Sales Process Productivity

Previous posts have focused on applying the fundamentals of CI to the sales process, which tends to be a bit more complex than many people realize.

Leaving aside the “selling skills” or “charisma” associated with those perceived as the most successful sellers, when you consider the day-to-day activities required of a field-based or outside sales professional there are numerous pitfalls that can compromise productivity.

There are also some proven best practices that can help to boost field-day efficiency, which include the following:

  1. Pre-call planning: by planning each sales call in advance, in writing, sales people can position themselves to accomplish more in less time, thus increasing personal productivity as well as accelerating overall cycle-time. Not only will running more comprehensive sales calls increase efficiency, but the habit will also make a stronger, more positive impact on customers. Many who have embraced this best-practice report that their customers recognize the difference and, over time, become more willing to schedule meetings or sales calls, thus enabling them to more easily make more calls each day, an important part of the job as noted in the next bullet.
  2. Set a daily call volume goal. This may sound like an unnecessary step, but a surprising number of sales people are unable to quantify the actual  average number of sales calls they make each day. As author Jack Falvey has said, “Want more sales? Make more calls.” By setting a personal goal, which will vary depending on the nature of each territory, sellers are often able to self-motivate more effectively and make more calls per day.
  3. Geo-plan: by creating a strategic geographic or travel plan for each day, outside sales people can minimize drive time and optimize “face” time. The best plans will begin by creating territory quadrants and then mapping the locations of customers and key prospects. The rule-of-thumb is to avoid traveling beyond two quadrants in any given day, so when an appointment is set in one area, try to schedule meetings or plan to visit others in the same general region to enable a maximum number of interactions in a minimum amount of time.
  4. Bookend each day by scheduling an appointment early in the morning and another late in the afternoon. This will promote “staying the course” as opposed to deciding to drive back to the office early to do administrative work. This best-practice might also help to achieve item #2 above.

Outstanding at Execution!

In a previous post we noted that an organization can have an excellent strategy, but fail to execute effectively on that strategy, and went on to share some discussion on the 4 Disciplines of Execution, a book written by Sean Covey, Chris McChesney, and Jim Huling.

If you truly want to achieve maximum results from your improvement effort, it can only be done through implementing and sustaining a plan.

Even when people excel at identifying major opportunities for improvement, if they don’t execute, they don’t make gains. In our work with hundreds of organizations, we have observed that the most successful are outstanding at execution.

If you’d like to improve your organization’s ability to implement strategic plans, here are five key areas of focus that can help:

  1. Get senior leaders to become actively involved
  2. Identify clear project plans for delivering results, including measures and milestones
  3. Engage team members and stakeholders
  4. Set expectations and consequences — both positive and negative
  5. Develop an organized structure and an activity / accomplishment reporting plan – communication matters!

Managing the Cost of Disengaged Workers

An earlier post summarized the real costs associated with disengaged workers, which is close to $500 billion per year based on research by, the Enterprise Engagement Alliance (EEA), and others.


Fortunately, there are proactive steps that can be taken to avoid these costs and the collateral damage to team morale and brand that is a regular side-effect.

Based on research and data shared by the EEA and The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, the following five steps can drive employee engagement, and reduce the number of disengaged workers and the associated costs:

