The Metrics Sales Leaders Should Be Tracking

As an executive vice president for sales, I spent countless hours reviewing, examining, and analyzing the sales forecast for my company. I required the managers who reported to me to do the same. And that’s what they asked their reps to do, too.  We weren’t alone. Conversations between sales leaders, sales managers, and sales staff frequently focus only on numbers: Did you make them? Will you fall short? How much do you think you can sell in the next quarter?  The result is an inordinate amount of time spent on inspection and reporting of numbers that are, speaking frankly, out of the control of any sales leader.

In a recent study, the Sales Education Foundation and Vantage Point Performance identified 306 different metrics that sales leaders used in their efforts to manage their business. These metrics fell into three broad categories: sales activities (things like the number of accounts assigned per rep, the number of calls made per rep, and percentage of account plans completed), sales objectives(like the number of new customers acquired, the percentage share of customers’ wallet, and percentage of customers retained) and the subsequent business results (revenue growth, gross profit, customer satisfaction).

Even though managers were spending more than 80% of their time focused, as I had been, on the second two categories, the report found that sales management could affect only the first – the sales activities. The other two couldn’t be directly managed since they’re outcomes, not the process by which the outcomes are gained.

Which sales activities should sales leaders be managing?  In their book, Cracking the Sales Management Code, Jason Jordan and Michelle Vazzana break down sales activities into four discrete categories: call management, opportunity management, account management, and territory management. Different organizations might need to focus on one or another of these more intently, depending on both the nature of what they sell and where their organizational weaknesses laySo depending on the needs of your sales organization or team, here’s a way to map the various sales activity metrics to the challenge at hand:

Sales leaders who need to improve call management — that is, the quality of the interaction between individual salespeople and prospects or clients — should focus on such metrics as call plans completed, coaching calls conducted, or even the number of calls that are critiqued and reviewed. Coaching in the area of call management is particularly valuable when the seller need make only a small number of calls to greatly affect the outcome of a given deal. In selling professional services, for example, the ability to create value in one or two interactions with a senior executive often makes or breaks the deal.

Sales leaders who need to improve opportunity management – the ability of their salespeople to vet, pursue, and close a multistage sale — should focus on the number of opportunity plans (outlining the actions required to move through the stages of the sales cycle) completed or the percentage of early-stage opportunities qualified — that is, fully vetted to confirm you are really reaching the right customers, that these customers have the potential to generate a reasonable amount of business for the effort it will take to gain it, and that they are in fact willing to budget sufficient sums to purchase your offering. Identifying bad deals in this way and getting them out of the way early may be the simplest way to increase your odds of success. Most companies I have worked with don’t want their sales teams pursuing every opportunity possible. Instead, they want to put their maximum effort on the opportunities that match some kind of ideal client profile.

Sales leaders who need to improve account management – the ability to enhance the long-term value of a single client – should focus on working with reps to develop and adjust account plans so that they define an overall strategy for the customer. This is also when it would be fruitful for you to spend time creating and monitoring standards for important client-facing activities like establishing peer meetings between your organization and the customer (by, for instance, arranging meetings between your CEO and the client’s CEO) or getting the customer to sit on your organization’s advisory council to provide feedback to your business. I have a high-tech client that tracks the amount of time executives spend each month with a single account that generates $65 million a year. Account management metrics are vital when a substantial portion of your organization’s revenue is concentrated in small number of key customers.

Sales leaders that need to concentrate on territory management – on how you allocate sales reps’ time among all the customers in a given territory — should focus on metrics like the number of customers per rep, number of sales calls made, and even sales calls to different types of customers. By managing the process of selecting, prioritizing, and meeting with target customers you can maximize the use of your sellers’ most precious resource — time.

Many sales leaders have been inadvertently micromanaging through revenue or profit numbers, which is counterproductive. This is your chance to provide your sales team with a new context to succeed in. By closely managing the things you can control, you will give your organization the best chance for success.

How Strategic Are You?

Few things are more important for a leader than the ability to formulate and implement strategy. Not only is it one of the primary roles of a great leader, it is also one of the critical areas of competence that inspires and motivates people in an organization. We crave direction and a clear sense of purpose for what we do. I spend a lot of time with senior leaders creating strategy and developing execution plans, and this is what I see the best of them do at a practical level.

