organization, all point to their respective culture.

For every Apple Computer that is focused on bringing the customer into a new world…there is an Oracle software whose culture is focused on winning, indeed even beating the living daylights out of the competition.

So one of the first things I do when facilitating strategic planning is to get the executives to re-live their past in a group exercise.  Then from that experience, I coax out an awareness of how those past behaviors translate into their culture…their core values.

These core values, culture, communications, and behaviors are central to every organization and their success or failure.  They talk about what you value, who do you respect and how do you treat one another?  What is your work ethic, how do you get things done?  What are the accountabilities, or lack of, that will be expected by leadership?  Who is recognized?  Who is fired or promoted?

This culture is important because it is at the core of how decisions are made. The culture establishes how much creativity or innovation occurs . . . if any.  If you are in a bank, just how much creativity do you really want?

However, since leadership is about attending to the status quo of your organization then culture has to sit at the very center.  Everything else is built on the foundation of culture.

Sales management in particular is about screwing with the status quo.  Whatever you sold last year, you want more sales of this year. What customers are not buying from you?  Changing the status quo would require you to start selling to them.

It is absolutely essential that all sales, both management and the sales representative, understand that the culture is the number 1 priority because actions grows out of it. It is the executive’s job to make sure the salespeople focus on doing the right things.  That requires proactively changing the status quo.

It is common knowledge that there are certain qualities that are more valued in business than others.  For example, any businessperson would do well to pay attention to 5 skill sets: managing a P&L, the ability to speak, the ability to write well, the ability to hire the right people, and the skills on how to properly fire someone.

Another core equity in the managers repertoire is the ability to evaluate and prioritize which of his salespeople he is going to work with.

You stack rank all your sales people on a piece of paper with the best performers at the top and the worst performers at the bottom.  Then dividing the group you grade them.  The top are your “A” players and hopefully the bottom sales reps are your “C” players. (If you’re any good you don’t have any D or E players.)

So I ask sales managers which of the groups do you work with?  The A’s or the C’s?  9 times out of 10 there is a look of total puzzlement.  If you allow a discussion to occur amongst sales managers, usually the consensus comes up that the focus should be on the B and C players, as you “help them become all that they can become.”

It comes as quite a shock when you tell them that they are wrong.  If your culture has you focusing on the B and C players, then your culture is communicating that you sanction mediocrity.  The environment in this organization approves “getting by”.  The core values scream that you can take your foot off the gas and coast a little here and there.

When management and leadership has its main focus on the top sales reps, the best of the best, the A’s performers, then the message and cultural activities communicate, “let’s go… let’s make things happen.”

This focus on the top players also makes sure that all the resources that are needed for success are channeled to those who can most effectively use them.  That includes the time, coaching and consulting skills of the sales manager and how those tools are used to lift those are the best reps.

The B and C players also quickly realize that either they have to raise the level of their game or start looking for work elsewhere where the culture more closely fits their performance levels.

Probably the most important thing for a sales culture to communicate is the focus on the actions that bring results!  Too many times the focus is on revenue, or how many units were sold.  These are effects are a byproduct of causes. Because it is easy to count revenues, sales often focuses on the outcomes, the measurable.  It behooves the sales manager to make the focus on the inputs, actions, and behaviors that will bring about success. It is a lot more fun to talk about the big sale that Charlie just got, than it is to talk about the prospecting slog that is required to bring in new prospects.

This is one of the reasons that a sales manager who is a “good friend” to his team is doing himself, and his team a great disservice.

Culture is job one.

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