Fixing Performance Problems

Fixing Performance Problems

A client reached out to me about performance issues within his team and I want to share it with you.

He owns a freight brokerage business that employs 10 brokers. Overall, he has a good team and his business is growing, so they are on the right track. However, he has some employees who have spotty performance when it comes to sales and customer service. He feels these people could be successful so he wants to help them get their performance up rather than letting them go.

Does this sound familiar to you? Maybe you have experienced a similar situation with your team.

This is a very frustrating problem for managers. Since the performance is spotty, it implies that sometimes they get the desired results and other times they fall short. Since you are having some success, we can assume that your employees will be successful if they follow your process and make the appropriate effort.

At TranStrategy Partners, we recommend using the following 4 step approach to helping your employees meet your performance standards:
Set Expectations. Create clear expectations for what you expect in terms of results. Also, communicate the processes for getting those results. When you set expectations, it is important that your employee understands exactly what you mean. If possible, have them articulate the direction in their own words (active listening). Sometimes, things that seem simple and direct in our heads are far less clear to the listener – this is especially true if you are an expert and they are a newbie.

Job Specific Training. A properly developed training program is a great way to communicate the goal and the processes needed to reach the goal. Ideally, your training should improve your employee’s attitude, skills and knowledge. Developing the right attitude about the goal and the approach is key. The right mental attitude will motivate your employee to gain the skills and knowledge necessary to succeed. Skills training will allow your employee to learn the specific skills needed for the job, like phone skills, customer service skills, TMS skills etc. Knowledge training refers to broader learning and practical understanding of a topic like supply chain, truck sizes, or industry best practices.

Inspection. After you have communicated your expectations and provided training, the next step is inspection. People do not always do what you expect, but they usually do what you inspect. Follow up with your under-performing broker to ensure they are doing exactly what you asked them to do. After a while, they will realize you are inspecting their work, which will compel them to follow the process. Inspect their work until their performance improves then reduce to periodic inspections to prevent backsliding into old habits.

Recognition and Reviews. The last step in the process is recognition and reviews. Schedule a review with your underperforming broker and discuss their performance. If they are back on track, encourage their progress and if they are still failing, determine the cause and take action. If you see your employee following the process and getting results, give them a little casual praise like “good job” or “attaboy.” Be careful with praise and recognition – it should always align to performance. Too much or too little can send the wrong message.

Are You a Business Owner or a Glorified Sales Manager?

Are You a Business Owner or a Glorified Sales Manager?

If you are the owner of the business, you focus on:

  • Articulating the vision and developing the right culture
  • Creating a strategy and leading the execution
  • Connecting with customers / prospects and creating a great service offering
  • Hiring great people and developing them into leaders
  • Implementing processes and systems that will maximize productivity for the finance, operations and sales and marketing groups.
  • P&L

If you are the sales manager, you spend most of your time on sales. Since most sales managers are judged solely on sales and margin growth, they better keep focused on sales. Finance and operations will take care of themselves.

A good sales manager is focused on:

  • Connecting with customers and prospects
  • Hiring, training and retaining the very best sales talent (even if they work in the operations or finance group)
  • Developing a great sales process and messaging for the sales team
  • Sales numbers

A Focus on Only Sales Can Slow Growth

As strange as it sounds, focusing solely on sales can limit the growth of your company. In my experience, new sales begin to hurt a company if they haven’t adequately developed their operations, finance and marketing groups.

As an executive coach and business strategist, I help companies accelerate their growth. I work with companies that are at a cross road, where the founder is struggling to get their company to the next level. These companies typically have been around for 10 years and have revenues of $10-15 million.

Often, the owner and his team have an almost obsessive desire to grow their sales, yet they find themselves stuck enough that they hire an outside firm to help.

Building a Foundation for Growth

To help my clients grow, I first assess their current state. I have learned that many, if not most companies have very weak organizational structures because they are so biased toward sales growth.

Typically, the owner behaves more like a sales manager than as a business owner. Since, most startups fail due to lack of sales, the sales bias is justified when the company is new.

Lack of sales kills start-ups, but lack of organization and structure prevents sales growth for small and medium size businesses. To get to the next level, the owner and executive team must change their focus.

Build It and They Will Come

When I help new clients develop an organization and structure, many are initially impatient. They want to discuss sales strategies and nothing else. They are like the top heavy weight lifter at the gym who only works on his upper body – he can’t see that his huge upper body looks silly attached to stick legs.

To get a structure in place, I meet with the leadership team and we agree to the groups, typically sales & marketing, operations and finance. Next, we determine what each group will be accountable for. I always ask the team to agree on just 5 specific responsibilities for each group.

Next, we discuss who should head up each group. This step is always interesting. We are picking the person who should have this job going forward, not who has the job currently. Companies and leadership teams evolve and sometimes the guy who sits in the chair isn’t a good fit anymore – maybe they were never were. This step empowers the leadership team to get everybody in the rights seats and playing to their individual strengths.

