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C-Suite Success: Inspiring Accountability

One of my favorite quotes about leadership comes from John Quincy Adams: "If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader."

This represents the essence of leadership, and the way all sales leaders and business owners should consider their roles. Leadership is much more than just commanding direction and applauding successes, but about inspiring others through action.

Counting on Accountability

One of the methods for creating the type of environment conducive to inspirational leadership and committed followers is establishing clearly defined goals, objectives and tactics supported by a framework of accountability. Accountability sometimes carries negative connotations because it is often mistakenly regarded as a system of strict oversight, rewards, and punishments. On the contrary, in the business environment, accountability should be a collaborative model of responsibilities shared by both sales leaders and their sales representatives. Correctly implemented and executed, accountability functions in a positive, constructive manner, and with the appropriate means of feedback and development, represents a source of inspiration for your sales reps.

As a leader, it is vital that you recognize first your responsibility to help others pursue and reach their full potential. This responsibility requires that you clearly define expectations for everyone in the organization, from top to bottom. Only then can you focus, guide and inspire others to achieve their goals.

The two most important practices for establishing an effective, positive accountability model to be the annual formal review process and monthly one-on-one meetings with developmental conversations. Both practices represent powerful and essential tools for creating the inspirational organization.

Annual Formal Review Process

Annual reviews are intended to increase productivity by providing formal feedback; they are not forums for rehashing old stories, incidents or poor performance issues that have been left unaddressed over the course of the year. Annual reviews offer the means for making valid decisions about pay, development, and promotion. Most importantly, they offer a structured approach for making a comprehensive assessment of sales reps’ performances and provide a foundation for inspiring future performance.

An objective-based annual review process works best. This process involves "scoring" sales reps based on a set of predetermined core competencies that represent standards of success. This activity is not about citing deficiencies but rather targeting areas of development. Once you evaluate your sales rep against the core competencies, you have the basis for creating a developmental plan, in collaboration with the rep, for improvement and growth.

As I said, you should base a sales rep's annual review on pre-established goals of achievement and development. These goals involve financial obligations for sales quotas and activities, but also more personal standards such as selling skills, attitude, and demonstrations of commitment. Remember, it is essential to avoid creating an atmosphere of confrontation. There should never be any surprises, and your rep should know the format and topics of discussion prior to the review, so that he or she may come prepared to participate in a meaningful conversation.

Set the stage for a constructive dialogue by having your sales rep perform a self evaluation prior to the review. Self evaluation helps set the tone of partnership and collaboration for all types of reviews, both formal and informal. Self evaluation preparation eliminates any unexpected discussions, minimizes negative reaction to feedback and promotes a more trusting relationship between you and your employee. (Don't forget, the annual review process also provides you with documented history and protection from any potential legal issues arising from performance-related terminations.)

Finally, you can make the annual review process less intimidating for your reps and an easier activity for you, the leader, to perform, by combining it with the second vital piece of your accountability framework: the monthly one-on-one review.

Monthly One-on-Ones

The monthly one-on-one review is THE most effective component of your management and accountability framework. The personal time and attention that sales reps receive from their managers is been highly effective in keeping them on task, helping them with emerging challenges and dealing with at-risk accounts.

The monthly one-on-one is a scheduled opportunity to assess how your sales reps perform relative to their goals, and gives you the ability to intervene early in the event of any developing issues. Most sales leaders using monthly one-on-ones establish a routine of one day a month after the previous month's numbers are in; sales reps understand that this schedule is fixed and to not schedule any activities for that day.

Consistency and commitment represents the critical success factor for the monthly one-on-one review practice. It often takes six months of commitment, maintaining high expectations and standards, for the organization to adopt and grow comfortable with the routine. As with annual reviews, it is essential that your sales rep prepare for his or her monthly one-on-one by analyzing and understanding recent business trends and activities, and come to the review ready to discuss them.

Here are some examples of monthly one-on-one review topics:

• Monthly numbers compared to quota and discuss reasons for any gaps.

• Discuss new accounts in the last three months and their sales each month.

• Talk about retention activities conducted in the past month.

• List the top ten leads and estimated project value.

• Discuss product categories "at risk" within certain accounts and estimated GP loss per month.

• Discuss the rep's perceived challenges and the help you can provide.

• Ask your rep for his or her feedback or suggestions for you.

Once you have effectively established the monthly one-on-one reviews, you and your sales reps will begin to see both the value and the sales results of this activity; you'll wonder how you ever managed without them.

Be a Leader

True, successful leaders achieve amazing results through others. A framework of accountability should not and must not be a harsh set of practices, but a collaborative milieu that fosters a charged atmosphere of enthusiasm and ambition. Accountability equals action, and action demonstrates leadership. Your action and participation in each and every employee's success sets forth an inspirational example that will resonate throughout your entire organization.

S&MM online columnist Krista Moore is President of K.Coaching, LLC, an executive coaching and consulting practice that has helped literally hundreds of sales executives and leaders reach their full potential and strengthen key business partnerships.
For more information and free resources on ShipBuilding, go to www.buildyourships.com or find out more about K.Coaching at www.kcoaching.com.