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Spell it out!

I watched a Business Owner in action earlier today – the owner of a small business does not have the privilege of appointing Heads for various functions and has to take on multiple roles; in the situation I witnessed he was playing the role of  Sales Head. He owns an IT Solutions Consultancy which studies needs, recommends solutions, supplies the necessary boxes and accessories and helps in the implementation of the solutions – all customized to the client’s needs. The business has a huge post-sale support component. In fact after-sales support formed a significant portion of their income.

Bulk of their business came from a few large customers – in fact 3/4 th of their revenue is recurring business from these accounts. While on the one hand this could be considered a plus and an indicator of high standard of support provided by his team, the Business Owner was a bit worried too because any slip would mean a huge drop in income – they were hugely dependent on this set of accounts and these large accounts used the quantum of business provided as a bargaining chip – margins were thin. It was a twin-edged sword and my friend did not like it.

His focus during the review meeting was on the following:

– Maintain service – standards so that customers have nothing complain about

– Constantly be on the lookout for more business from these accounts

– Renew all Annual Maintenance contracts

– Seek new customers – to reduce dependence on a small set of accounts

– Close Maintenance Contracts from accounts they have not serviced so far

The meeting was conducted in two phases – he first had the entire team in the room and gave them the priorities for the year, the Sales Targets and incentive plans – so the team was clear about the Business Objectives and knew what they could gain by achieving the numbers.

Then he called each team member separately for a one-on-one – in this round the focus was on the performance of this individual and what was expected off him in the months ahead.

The first man called into the room was the senior-most member – someone the Chief Executive trusted a lot. He was asked to report on the performance of the 3 new recruits, who have been in the system for 1 to 3 months, and the fourth person who had been there for over a year. The new players were still diffident to meet customers; they were spending time at the office under the pretext of preparation or infrequently going out in pairs. The more senior guy was focusing only on service and didn’t bring in any new business. So it was apparent to the owner that business was happening more by enquiries from prospective buyers than by Sales push.

He then delivered the ultimatum to the Senior Pro – “You are the Project Manager here – that is not a decoration. It is to be proven through operational excellence. Drive the business and bring me the results expected off you. If you see guys in the office chase them out. I don’t have time to get into the frontline action. That is your role. But, I would like to see you do that and get the guys to deliver results.”

The date by which the changes were expected was also conveyed.

The next guy in was the experienced hand. He was told to stop playing safe and asked to look for new business. The incentive program was tilted in favour of new business acquisition and so he could expect a growth in income only by pushing for that.

The 3 new guys were quizzed on product knowledge and comfort level on dealing with clients. Only one man seemed uncertain and he was detailed to work with the senior guy for 2 weeks, after which he would be out on his own. The other two were told to work as a team for the first 2 weeks and then they too would work alone.

All three were given a 2 week deadline to get set for action and then a month’s time after that to bring their first order. All three had been in the system for at least a month and had previous experience before joining this organisation. Hence, it was fair to expect them to deliver results within three months.

The Chief Executive is aware of the longer lifestyle required in this business and hence expected order either by way of new business, repeat business or  maintenance contract. It was a fair deal. All team-members were also told that the organisation cannot carry passengers for too long – they have to deliver business in the short-term.

There is lot more that can be done to get this team working in peak form, but this is a good first step. There was clarity in target, expectation and the benefits available to them for good performance.

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  1. August 17, 2012 at 5:33 am

    Hi Jayadev

    I do agree that communications have to be clear and timely.
    At the same time, in order to obtain the required results appropriate motivation must be given to the employees.
    This at times is forgotten by some managements which results in poor inflow of results.
    I have seen it happen sometimes. May be thats a totally different topic to be discussed. 🙂

    • JayadevM
      August 17, 2012 at 6:38 am

      Hi Jayashree

      You are right about the need for motivation, but like you said it would be the topic of another discussion.

      This one is purely about the need for clarity in Communication – you won’t believe that many managers are unaware of this need or unable to do it. And then they wonder why the team is not performing as expected.

      Clear and emphatic communication is a skill that needs to be developed and practiced.

  2. Jamy
    August 23, 2012 at 7:17 am

    This is a topic very relevant in any industry Jay! Clear, accurate and timely communication can only strengthen a team and prove to be a catalyst for higher productivity and a clear understanding of the company’s long-term as well as short=term goals for success!!

    • JayadevM
      August 23, 2012 at 12:49 pm

      Hi Jamy

      Good to hear from you – I had been away for couple of days on account of a bereavement in the family.

      Well said.

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