So Does It Work?

Developing a solid organizational structure with specific responsibilities sounds boring, but it works every time. I get great feedback from my clients on this exercise. Typical comments include:

  • “Our company feels focused”
  • “The new structure improves cooperation, communication and accountability”
  • “Now that I only wear one hat, I feel energized”
  • “We are much more productive”
  • “This is the foundation we needed to grow”
If You Get The Culture Right, The Other Stuff Will Take of Itself

If You Get The Culture Right, The Other Stuff Will Take of Itself

“If you get the culture right, most of the other stuff will just take care of itself – Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos.com

Tony Hsieh knows a thing or two about business. He graduated from Harvard, sold his first business to Microsoft and started the internet powerhouse, Zappos all before age 40.

Most business owners and managers would likely agree with Tony – a good culture is critical to the success of a business. However, recognizing the importance of a good culture is very different from actually working on your company culture.

Most business leaders don’t work on their company’s culture because they don’t know where to start. It is much easier to work on tangible, easy to understand problems, but working on the company culture will help you eliminate future problems and position your company for growth.

Culture is Important, But Not Urgent

Unfortunately, for most of us, developing a good culture is one of those “important, but not urgent” activities that never gets works on.

Instead, we get lost in a sea of urgent activities like customer issues, hiring, firing, vendor problems, cash flow gaps and new business development opportunities. After all, these issues must be dealt with now or there will be no business, so the culture won’t matter.

Besides after we close these new deals, we will have plenty of money and time — then we will spend our days philosophizing about the perfect culture, but for now there is no time.

You Get a Culture No Matter What

Your company develops a culture, whether you actively influence it or not. The culture will grow based on the inputs it receives. If you are not actively steering the company toward the culture you want, then you will get a culture you don’t want.

Your company’s culture is like your waistline or credit card spending. When you don’t pay attention, it only goes in the wrong direction.

Think of your culture as your garden. You plant and nurture the plants you want and you weed out the plants you don’t want. As time goes on, you may need to prune back a good cultural trait that was growing too big or in the wrong direction. If you don’t work on your garden, it will grow in unpredictable, crazy and unproductive ways – the same is true of your company culture.

Tony Hsieh is Right

Tony suggests that if you get the culture right, the rest of the stuff will take care of itself. When you have the right culture, the customer issues, employee hassles, and vendor problems go away.

Your company’s culture must become a priority not for some fluffy social good or new age value. You should make your company culture a priority because it will help you grow your business. In my experience, companies that actively work on their culture also have happier owners, employees and customers.

So What is The Right Culture?

Every company will develop it’s own culture. The industry, founders, leaders, employees and a host of other issues will all impact your company’s culture.

There is no right answer, however some desirable cultural attributes are listed below:

  • Visible, inspiring leadership
  • Effective, positive management
  • I want to work there brand
  • Shared values
  • Collective vision / purpose
  • Individual motivation
  • Day to day communication
  • Easy, flexible workspace, inspiring surroundings
  • Great team dynamics
  • Empowered decision making

How Do I Develop the Right Culture for my Company?

Below are some things to consider when improving the culture of your company:

Top Down Leadership

Everybody in the company has the ability to impact the culture, but it is senior management’s responsibility to determine the culture the company should have. Culture improvement must be led by senior management.

Determine the Right Culture

Employee behavior is dictated by company culture. If you want to improve your company’s culture, start by observing employee behavior. Determine the behaviors you want to see less of and the behaviors you want to see more of. You will know your culture is improved when you see the right behaviors exhibited by your people.

Long Term Commitment

Getting and keeping the right culture at your company takes deliberate action over the long haul. There are no quick fixes or silver bullets when it comes to culture.

Get Outside Help

It may make sense to hire outside help when taking on culture improvement. A coach or consultant that is experienced in culture development may be a good investment because they will bring a proven process, diagnostic tools and a fresh perspective on your company culture. An outside expert will also be able to coach you and your employees through the process. As an executive coach, I have worked with dozens of companies on culture improvement. These engagements are not always easy, but the results are always worth it.

A great culture will not happen accidentally. If you want a great culture, you will need to make a conscious effort to create it.

Why Your Sales Training Failed

Why Your Sales Training Failed

At TranStrategy Partners, we do a lot of sales training and we have a high success rate. We know sales training can significantly improve sales in an organization.

However, not all sales training works. This article is about why your sales training didn’t work.

The Feel Good Intervention

Sales training is the feel good intervention. When a sales manager sends one of his salesmen to sales training everybody feels good. The salesman is happy that his boss has decided to invest in his sales education. Perhaps the sales training will provide a process, messaging and approach that he never got from his company.

The sales manager gets to feel like an enlightened manager and hopefully get a nice ROI on her training investment. If she suspects she made a bad hire, maybe the sales training will redeem her low performing salesman.

