Tiger Woods


What keeps your organization relevant and thriving in a competitive marketplace? As a business leader, you know the answer is continuous improvement. The daily grind often gets in the way, and when the business cycle is down or you are feeling stuck, it can become debilitating. In the previous two articles, we discussed the importance of research and vision. The final step is where the work really gets started and is the difference between a successful team or one that is stalled.

According to the Objective Management Group, process discipline in sales is one of the top three factors that determines the success of a salesperson or team. The application of lean principles works the same in your sales group as it does for the operations group. Applying these principles engages your team in the improvement instead of feeling like you need to figure it all out on your own. Side note: an individual can rarely outperform a cohesive team. Whatever you are feeling, the rest of the team probably feels it as well.

“If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.” – Henry Ford

With the data and strategy in place, you can put the continuous improvement process to work and start to engage the team’s energy in getting better.

1.  Sustainment
2.  Value Stream Mapping
3.  Issue Solving

4.  Accountability Tracking
5.  Training and Development
6.  Sales Enablement

Sustainment is one of the biggest problems in continuous improvement. Many teams get started and expect instant results, but it doesn’t work like that. John Wooden didn’t win 10 championships in twelve years by losing focus on continuous improvement. It was his central theme regardless of the team’s performance.

To grow, a team has to commit – daily and weekly – to the effort of getting better. That means weekly continuous improvement meetings to work on issues as a group. It means creating time to work on projects to improve the team productivity and customer experience. Continuous improvement is not sitting in the reporting meeting only to receive an update that no progress has been made since the last meeting…ever experienced that? I thought so. Why not reduce the number of unnecessary meetings the team is having by maximizing the quality of interaction when they do meet?

As teams get better at working together, there are also moments when tension increases. This is typically the point where teams quit the process. The reality is that a team who is unwilling to argue with each other is not a high-functioning team. To make progress you have to be willing to work through the early phases of pain and team building. If you haven’t read Forming Storming Norming Performing: Successful Communication in Groups and Teams yet, consider this a nudge to do so.

“Whatever you do in life, surround yourself with smart people who’ll argue with you.” – John Wooden

Schedule regular discussions and focus on small changes to sustain your improvement process. Empower your team to implement and improve processes and measure the results. Establishing a growth mindset is the key.

A good first step is to leverage Value Stream Mapping (from the LEAN Toolbox) to show what is currently happening with your sales process and what should happen in the future. With the entire team in a room, map out what happens in each step of the process today and what should happen in the future. The result is a list of issues that stop us from getting to the future state. Address them one by one, starting with the ones which have the greatest impact on the team. It’s a powerful way to help the team engage and get all ideas out on the table.

After value stream mapping is completed, you have a list of issues with prioritization. Set the cadence for the team by getting together to solve them. A great approach is using the EOS IDS (Identify, Discuss, Solve) model to work through them. This is one of the most powerful ways to conduct a meeting and knock down problems. It focuses on solving one problem at a time and gets to the core issues and allows the team to be part of the solution discussion.

“Either you’re part of the solution, or you’re part of the problem.” – Jeff’s Dad, paraphrased from Eldridge Cleaver

Next, decide how you will know if the solution is working (key performance indicators). Your KPIs create a feedback loop for the team, so they can determine if their current improvements are helping to achieve the goals. Start with something simple like a spreadsheet to manage the data. You don’t need to measure 100 data points; often 3-7 is enough. What often begins with outcome metrics will, over time, turn into leading indicator metrics. Start with revenue (the easy one), move to quotes, then to introduction meetings, then to leads. Work your way back to what must happen every day to hit the numbers.

Solving issues and tracking successes are natural catalysts to engagement and excitement. The team is empowered to be a part of the vision and improvement. With that enthusiasm, they are more likely to accept feedback. In many cases, they will begin identifying their own development needs during the improvement process. There will be a time in the transformation when the honeymoon ends and when discouragement hits, and the team starts to think about giving up. Every relationship goes through it and no team is exempt. This is a normal part of the process. Being willing to work through it is key to getting the team where they need to be.

Assessment data will show the areas where the team needs support, both in skills and to fulfill the requirements of their seat. It will give each team member a clearer path for their personal development and growth. It provides the opportunity see how their daily work contributes to the vision. This alignment is a core need for all teams. It is the place where engagement and growth hit the nitrous oxide and acceleration really begins.

On the road to the ideal state, the team will encounter tasks that take way too much time and energy. In some cases, they can simply stop doing them. In others, like a follow-up, they can automate the work. This is where support team members or marketing step in. The purpose is to speed up the sales cycles and simplify the work of the sales team.

Now is the time for tools be leveraged for efficiency. Many journeys grind to a halt when teams start with some big CRM or automation project before they are working on the journey of simplifying the current process. Less is more. Yes, there may be a basic need for CRM (I use one as well), but often teams make things too complex in the early stages. Most teams don’t need 100 new accounts a year for each salesperson.

At this point, the marketing team is also getting engaged to help the sales team with materials that MOVE A PROSPECT THROUGH THE PIPE. As the team works through the issues, they will find the materials that help drive real leads and those that they need to close business. That should be the area of focus.

“I worry that business leaders are more interested in material gain than they are in having the patience to build up a strong organization, and a strong organization starts with caring for their people.” – John Wooden


We can learn a lot from John Wooden’s approach to continuous improvement. The facts show that leaders who take a people-centric approach often outperform their peers. A lot of people speak about it, but fewer practice it. Supporting a team in its continuous improvement is an act of showing you care. For the leader with the right process, and the perseverance to work the process for those around them, the rewards are great.

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