  • They have a clear understanding of the difference between strategy and tactics. Neil Rackham, has written that if words could sue for defamation of character, strategy would be the first in court. Simply put, strategy is about what to do. What is the essence of strategy, whereas how is the essence of tactics. What versus how. Simple right? Well, kind of. Many a leader gets caught up in vacillating back and forth from strategy to tactics. What to do and how we should do it. I worked with a professional services firm where one of the partners would immediately dive into tactics about how to implement something before the strategy was clear. The best strategic leaders focus on getting the strategy, or the “what” clear, before delving into the tactics, the “how.”
  • They create a line of sight between vision and action. Strategic leaders are able to orchestrate the process by which a vision gets translated into actions taken by everyone in the organization. It is in this way, people in an organization can bring that vision to life.  Developing the clarity between the organizations vision and the behaviors required for each role in the reporting structure are what forms the basis for behaving strategically or otherwise. For instance, if there is a vision for going above and beyond for excellent service, and the phone rings at 5:01 pm of the workday, then that call gets answered. Doing so creates the line of sight between an ideal or vision, and the established standards of conduct for each role in the organization.
  • They don’t allow means to overtake ends. That is, they keep outcomes at the center of all discussions and refuse to allow bureaucracy to get in the way of achieving objectives. This is not to say that they are anti-process. Quite the contrary. They firmly back processes that support desired outcomes, and do everything in their power to implement these processes across an organization. It is when strict adherence to a process stands in the way of the achievement of a stated goal that they intervene. Like rigidly sticking to a revision cycle on a custom project, when it is not necessary to deliver a quality product to the client. Doing this allows them to manage by exception and ensure that the organization is not overdoing process at the expense of quality outcomes. It’s about the ends, not the means.
  • They maintain a strong sense of customer or end-user focus. I have seen too many leaders produce strategies that were the results of endless spreadsheets or detailed financial analyses, but lacked the customer reality. The apothegm goes something like this, “Customers are responsible for 100% of your revenues.” As such, spending time with them, understanding their wants, needs, and definitions of value becomes a vital component of leading with strategic perspective.
  • They don’t think outside the box, they destroy the box. There are few topics more highly touted today than the importance of innovation. I have written on this blog before that the best leaders create a culture where innovation thrives. The bar keeps getting higher and the table stakes larger so for leaders to innovate, they need to develop ideas and practice saying yes. Not blithely, but rather, saying, “yes, how could we do that” or “yes, what would we need in order to make that a reality?” Think of how many ideas never even get a chance to see the light of day because a manager said no, or worse, because someone assumed (based on past experience,) that they would say no, and never even brought the idea forward. The best ideas often come from the front line and strategic leaders need to be the conduit for those ideas.
  • They communicate their strategy with oomph. Oomph, being a technical term, if a leader struggles to communicate strategy in a compelling way it is likely to lie fallow, or worse, misunderstood. People need and want a vivid picture of an organizations strategy and leaders need to paint them in to that picture by communicating with powerful language and imagery. The more this is done in terms of frequency, the better. I have never worked with a leader who received feedback that they communicated too well.

At the core of strategy is leadership. A leader who is effective in doing these things is likely to excel in both creating and implementing strategies for their organization. More and more this is done in real time without the luxury of having months and months to design strategies or implementation plans. Because of that companies need leaders who do this exceptionally well.

A Sales Leader’s Guide To Making Sales Calls

Too many sales leaders fail to leverage the most powerful competence that allows them to grow and scale their business: managing their involvement in sales cycles. A sales leader’s greatest value is to improve the performance of their sellers and build sales capability. But, because most leaders were promoted due to their successful sales careers,  a common error is to simply go on as many sales calls as possible and do all they can to close business. Over time this approach fails, since it does little to help the seller grow and multiply the effect of the manager.

In a previous article about the characteristics of great sales leaders, I highlighted the importance of being clear on your role in the selling process and knowing when and how to get involved. In this post, I’ll go into further detail. There are essentially four ways for leaders to be involved in sales calls. Model—you run the call, Observer—you observe only with an intent to coach following the call, Teammate— you engage in joint selling with clearly defined responsibilities to take on specific topics during the call, and Strategist—you provide pre-call planning guidance and post-call support.

