Security Staff Acquisition & Development, Channel markets

Developing Management And Leadership Talent

Author: David Brock, president, Partners in Excellence
Author: David Brock

I recently wrote, “The Sales Manager’s Job Is Different,” addressing the impact of making the wrong decisions in selecting Front Line Sales Managers (FLSM).  Too often, the “easy” solution is to take our very best sales people, promoting them into FLSM roles. Usually the results are devastating; they may be great sales people, but they don’t recognize the FLSM job is different.

One of the primary reasons people do this is because they think it’s easier and faster to take someone internally, moving them into the leadership role. After all, that individual already knows our company, our products, our customers. Plus they have a track record of success as individual contributors.  With the exception of their track records as individual contributors, there is a lot of power in looking at internal candidates.

I’ve always been a huge fan of promoting from within. Not just because of the shorter ramp time, but also because, if we want to retain our very best people, we need to provide growth and career paths within our own organizations. Everyone wants to grow in their careers–not just compensation, but in level, work function, and other areas. If we can’t provide those growth paths, then they will look for those opportunities elsewhere–as they should.

It’s a tragic loss to have talented people leave, because they saw no future in the organization. We’ve invested huge amounts in developing them, and presumably they are producing great results—all of that is lost if we provide them no growth paths.

To be certain, however, not everyone wants to go into management and not everyone is qualified. We do need to provide growth paths into other roles for those that want to continue to be great individual contributors. Perhaps, it’s taking on more senior responsibilities, bigger accounts, strategic opportunities. Certain strategic business development roles can be great career paths for very high level, talented individual contributors.

But there are some who want to and should be management material. How do we identify them, and how do we prepare them to be ready to step into leadership roles when the time arises?

First, the identification process is pretty easy–that is if you’ve paid attention to the other posts I’ve written on developing the Sales Manager Competency Model. In this model, you are developing the profile of your ideal sales manager. The competency model should look at cultural fit, behaviors, attitudes, skills, competencies, experiences and other areas. In assessing sales people who might grow into management roles, there will be some obvious shortcomings–for example certain skills, competencies and experiences. For example, they may never have had the chance to be involved in hiring sales people, or coaching, or setting and managing performance expectations. Obviously, they fall short in some of those areas.  But the most critical areas are cultural, attitudinal, behavioral fit. These are most difficult to change or develop if they don’t have them.

The Competency Model is a way to identify people who have the potential of being outstanding managers in your organization. Hopefully, their managers are having developmental conversations with them and the individuals are saying they would like to be managers in the organization. Additionally, hopefully you are using some assessment instruments, have them take the assessments to see if there are any glaring issues that would disqualify them from consideration in the future.

For those that pass that initial screen, you can now start giving them developmental experiences, helping them grow and develop skills/competencies that will be critical to their success as sales managers.

We have to realize, these people still have their “day  jobs” as individual contributors, but we can give them additional assignments or exposures to help develop their capabilities to be good managers.

For example, assigning them to a key project–lets say you are launching a new sales productivity tool to the organization. Make them part of the project group responsible for launching it to the organization. Many of the skills they need in that project or that they will develop on that project are critical to their success as managers.

Perhaps there is a task force on some topic critical to the organization. For example, I’m working with a client in changing and sharpening the focus of their sales process and their deal strategies. Many of the sales people on the project are people the client is developing for future managerial roles.

Sometime, executive management, particularly in large organizations wants to hold round tables to discuss issues and get opinions from the field. Make sure to include your future managers in those discussions. In my own career, participating in those discussions were critical to my development. I was not only flattered to be invited to participate in the sessions, but in the interaction, I got some exposure to how top management thought/acted/behaved.  It also gave those executives the chance to get to know me a little better.

When you are recruiting and interviewing new sales people, make these managerial candidates part of the process. Have them interview candidates, ask for their feedback and views about the candidates.

Consider, putting them into mentoring roles. For example, serving as a mentor to a new person being onboarded develops their skills and coaching capabilities, as well as helping the new person get onboarded more effectively.

In some cases, having the person “sit in” as an acting manager for a short period is very powerful. For example, when you unchain a current manager from her desk and let her take a week vacation. The sales person can sit in that role during the week. Clearly, you don’t want them to be making critical decisions or addressing performance issues, but it does get them some exposure to the day-to-day function of a FLSM.

Finally, where you can get them some formal or informal training. For example, get them to read some books (Sales Manager Survival Guide is a great start) and discuss them with them. There are endless blogs, webinars, free or low cost seminars they can go to, to begin learning the things they need to be a great manager.

Remember, your goal isn’t to develop these people into experienced managers–only experience does that, but what you are trying to do is accelerate an shorten their learning curve for when the opportunity to move into management arises (remember, all managers need an onboarding program, as well.)

The other benefit to putting a development program like this in place is that you and the sales person get an opportunity to “test drive” each other—you get to see how they respond to the issues they are going to face as managers, they get greater visibility into what the job really is.

We owe it to ourselves, our company, and our people who have strong potential as future leaders to develop them, and where they can let them learn, so that when they do step into a leadership role, they are better prepared.

David Brock is president of Partners in EXCELLENCE, a management consulting firm focused on sales productivity, channel development, strategic alliances and more. Read more blogs from Brock here.