Who’s In Charge?

Meridith Elliott Powell

What industry has had to change, adapt and overcome more in the last five or so years than the financial services industry?  Maybe healthcare, but I would say they are a close second when you think about the regulation, fluctuations in the economy, consumer attitude, etc. that daily impacts our financial services world.

It should stand to reason that financial services and change should be as compatible as peanut butter and jelly, as collaborative as a hammer and a nail, right? Wrong, in reality they are usually more like oil and water. It makes me laugh when I think about all the times I have been hired as a keynote speaker, or brought in for a consulting job, and the CEO tells me that my biggest obstacle is going to be the team. “They just don’t like to change.”

Are you kidding me? What do you mean they just don’t like to change? And why does that matter? I mean you have made it clear, clients are more demanding, they need better, more enhanced service, profits need to improve, and business growth is not an option it is a requirement. So why is a little pushback from the  team making you hesitant, getting you to slow down? Who’s in charge  anyway, you or the team?

Act Like A Sales Leader

I believe employees want to be lead, they want to be successful and they want to be on a winning team. That takes a leader who understands when to push, when to pull and when to inspire. Despite what they say, despite what you think, your team members want to change, because they want to be part of an organization that is cutting-edge and a leader in the industry.

How do you “make” your team do what you want them to do, and make them happy about doing it?” Stop acting like a sales manager and start being a sales leader. Stop letting your team run you and you start running your team.

A few months ago I was working with one of my favorite clients on business development training and strategic business growth. Our typical style when making change is to involve and engage the team right from the start, ensuring before we implement change we get their support and buy-in. You know the drill, when we do it this way it just makes change so much easier.

However, out of nowhere we got a major opportunity, and we had to make a quick decision. It was a unique and innovative new product line that would be the perfect addition to our client offering. A little out of the box, but innovative and truly filled a client need. If we wanted to offer it, we needed to act quickly and sign an exclusive deal with the vendor, meaning there was no time to engage the team and get their input and buy-in. Not an ideal situation, but one we didn’t worry about as this product was going to give the team a great new product to sell, a serious way to open doors, and sell more to existing clients.

The CEO was pumped up and excited, and could not wait to share the news with the team. I cautioned him that we needed to prepare for this meeting and discuss how we were going to get their buy-in and support and how we would handle their pushback. He felt that was totally unnecessary, His feeling was  how could the team not embrace a new product line that was going to make sales, client growth and retention so much easier?

He had the meeting and he rolled out the new idea complete with the dates of required training to get started. I asked to be at the meeting just to observe, and observe I did. The moment he started talking, his entire team, including his commercial leader, started to resist.

As soon as the CEO stopped talking, they started; pushback, complaining resistance. So strong and so loud that even the commercial leader jumped in and the CEO started to cave and immediately started making concessions. Perhaps they could wait on the training; maybe they could just have the product in the mix and not highlight it; maybe he should review it one more time before he truly signed the contract…

It was clear who was running the team and the company; it was not the commercial leader and certainly not the CEO. Unfortunately, if someone else didn’t start leading the team, if someone didn’t jump in this team and this company were going to miss a major opportunity.

What do you do when the very people you need to embrace the change resist it? Stop managing your team and start leading it. People resist change because they don’t understand it and, more importantly, they do not understand how it will benefit them. As a leader you need to understand that, prepare for it, and help your team make the transition. Your job as the sales leader is to simultaneously acknowledge the challenge of what they do see, and  help them see the benefit of what they don’t; the what is in it for them, their customers and their company.

In this case, right after the meeting, the CEO, the commercial leader and I had a coaching session in which we debriefed the meeting. Going through what went well (very little) and what could have gone better (a lot). The result: a CEO with a stronger backbone and a willingness to strategize before meetings about change, and more importantly a leader who was now committed to focusing on seeing opportunity rather than challenge when change is introduced.

We had a “do over” and this time walked the team through all the benefits (for them personally and the clients) of this new product line (which were immense and why the CEO was so excited,) acknowledged their concerns with the additional challenges on the front end, and guaranteed the support and help they would need to make the transition.

The result: A motivated, engaged and excited team hit record growth numbers with the new product line and a CEO and commercial leader who are back in charge of their team and their company.

Meridith Elliott Powell is a business development consultant and the author of “Winning in the Trust and Value Economy.”