Model: When you are working with new salespeople in particular, there are plenty of reasons why you may choose to run the sales cycle or a sales call entirely. That may be with the intent to illustrate a certain skill set like asking strategic questions, or to demonstrate how to manage a particular kind of client. When you are the model, it is important to discuss prior to the call the specific behaviors you will be modeling, and to have a post-call discussion about how they were used and to what effect. Even with senior sellers, model calls can be effective as a means to show the use of a new skill set or to highlight a subtle change in their technique that would lead to greater effectiveness.

Observer: It is incredibly difficult, if not impossible, to be a seller and a coach at the same time. So if you are going to coach, then as much as possible, you ought to be in the observer role and allow your salesperson to manage the entire client interaction- even if that means making some mistakes.  There is nothing harder than watching someone struggle with something that you know how to do, but allowing her to do so will enable her to learn and grow. Of course, I’d never suggest being an observer on a high-profile call with a great deal of business at stake. Do observation calls with low-risk clients or with accounts that don’t represent a significant opportunity.

Teammate: There are appropriate times for joint selling, and that is when you fulfill the role of the teammate. When you are both in selling mode it is crucial to be clear on who is responsible for what topics, what questions each of you will ask, and what issues each of you plan to handle. Team selling is powerful when both members of the team are coordinated, but without the appropriate pre-call planning, you run the risk of stepping on each others’ toes and looking unprofessional in front of potential clients. Think of the kayak with rowers in sync with each other and the velocity they achieve, versus the kayak where both rowers are out of rhythm. The latter can even be counterproductive, so take the time to carefully plan your calls.

Strategist: You can’t go on every call, and you shouldn’t try to. There are times when you are needed to help your sellers by providing strategic input on an account or client situation. In this capacity you provide guidance and coaching before and after client interactions in order to help your team advance opportunities. Helping them plan calls effectively, developing strategies to move prospects through the pipeline, and getting clear on how they intend to create value and uncover needs, are just some of the ways you can help without actually going on the call.

Of course, there will be sales situations in which you must make exceptions, and on appropriate occasions you may be in the role of super-closer. That is when you need to use your judgment. But the majority of time, you should be developing the talent on your team and fulfilling one of these four selling roles. Do that effectively and you will be on your way to building a world class sales team.

How Talent Management can keep up with the Changing Landscape

Talent management has not delivered the value that has been expected of the function. Yes, while there are cases where, in isolation, some good work has been done; those cases are the exceptions that prove the rule. By and large, the development of the talent management function has been more of a semantic shift from human resources management, in the same way human resources became more semantic in its shift from personnel management.

Before you get too angry with me for saying so, I have my professional roots in human resource management with PriceWaterhouseCoopers where I began my career in the early 1990’s, (I was with Coopers & Lybrand prior to the PwC merger,) so I am not here to criticize. I got in to the profession like so many of you did–because I was interested in how to improve the elements of organizational performance through people. At that time, we bristled when someone called us personnel, because we believed we were so much more than that.  The Personnel to HR shift, of course, was created in order to provide the kind of support organizational transformation and change efforts require. HR was to be something different. But with exception to the rare cases of success, for the most part it wasn’t all that dramatic a shift. Because of that, we now transition to talent management, which is quickly falling into the same trap that HR did.

So before I go much further it should be noted that of all the functions in business, talent management could be the most valuable of the next decade. I say this with confidence because I have worked with some of the best Human Resource and Talent Management professionals in the business and have seen first hand the impact they can have. Done well, Talent Management can create incredible value, but in order to do that, some things need to change, though.

Stop clamoring for a seat at the table and take it. The only way to do this is to get serious about the business of the organization and to understand the drivers of growth and profitability of the business you are in. HR and TM professionals are notorious for their lack of knowledge of the actual business so you may have to work double time to prove your competence in this arena. Further, TM needs to stop acting as an appendage of the organization by talking about how it needs to integrate or to earn a seat at the table. Simply do the work to be integrated and stop drawing attention to the lack. You never hear finance, manufacturing, or service talk that way. And for goodness sake, get rid of titles that include “business partner” Or “internal consultant.” Do you ever hear that with other critical functions in an enterprise? No. Why? They are critical by dint of their expertise and contribution. TM needs to do the same, and you will know this has happened when you see executives in HR and TM moving into other leadership positions in organizations, including general management.

