I was attending a sales planning session of a global service company in growth mode. Their Head of Sales kicked off the meeting by asking the sales leaders to think big; outside the box, and not let past and current issues and barriers get in the way.
Each regional sales leader then had approximately 90 minutes to present their plan and receive questions, comments, and feedback on their thinking.
However, instead of first making bold declarations of what they are planning to do and then outlining the barriers and risks and how they were planning to overcome them, the leaders took a very different approach.
They outlined their conservative growth plans, and then they spent the majority of their presentation explaining to the audience the risks and barriers to success, as well as the reasons why they can’t take on a bolder game.
Even their moderate ambitions came with a caveat. In fact, they all had a slide in their presentation outlining the assumptions they were basing their objectives on.
Even though they didn’t say it outright, it was clear to everyone that the leaders were hedging their bets, making their objectives circumstantial and seeding the future justifications, excuses and ‘alibis’ should they not meet their growth objectives.
Unfortunately, I see this mindset and behavior in most companies; leaders oriented around tracking and reporting on the status of things; analyzing why things are working or not working; explaining why progress can’t be bigger, faster. There is no power, creativity, and innovation in this orientation.
The role of leaders is to declare, create, take a stand, and commit to future outcomes in areas that are important for the success and growth of their company. Powerful leaders follow the ‘man-on-the-moon’ approach and put a stake in the ground before having a worked-out plan.
Leaders are not the messengers who report on what is working and not working. They are the authors who create, fulfill, and cause the future. Powerful leaders push their thinking to reach the boldest ideas and outcomes they can.
Powerful sales leaders should be creating their next year, not explaining the barriers and risks to achieving it.
During one of the presentations, one of the senior executives in the room stepped in and expressed disappointment with what he referred to as “the overly conservative objectives,” the sales leader was bringing forth. The sales leader rebutted by saying: “It is not a conservative objective; it is an accurate objective.” This only further highlighted the conservative mindset of the sales leader.
There are no accurate objectives! No one can predict the future. There are only bold guesses/predictions or conservative guesses/predictions. Or, in more enlightened terms: bold stands or conservative stands.
When people believe that there is such a thing as an accurate, correct, or right objective, they stop pushing their thinking; they search for accuracy instead of new possibilities.
In addition, at the end of one of the regional sales leader presentation, the finance leader questioned the sales leader by asking if their forecast was perhaps too high. It didn’t take a second for the regional sales leader to agree and further reduce their number.
This conservative and risk-averse attitude comes from people’s fear of commitment and accountability. People are afraid that if they promise a big commitment, take a risk, and fall short, they would receive retribution.
In most companies, accountability is viewed in a cynical and bad way. What do you expect when accountability is referred to in terms such as “one throat to choke“? No one wants their throat to be choked. People try to cover up the cynicism by using politically correct terms. However, in most companies, accountability means “deliver, or you will get fired!”
So, if you want to transform the conservative and risk-averse mindset in your organization to a bolder and more innovative and big thinking one, start by promoting a culture in which people are encouraged to think big, take risks and make bold commitments.
Then, demonstrate to everyone – by action, not just words – that there are no negative consequences to failing for the right reasons.