Defy Conventional Wisdom – And Watch Your Sales Grow

By Heather Baldwin

In most big companies there’s a basic trust in the wisdom of conventional wisdom. In truth, conventional wisdom isn’t getting companies where they want to be, says Susan Lucia Annunzio, CEO of the Hudson Highland Center for High Performance and author of Contagious Success: Spreading High Performance Throughout Your Organization (Portfolio, 2004). The book, based on the first global study ever conducted on the factors that accelerate high performance, reveals some important findings – all of which defy conventional wisdom. Embrace these lessons, says Annunzio, and you’ll be “well on your way to creating a high-performance environment.”

1. Short-term thinking kills performance. If there’s anyone who gets caught up in this issue, it’s the sales manager – the leader responsible for meeting quarterly goals. Yet while the emphasis on quarterly results has never been greater, it turns out that the “number one inhibitor of high performance is short-term thinking – living for today at the expense of tomorrow,” says Annunzio. Companies will take drastic actions to meet quarterly goals – cut staff and budgets, work their people longer hours, boost sales quotas – but those actions usually are detrimental to long-term performance as employees become frustrated and burnt out. “Balancing the short and long term is perhaps the single biggest challenge facing companies today,” Annunzio observes. Yet managers must have the fortitude to sacrifice short-term results in the interest of long-term opportunities if the company is to prosper.

2. The leader protects the group from company interference. Do you spend a lot of time acting as a buffer between the company and your sales team? If so, you’re not alone – and you’re likely a good manager. Annunzio’s research found that one of the biggest differentiators between high-performing and nonperforming work groups is that the leaders of the former protect their group from the larger company so they can do their work. One leader called his efforts “intelligent disobedience.” To boost performance, work with senior managers to start removing the barriers that are forcing you to spend time protecting your people instead of helping them make money for the company.

3. Call in your employees next time you have a sales challenge. The first thing most organizations do when facing a serious challenge is hire a team of consultants. Instead, the first move should be to consult your employees, says Annunzio. They know the company best and usually know what the problems are. The challenge is they’re usually reluctant to bring up the problems for fear of losing their jobs. Thus you’ll first need to offer them amnesty for telling the truth about what needs to be done. So the next time you’re facing a serious sales challenge, look to your sales team for the answer.

4. Don’t discount seemingly dumb ideas. Every day managers dismiss dumb ideas that might actually represent a paradigm shift they don’t grasp. “You may be rejecting innovative ways to differentiate your company and move it forward because the ideas sound foreign to you,” says Annunzio. Keep in mind, she adds, that workers coming into companies today see the world differently than their bosses. They generally are fluent in the language of new technology and thus their ideas might sound foreign. Rather than dismiss them – rather than looking for what’s wrong with the ideas your team presents – look for what’s smart. The future of your sales team depends on it.