Slow Sales? Try Putting Numbers Second...and People First.

I started my career as an engineer. When I talk to the engineers today as a leadership mentor and behavior coach, most of them feel the same way as I did when I was an engineer: I don't care about the numbers! In recent years, corporate trends in transparency make everyone in the company aware of the financials. Whilst many of the acronyms used are instantly understood by the COO or CFO, many don't see the direct correlation with the financials because they are focused on their job and most of them are busy making sure the customer is happy. In addition, the "better transparency trap", where there is too much focus on numbers, has forgotten about the company's real asset: people.

A large percentage of employee bonuses rely on the company achieving successful sales targets. For many companies, leadership make it a priority that everyone has to be "sales oriented". They all have to be sales people. Really? I don't think one statement can turn non-sales people around to have any significant contribution to the company, nor do they want to.

"Forgive me, I studied to be an Engineer, not a sales person", stated one person I spoke to. Another said, "Why is there so much focus on numbers? When does the quality of my actual work matter? My customer is happy. Why doesn't that get accounted for?".

Driving people by numbers usually tends to shift the focus away from the company's number one asset: PEOPLE. Making money for many corporations has become much for difficult in recent years. In the last decade, as global competition has increased, corporations believed the key differentiator was to focus on customer service quality. Yet, something is missing. People are leaving companies for other jobs more than ever before, dealing with poor corporate cultures, or managers who simply don't make the employee feel cared for, or poor mentoring cultures that don't focus on people. Millions of people are disengaged, depressed or not achieving personal goals. When a person leaves, s/he takes with them valuable experience, customer knowledge, and other other insight (to benefit another company), yet we continue to "plug the numbers" instead of focusing on what is the biggest differentiator in today's market: TALENT.

Talent is the difference between companies that succeed and those that don't. The companies who are able to win new opportunities and sustain their long-term relationships are those that are led by people who are able to focus, adapt to changes, take calculated risks, are great at managing their relationships and are happy because they are able to live their values at work.

This being the case, surely money, financials, numbers take a second-row seat. Therefore, only one competency gap remains: Leadership behaviors that can create stability, innovation, and demonstrate a strong entrepreneurial spirit. The keyword here is demonstrate, not just say, demonstrate. Too often, leaders are good are sparking motivation with just words. They are poor at backing-up the words with their own behaviors. Leaders are quick at scolding people for mistakes. They are terrible are recognition. Furthermore, they are afraid to ask for feedback.

"Developing people's talent is the whole of the company at the end of the day."

Ron Nersesian, the head of Agilent Technologies' Electronic Measurement Group once said:

"Developing people's talent is the whole of the company at the end of the day. Our products are all time-perishable. The only things that stay is the institutional learning and the development of the skills and the capabilities we have in our people."

Why is people management a widely-avoided topic? Why training soft skills only becomes a priority when there is enough "budget"? Because numbers are easier to manage: they are easy to see and measure and show the current state of affairs of the company.

Build a culture which rewards behaviors

If you really want to seek-out people's best, you need to create a culture that "looks for" (monitors) organizational cultural "habits". Everyone should be looking at observing behaviors, not worrying about numbers. Leaders can constantly observe their own people and find-out how to unleash their inner talents. Look for their strengths and see how they might be able to contribute to the performance of the company and at the same time, allow them to build confidence on their strengths to become high performers. I for one, am a big believer that rewards for behaviors goes much further than rewarding goals.

Behaviors here, are not the company values that are posted on a cork board in the employee common area. They are "processes" that people adhere to in a consistent, active manner. These behaviors are known and lived by the people across the company. There is a common understanding that creates a positive, entrepreneurial, high-performing environment: This will be the key indicator of a company's success in the future.

Nine examples of fast-tracking culture changes

I have been fortunate to have worked in a number of different companies, industries and countries and have been able to learn about various corporate cultures. Here are some examples where behavior processes have had a positive impact on the environment and the customer:

  1. People commit to make sure they arrive to meetings 5 minutes before they start
  2. They are given 10% of their time per week working on innovation and fixing processes
  3. They all respond to customer emails within 4 hours. Customers here mean both internal and external (internal customers were everyone you interacted with)
  4. If any issues or customer complaints arise, they will gather the right people in a room/online conference within a few hours to resolve it (no wait attitude)
  5. People were upfront about admitting their own knowledge gaps and take initiative to seek help. They weren't passing-on responsibility. They were actively seeking experts in the company that could help solve their problem and learn from them
  6. Meeting behavior: no-one was allowed to use laptops in meetings, or start side conversations as they were considered rude and disrespectful. No one interrupted each other. No critiquing suggestions or ideas. No internal meetings after 4pm. Meetings often used the Six Hat Thinking methodology to reduce meeting times.
  7. They don't multitask
  8. They have a mentoring/coaching culture
  9. There is a strong emphasis on work-life-balance

When I was growing up, my parents taught me that rude behaviors start at home. If you consider your home is your company, then the customer is your workplace. You cannot put on two faces: one for the customer and one for your home.

What's the best thing about most of the above points? They were decided by the employees, not the leadership team.

In forming corporate culture, treating everyone as a customer and following behaviors form positive habits and patterns. However, it's not just a matter of adhering to set behaviors. It's also important for the leaders to demonstrate this behavior in all that they do. Leaders at the higher-end of the organization are often unaware of this. They often send messages of "be more proactive" or "always put customer first". These have no meaning unless:

  1. They themselves are able to demonstrate this behavior
  2. They make all leaders in the organization accountable.

If you're looking at a quick change, then I recommend that every leader's behavior should be monitored by their peers. This will set the accountability and precedence needed to ensure your organization's behavior and mindset is on track to become a high-performing customer-oriented powerhouse that will certainly lead to business success.

The other part of making behavior change work is coaching people to improve their relationship skills. In my research, this skill is declining rapidly in a time we need it the most. (Stay tuned for a future post on this.)

After all, Employees don't really care about what you want them to do. First show them how much you care. You need to walk your talk.

Thank you for reading - enjoy your week and remember, love your life, live your values!


Gab Ciminelli

Gabriele Ciminelli