Operate with speed and alacrity and perfect as you go. Few things are ever perfect and as the old saying goes, “don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.” Too many talent management groups are, as I write this, immersed in detailed needs analyses to prove a variety of relatively simple hypothesis, (e.g. we need to improve sales capability, we need to improve retention and engagement, we need better leaders, or we need leaders to do more of [insert your favorite leadership competency here.] Without engaging in too much analyses, surveying, and identification of needs, use your knowledge of the business to identify opportunities for improvement and design interventions that are created to address those performance issues. Do it with rapid prototyping, evaluate your results, and make changes for the next round. I am sure your R&D and product development teams don’t ever achieve the perfect product; so stop looking for the ideal training program, the complete recruiting process, or the perfect session design.

Last year I met with the division leader of a financial services firm going through a major transition. At her request, I also met with the Director of TM who told me that the next 18-24 would be focused on developing a plan and assessing needs for the future. Nearly two years to create a plan and assess needs? The business leader expressed a sense of urgency in getting results while TM spends then next year and a half or so getting a plan in place. (When I shared the TM Director’s time frame with the division leader she was aghast at the chasm of difference in priority and speed.) Focus on success and the achievement of your outcomes and you’ll go a long way to quickly having an impact on the business. Sustainable quick wins, and good short-term performance will trump the possibility of something great well into the future. And of course, the faster you get results, the quicker your stock will rise, enabling you to take that seat at the table.

Create metrics for success and demonstrable value that is tied to business success. Better yet, create metrics that are the results of business success. Most organizations have a scorecard (balanced or otherwise) on a routine basis that measures key objectives and performance indicators for the business. Make sure your objectives are tied tightly to those same performance indicators and be sure you are not measuring “stuff” because you need to add something to the scorecard from TM. Employee retention, employee turnover, and staff engagement are good measures, while metrics like number of training sessions conducted, orientation sessions held, and performance appraisals delivered are not. You want to make sure you are measuring business outcomes that you take responsibility for. In the same way that sales has a quota and manufacturing has production standards, you to, have accountability for critical measures of success.

Adopt a results focused mindset. Process is important, and procedures and guidelines keep an organization from falling into anarchy. They are necessary, but not sufficient if you are going to create value for your organization. Kind of like getting dressed appropriately for work, you have to do it, but it isn’t enough to be successful. Similarly, TM professionals need to focus on outcomes and results. Too often, HR and TM are put in the position of administering a process instead of actively contributing to the value or the results of that process. The performance appraisal process in most companies is a good example of this, where most TM pros are simply coordinating the process instead of actively contributing insights based on actual observed performance. With development programs, TM pros are too often concerned with the details of intricate instructional design or instead of looking at the intended performance outcomes and determining what the outcomes of the program are. By focusing on the outcomes, or as one of my clients puts it, the “end-game,” TM leaders can focus on a given initiatives contribution to achieving results. Did the performance appraisal process produce demonstrable value for the organization? Did the development intervention make a difference in the results people produced? It is about output not input.

Integration with the line is how an organization works. I still haven’t quite figured out why some people think that a centralized function is required for recruiting, learning and development, and change management. The fact of the matter is that organizations are well served having skilled people close to the issues and the only way to do that is to have TM professionals working hand in glove with the leaders of the organization they serve. The transactional elements of HR and TM have been appropriately outsourced to those who can perform those tasks more effectively and efficiently. The transformational elements of these functions only seem to work when they are embedded in the line where they can be nimble and quick acting in their efforts to create value. Not done by an intermediary. Organizations don’t need a separate hierarchy on their org chart, they need expertise resident in the business units.

I have done my best to treat this sensitive issue with the candor it deserves. The fact remains that if Talent Management is going to move from a low spot on the totem pole, it has to create value quickly. That can’t happen on the current trajectory. The change in value creation won’t come in changing the placards from HR to TM. It will have to be a fundamental shift in the way TM pros conduct themselves. Right now, too many TM pros are in a support position when they could be integral to the business. After all, it is the people in an organization that bring the company strategy to life, and it is senior executives that are responsible for making that happen.

Develop Leadership Strengths By Building Around Them

It has become vogue in talent management to focus on strengths as a means to developing leadership skills. This is hardly a new idea since Peter Drucker was talking about this over 40 years ago when he wrote in The Effective Executive, that “Unless an executive looks for strength and works at making strength productive, he will only get the impact of what a man cannot do, of his lacks, his weaknesses, his impediments to performance and effectiveness. To staff from what there is not and to focus on weakness is wasteful – a misuse, if not abuse, of the human resource.”  This idea became popular again in 2001 when Gallup introduced the book Now Discover Your Strengths.