  1. Enhanced recruiting and on-boarding — The first steps involve the inclusion of the organization’s mission and vision into interviewing conversations, and a more conscious effort to identify and hire people with aligned goals. Adding a mentor program to the on-boarding process helps new hires assimilate
    faster so they became more productive in less time as well.
    Enabling people to achieve higher levels of productivity and success early-on promotes greater engagement levels, and reduces first-year attrition rates. Early churn tends to demoralize
    everyone, so in addition to reducing re-hiring and re-training costs, the costs associated with negativity within the existing workforce are also reduced.
  2. Consistent performance management and communication — People need to have meaning in their work, and understand how their work aligns with organizational objectives. This communication works best when systematized as part of structured, proactive approach to performance management.
  3. Learning and development — A young, fast-rising junior executive had been working at a large bank for just over six years. When he was asked about his job and how he felt about it he said, “The job’s OK.” His lack of enthusiasm was evident, and when pressed to say more he added, “Well, I’m not really learning much anymore.” He went on to confirm that he was not truly engaged, and that he did not make much of an extra or discretionary effort, which engaged workers regularly make. Forward thinking
    business leaders understand that the path to sustainable employee engagement is to drive productivity, and to do so through ongoing education and empowerment.
  4. Recognition and rewards — Recognizing and rewarding employees is not a new concept, but if the goal is to engage people rather than simply acknowledge milestones (such as length of service), then the approach must be aligned with what is meaningful to each recipient.
  5. Flexibility and work/life balance — Employer/employee relationships, expectations, and engagement criteria have evolved significantly over the past decade. Data from a PwC survey of 44,000 workers who had become less engaged indicated that “71% said their jobs interfered with their personal lives, and 70% said they wanted to be able to work from home.”
    Employees can also become disengaged when they feel their managers only care about the bottom line. More than one-third of U.S. employees (39%) don’t believe their bosses encourage them to take allotted vacation days, and almost half (45%) say their bosses don’t help them disconnect from work
    while on vacation, according to a Randstad survey.

Read the full article… 

Is Your Team Capable of Achieving Breakthrough Results?

While identifying the right things to work on  and using the right tools are critical decisions we must make each day, we must also have the right people with the knowledge and skills working on the right things if we are to truly achieve breakthrough solutions.

Taking an objective overview of employees’ capabilities, strengths and needs on a periodic basis can help us recognize both the strengths to build on and improvement areas for training and coaching.

As part of the employee capability assessment process, it’s best to use a strategic mixture of one-on-one and small group interviews to cover a diagonal cross-section of the organization.

Generally speaking, the objective is to talk with people about the organization, how they are treated and valued, and assess their level of engagement. Meeting with key people who manage and work in various areas is also crucial, as is seeking to understand how the organization’s strengths can form the basis for the creation of a systemic continuous improvement process.

10 Key Charting Tools

Continuing our theme of using the “right” tool for the right job, there are some key tools one might use when involved in continuous improvement.

Ultimately, persistent problems cannot be solved by repeatedly using the same knowledge and insights; solutions require the innovative use of multiple problem-solving tools to examine current reality from a variety of different angles.

Here are 10 tools you might consider using:

    1. Pareto Chart

    Pareto Charts contain both bars and a line graph, where individual values are represented in descending order by bars. They are commonly used to explore ideas about possible causes.

  1. Process Mapping is a tool that enables people to spot and quantify the waste and trace it to the primary cause.
  2. Cause and Effect Diagramming is used to stretch beyond initial ideas about possible root causes.
  3. Histograms represent the distribution of numerical data, providing an estimate of the probability distribution of a continuous variable. They provide new insights into the dynamics of process performance.
    1. Run Chart

    Run Charts are line graphs of data plotted over time. They can be used to understand current process performance and distinguish between random variation and special causes.

  4. Scatter Diagrams are primarily used to clarify the importance of possible causal factors on results measurements.
  5. Affinity Diagrams are used to find breakthrough ideas and natural relationships among the data.
  6. Priority Matrices can be used to consider alternatives and identify the right things to work on.
  7. Interrelationship Digraphs provide visual demonstrations of the relationship among factors—causal factors (drivers) vs. symptoms so that you get the most leverage on interventions.
  8. A dependable method of analyzing the data as outlined in recent posts.

The Right Tool for the Job?

It’s been said that when all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

Such is not the challenge we face today! Over the past 50 years, a tremendous number of analysis and problem-solving tools have been developed and are available to deploy in the unending quest for better service to customers, producing greater value with less waste. In today’s world, the efficiency and efficacy of continuous improvement depends on selecting the best analysis and problem-solving tool at the right time.

Perhaps the most important tools for success start in the scoping.

