Encouraging Risk

By Lain Ehmann

With layoffs looming seemingly around every corner, the last thing you might be thinking about is encouraging your sales team to take more risks. But Carl Harvey, author of What’s Stopping You? (Success and Self-Esteem, 2002) says that encouraging risk-taking is one of the prime ways managers can help employees build confidence and become more successful. “Competency is the only legitimate currency in the world,” says Harvey, adding that for people to expand the concept of their own competencies, they need to push beyond their comfort zones.

This approach can work whether you’re training a new salesperson to make cold calls or trying to get one of your superstars to solve a problem with manufacturing without your direct involvement. If salespeople believe they can’t cold call, for example, they either have never attempted it and so they’re overwhelmed, says Harvey, or they have attempted it in the past and failed. In either case, the key is to identify where the true limits of their competencies lie, and then to develop a plan for moving them towards mastery of their missing skills.

Harvey suggests doing this by breaking the new, desired action down into small parts and working on each of the parts, one at a time, until each step becomes comfortable and the salesperson can easily move on to the next. By encouraging your employees to take on small bits in a measured manner, you’ll help them expand their competencies through low-risk, yet comfort-zone-expanding, actions.

What about failure, though? First, says Harvey, don’t let a new salesperson go solo on a big-ticket item. Let them practice on smaller, less critical scenarios. Next, if failure occurs – the call goes badly, the conversation with the QA manager falls apart – don’t necessarily view success or failure in terms of results. Instead, help your employee reframe the incident and evaluate how well he or she developed and executed the plan. If the plan didn’t work, encourage the employee to adjust the plan the next time and execute it accordingly.

Harvey doesn’t argue that results are critical to business and personal success, but he reminds managers that you can’t guarantee results. All you can do is ask: Did I do everything within my capabilities to work toward the desired outcome? If the answer is yes, then you’ve succeeded, even if you fell short of the ultimate goal. “The bottom line’s always going to be there,” he says, but all you or anyone can do is to constantly expand your competencies and make sure your actions are aimed at your desired results.

For more information, please contact Carl Harvey at 508/653-8539.