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Living the Vision From Leadership to the Front Lines

This is part 2 of a two-part series on culture by Derek Grant, SVP of Commercial Sales at SalesLoft (read part 1 here). Derek leads SalesLoft’s commercial sales organization, which has delivered “hockey stick” growth by helping over 1,500 companies source more qualified meetings and pipeline.

“Example is not the main thing in influencing others. It is the only thing.” Albert Schweitzer

In my last post I talked about communicating the vision from leadership to the front lines. While that’s critical to do, it’s moot unless you lead by example, too.

How can you move beyond aspiration and make a vision actionable and tangible for your team?

Trust But Verify

Once you’ve communicated a concise vision, it’s your job as a leader to ensure your teams are executing the plan.

It’s not enough to assume everyone is aligned and doing what you’ve asked of them. Vision requires continual reinforcement and follow-through. I’m not talking about micromanagement here, but I am talking about holding people accountable.

When I want something to happen, whether I have daily or weekly check-ins or Salesforce reports to keep the team on track, I set expectations for my managers on what to do when certain things happen or don’t happen. 

“What you do has far greater impact than what you say.” Stephen Covey

As long as the vision is clear and singular, I expect managers to do their job of management (not leadership) by holding people accountable to execution. In this way, teams are pulled along as opposed to being pushed to achieve organizational goals.

I think that when an initiative breaks down, it fails at the rank-and-file level. Because in order to move forward, you need the first, second, and third-line managers motivating the base. 

Conversely, when management doesn’t hold people accountable or drive awareness of a plan, your teams are left to think, “Here’s another one of those aspirational things that we’ll never put any action behind.” And then you lose all credibility and trust.

Build Great People

I like to say that, at SalesLoft, we’re in the people business. We just happen to sell software. Great products and ideas can fail, but it’s the people who make the experience.

So, invest in people first because if your people are great, success will follow. 

I learned this early on when I played basketball in college. My coach truly loved the people he was responsible for. He remembered things about us and because he made such a deep personal connection, he reserved the right to be hard on us when we needed it, which made us better players.

“People buy into the leader before they buy into the vision.” – John C. Maxwell

Engineering goodwill lends credibility when you’re trying to communicate a vision. It’s like making a deposit in the emotional bank account. In any relationship, you need to make small but continual investments to build trust. 

For instance, jump on a call to help a rep. Or go out of your way to celebrate a team member when a deal closes.

Then when you need to make a withdrawal (i.e., have a tough conversation), you’ll never overdraw. But if you’re unwilling to put anything into that reserve, then you’ve lost the right to be anything but a dictator to your team.

Coaching and Redemption

When it comes to coaching, my mantra is that everyone can be redeemed. Unfortunately, in most sales cultures, performance improvement plans (PIPs) are designed to work reps hard and get them to leave. 

Considering the cost, time, and resources put toward recruiting, hiring, training, and ramping, you’ve already made a massive investment in the people on your team. So, rather than give up on reps, start looking at PIPs as a way to help them get on track.

At SalesLoft, when we put someone on a PIP, we clearly outline how it will get them to a place where they can stay with the company. We avoid the “us versus you” mentality. Instead, we get in the foxhole with the rep, build trust, and make deposits in the emotional bank account. 

I put three of the six managers in my organization on PIPs while they were reps. They all came out the other side and have great success stories to share. And now they’re empathetic leaders who can say, “I’ve been there, I made it through, and here’s how you can do it, too.”

But before we even get to a PIP conversation, we have an early warning system designed to identify problems and take remedial action first.

Ultimately, I believe that people getting fired is the manager’s fault because the manager didn’t pay attention or act until things got out of hand. And that’s unfair to the people who’ve placed their trust in you.

In another 20 years, the people you led may not remember your title or any of your accomplishments, but they will remember how you treated them and what you helped make possible in their lives.

So let your legacy be the people you served. Focus there and you’ll live out any vision with success.

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