Defining and Scoping Improvement Projects
One of the most valuable tools early on to effectively define the process, problem, and project is the SIPOC:

  • Suppliers
  • Inputs
  • Process
  • Outputs
  • Customers

Some organizations always start with the SIPOC to get the team on the same page so they can answer six important questions:

  1. What is the process?
  2. Its purpose (why are we doing this)?
  3. Who owns the process (surprisingly sometimes not obvious/known)?
  4. Who are the customers/suppliers?
  5. Who is the primary customer?
  6. What do they get out of the process or provide for the process?

And then there is a lot of learning about the high level process flow and the process measures for each step.

What’s the ideal? Is the data available?

Are we already measuring it?

What is the goal? What is the impact?

Once the team members have a shared high-level understanding of the process using the SIPOC, and have gathered the data that enables them to measure the gap between the current situation and the ideal, they can create a good problem statement, objective, scope, and timetable.

These together are key components of a Project Charter, the ‘North Star’ of a project that helps keep the project moving forward to successful completion.

Ready to Change?

Change is a critical component of growth and ongoing success, yet two-thirds of all change initiatives fail.

In fact, change is not always perceived as being good. In organizations of all types, people tend to look with skepticism at innovations and new methods, processes, policies and procedures; and people at all levels cringe at the suggestion that there might be a different or better way to do their jobs!

Yet without change comes stagnation and risk of obsolescence and loss, a-la Kodak, Polaroid, Blockbuster, and so many other once-robust organizations that experienced significant declines in market share (or worse) and profits as competitors introduced new and improved, lower-cost alternatives.

Long-term, the goal is not only a change in attitude, but behavioral change. The first step is to help people develop the right mental attitude and understand that change is a constant part of long-term success — to help them develop a readiness for change.

One way to achieve these objectives is to involve people at all levels in ongoing organizational change by making continuous improvement a permanent part of your corporate culture… by using the fundamental principles of continuous improvement and workforce engagement in a way that gets people at all levels to change the way they think, talk, work, and act… by educating and empowering people to improve both the work and the workplace – their work and their workplace!

People tend to become engaged when they feel productive… when they feel like they are achieving success and that they are an important part of the organization’s success; when they feel that they have a voice in creating a better, more productive workplace as well as a better future.

Make this type of measured pursuit a part your culture and the results can be astounding!

Read more …

Engagement vs. Disengagement – What’s at Stake?

Recent posts have focused on various ways of promoting workforce engagement, which has been among the most popular topics among business leaders over the past 12-24 months.

However, it is less common to hear people speak in specific terms about the real, often hidden, costs associated with disengagement.

During recent meetings with our Partners in Improvement, a group of Improvement specialists from across North America, these costs were discussed in detail. The Partners’ conclusions were well-aligned with those published by numerous sources, including the Enterprise Engagement Alliance and Gallup.

Simply stated, disengaged employees create a negative and expensive ripple effect throughout an organization, and drive-up costs in five specific ways:

Higher turnover: Disengaged employees leave their employers as soon as they see a better opportunity. This turnover increases the costs of recruiting, on-boarding, and training, which typically range between 16% – 22% of salary for low-to-mid-level employees, and significantly more for higher-level executives based on a Center for American Progress study. In addition, every new hire brings a risk of a bad fit, and every employee leaving an organization takes with them some organizational knowledge that might have been helpful to that organization in future decisions.

Lower productivity, lower profitability: Disengaged employees don’t go the extra mile; they do not make an extra effort when faced with a challenge, and don’t put forth the same discretionary effort that an engaged person will make. An article published by the Harvard Business Review said that organizations with high levels of employee engagement yield a 22% increase in productivity over the norm.

Similarly, the Engaged Company Stock Index, which tracks the long-term results of companies with high levels of customer, employee, and community engagement as determined by independent data sources compiled by McBassi & Company, has outperformed the S&P 500 (including dividends) by 36.2 percentage points since October 1, 2012.

Little or no process improvement: Improvement requires engagement — a willingness to design and conduct experiments, a willingness to take risks to try something new and potentially better. However, disengaged employees tend to focus on their personal agendas and see little upside in trying something new to forward the organization’s goals.