The question lingered though, once you have discovered your strengths how do you go about developing them further. Clearly, finding out about ones natural talents and abilities is powerful, but after you have done that, how do you take them to the proverbial “next level.” What do you do? The answer is to build around that strength with complementary skills. Here are four insights that will help you to do this.

1.  You don’t build strength in the same way you fix weakness.Improving weakness is a straightforward activity. Say, for instance, you want to get better at your average capacity to focus on results. That may entail getting clear on outcomes of projects you are working on versus just understanding the process steps. It could include setting goals, beefing up your work ethic, following through on commitments, and seeing assignments through to completion. If you are already strong in your focus on results though, these developmental actions are not likely to do anything more for you. It is probably more of the same of what you are already doing and you need a different approach.

2.  Use interaction effect to your advantage. Leadership abilities cluster around and reinforce one another.  They don’t operate in isolation. That’s, in part, why very effective leaders frequently have a number of complementary skill sets working together to make them great.  In the same way that diet and exercise work together to help you get in shape, leadership characteristics play off each other too. They interact with each other and produce an impact that is greater than the sum of the parts. For example, many leaders who are recognized as talented innovators excel in the areas of building trust and change management. These behaviors don’t necessarily cause the leader to be more creative or pioneering, but they do support what it takes to create a culture where innovation thrives. That helps them to be more inventive and come up with groundbreaking ideas. In the Harvard Business Review article that I coauthored in 2011, “Making Yourself Indispensable,” we found that most leadership characteristics have between 8-12 complementary behaviors that serve as a sort of building block for a given area of strength. By using complementary behaviors to advance your skills, you can dramatically improve your leadership capabilities. And so, you build around your strengths.

3.  Follow your passion. In order to successfully develop your strengths you need to ignite your interests. When I work with senior leaders, one of the questions I always ask is “What are you most interested in improving?” The reason for this, is that when it comes time to integrate their leadership development plan into their work, it better not feel like drudgery or it won’t happen. (Or if it does happen, it will in some perfunctory way.) Done well, this kind of development becomes meshed into the day-to-day work of the leader, so that it changes the overall texture of their leadership effectiveness. Not just something they do at 4:45 on Friday afternoon to check the box on some plan they aren’t truly committed to. This only happens when you are excited about what you are working on. Think about it, when was the last time you gave 100% effort to something you truly didn’t feel like doing?

4.  You won’t overdo it. I’ve heard people say that our greatest strength can also be our greatest weakness, but I don’t agree. How could strength of character, or being incredibly inspiring and motivating to others be a weakness of a leader? My guess is that when people say this, what they are observing is a lack of complementary skills. Like a leader who is great with building relationships, but becomes one-dimensional and relies exclusively on those relationships to produce results. It’s not enough to get the job done. I suspect that what you are really seeing, is not that they are “too good” at developing relationships, but that they lack a results focus or a strategic orientation. Add those skills and the leader balances out their strength. Like adding diet to exercise, it increases the likelihood of success.

There are of course times when we need to work on weaknesses, particularly if a deficiency is getting in the way of reasonable performance. My experience has been, however, that most of the time, leaders thrive when they develop their strengths. And the best way to do that is to build around them.

How To Convince Your Boss To Let You Work From Home

From my interview with Business Insider, Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer famously banned working from home in February of this year.

That’s because she believes the best ideas happen when workers are face to face and have the ability to collaborate with each other.

But it turns out that remote workers are actually more engaged, Edinger Consulting Group founder Scott Edinger wrote on the Harvard Business Review.

Business Insider caught up with Edinger to learn a bit more about the pros and cons of working from home.

“One doesn’t have to be in an office environment in order to be highly engaged,” Edinger tells Business Insider. “It’s been proven that people outside the office are even more engaged.”

The number one rule for all of this is not to argue with success, Edinger says.

“There is no royal road,” he says. “Which is why I think at Yahoo, they have made a mistake by focusing on the ‘no remote work arrangements rule,’ instead of focusing on results and outcomes like engagement and productivity.”

Evaluate your work ethic and determine if working from home is right for you

Working from home isn’t necessarily for everyone. Some people are really great at self-motivation, while others may need to be in more of a traditional work environment in order to get in the work mood.

