My very first day as a Sales VP started pretty early. I woke up at 3:45 am to a mild earthquake that was hundreds of miles away. I am certain it foreshadowed the big aftershock coming my way at noon. My CEO at a fast-growing ed tech company called to ask me to take the helm of our sales organization. I asked if I could think about it, and he offered me one hour. That gives you a sense of how quickly things were moving in those days.
Although it was a dream job for those in our industry, I had reservations that I wanted the role. I had always been around small businesses and startups and this company, which I had joined in its infancy, was experiencing runaway growth. Responsibility for realizing its potential, as well as guiding a young team through what was going to be nothing but change and increased pressure were huge challenges. The last VP was smart and energetic, but he failed in being accepted by a sales staff that had a huge independent streak to it. Would I also fail to tame them into a cohesive team? Would I ruin our chance to change the face of education?
I spent my hour reflecting on what I myself would respond best to in a sales leader. What would be an environment in which I could succeed and would want to do my very best work? I came up with seven words that I wrote on a piece of notebook paper and stuck on the wall of my home office. Then I called and accepted the position. I didn’t mention this list to one person the entire time I was in that role, but I did my best to lead by it.
When I look back I am amazed at what incredibly simple things made my list. Elementary, my dear Watson. But implementing this culture is not elementary at all; it is frequently a battle against time, resources and the laws of physics, especially when you operate in a pressure cooker. Having that list on my wall helped me stop and think about my policies and actions on a daily basis, and served me as well as any other wisdom I’ve received.
Notice how the very first two I scribbled down, praise and recognition, are basically synonymous words for appreciation. While I was channeling my inner rep, I discovered that was what I most wanted. As a leader, that is what I tried to give most. Support to me meant removing obstacles. It became my sole job description. Consistency in a high-growth business is extremely important. With so much necessary change, reps thrive on standardized and predictable management behavior that doesn’t swing in the breeze of every new challenge. Listening and being fair are time sucking and the first thing to go in a business where the going gets fast and difficult. Don’t let them get away. The promise of opportunity – and investing in your people – will produce greatness, will allow you to promote from within, and will thereby build a more cohesive and lasting corporate culture.
You can follow the links to read more on each of those management principles and how I try to instill them in the sales teams I work with. But before you do, take an hour for yourself to turn everything off and reflect on the culture that you would like to work in. Create your own short list and pin in where you’ll see it every day. Don’t publish your list to your team – just walk the walk. Pretty soon you’ll be working in a place where you would really love working!