Higher pay: When we say about someone, “They are only in it for the money,” we are observing disengagement. While money is important to nearly everyone, if that is the only motivation, there is no genuine engagement. As the behavioral economist, Dan Ariely, said, “Money is the most expensive way to motivate someone.”

Organizations that are unable to create an environment that intrinsically engages their employees must pay them more to keep and motivate them.

The associated cost of lost opportunities is difficult to calculate; but our experience and data surfaced over the past three-plus decades has consistently shown that, of the four primary forms of waste (capital waste, lost time, material waste, lost opportunities), the “lost opportunities” are the greatest.

Considering the above-listed realities, it is not surprising that ISO 10018, which provides guidance on engaging people in an organization’s quality management system, has become more prominent and a new certification created.

Our next post will focus on specific ways to reduce or eliminate these real costs of disengagement.

4DX & Engagement Part 5: Accountability

Our previous few posts have focused on “The 4 Disciplines of Execution,” a book  by Sean Covey, Chris McChesney, and Jim Huling, and how the disciplines impact achieving goals as well as employee engagement.

These previous posts have shared perspectives on disciplines one, two and three. However, the fourth discipline ― accountability ― is the discipline that enables you to win.

Without a cadence of accountability, teams will have a much more difficult time and will tend to become less engaged. The threat, of course, is that the whirlwind of running the day-to-day business that will consume all the available time.

By ‘cadence’ the authors mean an inviolable regular schedule, commitments, and expectations.  Teams should meet every week, and it’s best to schedule the meetings at the same day and time each and every week. These meetings should never canceled ― they must be viewed as important and productive, thus promoting strong feelings of belonging, commitment, productivity, and accomplishment, which are all drivers of engagement.

At the end it is all about employee engagement; working on the right things in the right way and in a way that involves understanding and applying some paradoxical insights:

  • The fewer the goals, the more you get done.
  • Clarity of goals increases engagement, even when a vague goal seems safer.
  • Know your LAG measure, but find and act on LEAD measures to get the results you want.
  • People play differently when they are keeping score and they know if they are winning or losing; the commitment, consistency of focus, and the resulting sense of productivity are all key drivers of engagement.
  • Without a rhythm of accountability, the whirlwind will win.

4DX & Engagement Part 4: The Scoreboard

As we’ve noted in recent posts, the effective execution of improvement and other strategic initiatives results in both goal achievement and workforce engagement. Thus it is to any organization’s advantage to promote and enable effective execution… as presented in “The Four Disciplines of Execution,” a book  by Sean Covey, Chris McChesney, and Jim Huling.

The first two disciplines are setting Wildly Important Goals (WIGs or lag measures) and Lead Measures (activities).

The third discipline, which has a strong impact on engaging people throughout the organization, is a scoreboard.

The scoreboard shows the lead measures and lag measure defined in the first two disciplines.  This scoreboard must be ‘a players’ scoreboard’ not a ‘coach’s scoreboard’. It must support, guide, and motivate the players to act effectively on the lead measures and influence the lag measures (WIG’s). It must have the feel of a game — people play the game differently when they are keeping score, and they play differently if they are keeping the score themselves!

In fact, the action of recording their own results has proved to have a strong effect on people ― fostering ownership, engagement, and a deeper appreciation of the impact of their effort.

However, as authors Covey, McChesney, and Huling point out, there are four important requirements to creating an effective scorecard that will truly promote execution and engagement:

  1. The scorecard must be visible. If it is out of sight, on your computer or on the back of the door, it is less effective at aligning the team to focus on moving those measurements.
  2. It must be simple, showing only the data required to ‘play the game’ ― to let the players know how they are doing day to day.
  3. It must show both lead and lag measures.
  4. It must show “at a glance” how the team or players are doing.

This scoreboard helps the team to both recognize their progress and also identify the next actions required to achieve the WIG’s; it also displays their achievement for all to see ― two critical components of engagement.

From a communication perspective, the scoreboard also plays a role in promoting a sense of accountability, which we’ll discuss in our next post.

Challenges and best practices associated with continuous improvement