“If you’re working from home, the real danger is the distraction of everyday life,” Edinger says. “All the things that you could be doing are right there. Whereas in the office, maybe you’ll make some personal calls, but for the most part, you’re disciplined by work because you’re surrounded by them.”

That’s not to say that working in the office is free of distraction, Edinger says. But ultimately, you need to be a self-starter and someone who can effectively communicate with your teammates even if you don’t see them face to face.

Convey to your boss that working remotely would produce better results

Now that you’re sure working from home would be a more productive solution for you, it’s time to convey that to your boss. The focal point of any conversation with your boss needs to be around output over input, and results over actions.

A common misconception is that you’re hired to take action, Edinger says. But in reality, you’re hired to get results.

“Actions and methods are just a means to an end to get those results,” Edinger says. “Whether it takes me 10 or 12 hours isn’t of concern. It’s the results produced that are needed for my job.”

That means as an employee, you need to show your boss how you will actually complete more tasks or projects, achieve better results, and make more progress on significant projects.

“If people are more productive working in that environment on their own, and are better able to produce results, then that’s what’s in it for the organization,” Edinger says.

But again, working from home isn’t for everyone. You need some level of self-motivation to be able to productively work from home, Edinger says.

Staying productive while working from home

Now that you’ve convinced your boss to let you work from home, here’s how to make sure your privileges don’t get quickly revoked.

It’s important to set aside an area for only work, Edinger says. If you’re working in your living room, the chances for distraction are plentiful.

You have the TV and refrigerator beckoning, and you see all your personal errands right in front of you. There’s no escaping them and it can be tempting to take care of that business when you should be working.

“I know a lot of very successful individuals who work in a one bedroom apartment but have an area set aside for work,” Edinger says. “That’s the number one factor.”

Other important factors are to be mindful of your calendar, and block off time to accomplish certain tasks. You also want to tackle the toughest things earlier in the day. The same goes for an office, Edinger says, but it’s even more important to keep that in mind when working from home.

Getting teams right means determining how much of a team it is

One of the presenting issues I encounter as an expert in organizational performance is the need for improved teamwork. That need may be for a sales team, a management group, or even the executives of an organization. Frequently, this need is, as I stated, just the presenting issue, and there are a lot of matters beneath the surface that need to be dealt with before we get to actually begin working on team effectiveness.

There are four conditions that I frequently come across:

The team is actually not a team, but rather, a committee. There is no value judgment here—both teams and committees are useful for different purposes. It’s just that they have operating principles and ought to be treated as such. The key to determining whether or not you have a team or a committee is the degree to which they all win or lose together.

When I work with organizations that want to improve teamwork, I try to get a clear understanding of the team structure. In most instances, what I find is that there is not actually a team in place. Instead what I see is a collection of professionals that have been put together, often loosely, to accomplish a goal or set of goals; the group may be cross functional in nature or they may be from the same discipline; they may be together for a single purpose and then disband or they may work together with no end in sight.

Regardless of the make up, the first step is to get clear on whether you have a team or a committee.

They confuse shared destiny with shared destination. One of the principal differences in the team and committee is the notion of shared destiny and shared destination.

Shared destiny allows for a common goal in which each person in the group does their part as an individual contributor to achieve that goal. One person may do a terrific job and another, a lousy job, but the goal may still be reached. Many sales “teams” are a good example of this where one person can over-achieve their quota and another fails to reach their quota and the overall target is still achieved. That really isn’t a team. It is kind of like celebrating individual statistics in a sport where winning is all that matters.

That doesn’t happen on a shared destiny team, where it requires everyone to do their part in order for the team to succeed. An R&D team on the other hand may exist in an environment where it needs everyone to succeed in doing their job, as the nature of their work is dependent on others. There is great power in shared destiny teams but they need to have interdependent goals on which to operate.

They fail to differentiate means and ends. Too often, however, leaders undertake the task of developing teams for the sake of doing so.

Teamwork is a means to an end, most often the achievement of some kind of result that would not be attainable without the combination of everyone doing his or her part. That end may be greater productivity, more profit, increased speed to market, or any other business outcome aided by teamwork.