With a little luck, the sales guy will get some silver bullets at class that will enable him to make some monster sales once the training is done.

Five Reasons Your Sales Training Didn’t Work

1. Lack of Management Support

Sales training, like every other corporate initiative, works best when there is management support. A company’s management must do more than pay for the sales training. Trainees need to know that their management values the training and expects their full attention. Ideally, management should participate in the training by introducing the trainer or attending the wrap-up session.

2. Poor Follow-up

To be effective, the attitudes, skills and knowledge gained in the sales training need to be turned into actions. Without implementation, there are no results and the training was a waste. At the end of the training, keep the trainees focused on the agreed upon changes and revise sales processes if required. Reinforcing the training will help the sales team to internalize the lessons from the sales training. Consider bringing the sales training reinforcement into the regular sales meetings.

3. No Competitive Advantage

The freight brokerage business is very competitive and it is important that companies develop a niche where they have a competitive advantage. There are a lot of freight brokers and 3PLs who sell a commoditized service, which makes sales much harder. The positive impacts of sales training can sometimes be limited by a lack of good market strategy.

4. Bad Company Culture

In our experience, sometimes a company’s culture can undermine sales. Training sales people won’t help grow a company’s revenues if the company culture is negative. Company culture is nothing more than the shared values and practices of the company’s employees. Company culture can be tricky and fragile. Even good leaders can find themselves stuck with a bad culture. To get the most out of sales training, first fix the culture.

5. Sales Process Not Aligned to Buying Process

To be successful, a company’s selling process must be aligned to the customer’s buying process. This means a company needs to understand their customers and how they buy freight brokerage services. For instance, if your company is looking for strategic customers, then your sales team should not use a transactional sales process. Your company’s lead generation, messaging and sales channels should also align to the buying process. Obviously, a company won’t be ready for sales training until they align their sales processes.

No Silver Bullet

Sales training is a great way to develop your people and grow your sales, but it is not a silver bullet. To grow your sales, develop a niche, put the right people and processes in place, and get a deep understanding of your customer’s problems and buying behaviors. Then, your company will benefit from a good sales training program.

Revenue is Vanity – Margin is Sanity

Revenue is Vanity – Margin is Sanity

As an executive coach, I hear from my clients on a host of issues they experience. Sometimes those issues are external, while others are internal within the company. For example, one of my clients, a 3PL owner, found it difficult to get his employees to care about the company’s profitability. They pay their people well and have a nice, friendly company culture. However, he struggled to get the employees to care more about the bottom line.

It is smart to focus on profitability, rather than just revenue. At TSP, our philosophy is “revenue is vanity and margin is sanity.” After all, it’s not what you make, it’s what goes to the bottom line.
Focusing on revenue AND MARGIN is smart, but getting your employees aligned to your profitability goals is even smarter.

As the owner, your job is to set the goals (financial and others) and get the right people and resources necessary to reach the goal. In my experience, the owners of 3PLs and freight brokerage businesses try to do all the work themselves, which leads to burnout and frustration. Learn to delegate and hold your team responsible for meeting business goals including profitability.

You have created a nice place to work, which is very important. Now, you want to add ownership of business results to the culture.

To reach your profitability goal, you will need to enlist the help of your team. The following four-step plan will help you and your team set and reach your profitability goals:

1. Share your profitability goals. Once you have set your profitability goals, meet with your team to communicate your goals. As the leader, you must make it clear where you want to take the company. Be very specific and use SMART goals so there is no ambiguity about your profitability targets. Your people can’t reach the profitability goal if they don’t know what it is.

2. Communicate your expectations. Once you have set your profitability goals, communicate exactly what you need each team member to do to reach the goal. Be very specific about each team member’s roles and responsibilities in regards to the goal. The sales manager is tasked with getting higher margin business, the operations manager is going after cost savings opportunities, while the head of finance investigates refinancing equipment and provides progress reports to the team. By documenting your expectations for each employee, you are communicating that the profitability goal is important to you.

3. Measure progress. If you have set a significant goal, you will not reach it overnight, therefore it is important to measure progress to the goal. Provide your people with regular updates. Also, help your team develop plans and strategies that will enable the company to reach the profitability goal. As the boss, encourage, teach, but avoid taking responsibility for the work. When you do the work instead of the employee, you send a mixed message.

4. Reward and recognize. As your team meets your expectations on the profitability goal, you should acknowledge and encourage them for exhibiting the desired behavior and getting positive results. At TSP, we recommend the following three levels of acknowledgement: 1.) Review (lowest level) is non-formal, verbal praise for delivering on expectations. 2.) Recognize (second highest) is a formal recognition for meeting expectations. The praise could be part of a meeting or recognition presentation. 3.) Reward (highest level) is praise reinforced with a gift, bonus or a plaque. Be careful and consistent in your use of review, recognition and rewards for meeting expectations. Going overboard or being stingy with your praise can lead to negative consequences.