One of my clients is a Fortune 100 financial institution and I was in a meeting where the CEO reminded a group of senior executives that they needed to work as a team to capture the profit dollars that were falling through the cracks of the organization’s (self constructed) silos. That required real teams that depended on one another in order to be successful with a clear result in mind. Teamwork is about results and good teams are laser focused on the right ones.

Operating principles and expectations are explicit, not tacit. When teams are successful they operate on a set of standards or a code that is clear to everyone on the team.

Teams get very focused on how they are going to operate, what acceptable performance looks like, and the expectations of each individual on the team. They are clear on roles and goals as well as how success is defined. This is a critical step in the team development process as it establishes the working culture for the team. On good teams, it is not left to chance.

There is a lot written about why teams fail, and I’d suggest to you that most of the teams that fail, aren’t really teams at all. Sometimes, that is the problem. Before you embark on forming a team, or if you are wondering why a team is not functioning, examine these conditions to see which are present and you may have your solution.

Leadership And The Periodic Table Of The Elements

Last May we added two new elements, Livermorium and Flerovium, to the periodic able after being first synthesized over a decade ago. Adding new elements to the periodic table is rare, not that we have discovered all there is to discover (certainly we will add more in time,) but because the table represents the constants, or all those known in the universe. So it is already quite comprehensive. And while there are alternative representations and grouping methods of the periodic table, for the most part it is laid out in the same way. I am not a physicist, but I would point out similarly, that we do the same thing with leadership competencies.

The ongoing study of leadership occasionally yields a new discovery and there are experts in the field that contribute greatly to that effort. However, too many organizations, in trying to take on leadership improvement more resemble an exercise in renaming the elements of the periodic table, than making new discoveries. For instance, I worked with an organization a few years ago in an effort to design a competency model for the business, and prior to engaging with them, they had spent hours, no—days, going back and forth over whether or not the competency listed in their model was going to be Character, Integrity, or Honesty.

Honesty (I’m not kidding.) They were talking about the very same things related to trustworthiness but were very hung up on the labels.

My counsel: Stop getting caught up in the minutia of renaming or relabeling competencies and focus instead on capturing the essence of the most desired behaviors for leaders.

Having worked with dozens of organizations to develop custom competency models, and reviewing the data on tens of thousands of assessments, the following are the constants that I see in what amounts to the core of the leadership periodic table—kind of like the eight elements that make up 98% of the earths mass. 

  •  Character. Like I said above, call it what you want, integrity, honesty, being an exemplar of behavior, but it is oxygen for leaders because its absence undermines any effort to lead.
  • Inspiring/Motivating. In the book I coauthored, The Inspiring Leader, in a study of 20,000 this was the one thing that subordinates wanted most from them. To be inspired.
  • Results Orientation. Leadership is a means to an end, in that, without an objective of some kind, it is not critical. Leaders need to be mindful of those objectives and stay focused on them.
  • Communication Skills. When I’ve conducted interviews or reviewed the written comments on thousands of 360 degree feedback evaluations the most common issue I see highlighted for improvement is communication. Who does it too well or too often?
  • Professional and Functional Expertise. Leaders have to understand how to do the basics like solve problems, analyze issues, and demonstrate knowledge of the organization. This includes functional expertise in a discipline like finance, manufacturing, sales, and marketing.
  • Interpersonal Skills. No matter how strategic or how much of an expert a leader is, if you can’t relate to others it won’t matter. Leadership is largely a relational skill.
  • Leading Change. Not much leadership is required to maintain the status quo, but great leaders prepare their organizations to adapt to the future.

You could certainly debate groupings and subsets with the above list (and I suspect you will,) but there is little doubt about the criticality of each of these.

There are bound to be new discoveries of competencies that have a substantial impact and certainly there is more to learn. Additionally, there are some environments where competencies that are more specialized would be quite useful. For instance, Safety Leadership is likely unimportant in professional services firms or in a technology distribution company, but it was critical when I worked with an oil refinery.

Yet these represent the core of great leadership, albeit not the entire universe of leadership traits. As an aside, we could spend days coming up with leadership competencies, and none of them would be wrong. In my last firm we did a study of hundreds of leadership competencies and all were positively correlated to success at some level. No leadership competency is bad in and of itself. Further, most additional work on leadership behaviors either combines the components of these characteristics or to look at the minute particles that make them up. So take these leadership competencies and embed them in your models. Use them to develop great leaders. And where it is appropriate, feel free to add an element to your organizations periodic table.