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Increasing Sales: Technical Focus uses leadership to smash sales targets.

Technical Focus is a recruitment firm specialising in the supply chain and manufacturing sector.  John Lambert is the owner and has built the business from scratch over the last 8 years.  In 2004 Technical Focus was recognised as one of the top 5 recruitment firms in Australia in the SEEK awards, for the second year in a row.  Following that win, John decided to set some ambitious sales targets that would require his team to move to a level of performance not previously seen in the business.  In June 2005 Technical Focus smashed those targets, exceeding them by over 20%.

John recognises that a shift in his own leadership style was the key to unlocking the true potential in the business.  John now shares his learning on how to make such a profound transition happen.

1. What made you aware that you needed to change your leadership style?

Technical Focus started out as a team of 3 people and we had grown to 12 people in 2 years.  In a small team you are able to have close professional friendships. You can commit a lot of time to each individual. There is a lot of trust and you get to know each other very well. This created a productive work environment when we were a small team but caused problems when we got bigger.

2. What problems did it cause?

After the team expanded some internal rivalries started which caused friction and this was a big drain on everyone?s productivity.  Some of the new staff thought I was showing favouritism toward the long-term team members.  That wasn?t my intent but the long-term team members had proven their loyalty and commitment over time.  I was happy to give them more of a free reign and show more patience than I perhaps was giving to newer team members.

The other key problem was the limited time I could spend with each person.  Traditionally I preferred to closely mentor new team members to bring them up to speed.  I could also monitor their progress and I was readily available if they had any questions.  This approach just wasn?t practical in a larger team.  I felt frustrated that the opportunity to develop staff was being compromised and staff complained of inconsistency and being unclear about what to do and how to do it.

Both the issues of favouritism and inconsistency were holding back our growth and signalled to me that I needed to upgrade my leadership skills.  I needed to be far more consistent and strategic in the relationship I had with my team.

3. How did you make the necessary changes?

Firstly I was very clear about my desired outcome.  I ultimately wanted the team to feel they had consistent and effective leadership. I consider my primary accountability, as the head of the business, is the provision of effective leadership.  When people feel they have an effective leader their own personal effectiveness also increases and drives the business through to an improved level of performance.

I was clear about the outcome I wanted but wasn?t clear about the specific changes that needed to take place.  I have read a lot about leadership but trying to make change happen ?on the ground? is a very different game. It?s difficult because in this instance I knew I had to change my own and it?s near impossible to look objectively at your own behaviour and get the insights you need to make changes.

I decided to use the resources at Eyes Wide Open to help me make the change.  Kirrily (from EWO) and I began weekly coaching sessions to unravel what was a very complex situation.  There were some key insights that came out of our discussions.

  • I was feeling insecure about the teams? opinion of me as a leader and this was affecting my confidence and ability to influence people.
  • I thought of the challenges and the goals of the business as ?my? problem rather than something owned by the whole team.
  • I needed to hand over accountability for the sales target to the team. My role was then to support and encourage the team in achieving that goal.  This sounds fairly simple but required a profound shift in mindset.  I had to ?let go?.

Once I gained these key insights it was surprising how quickly my behaviour and habits changed.  It was relatively easy to increase the effectiveness of my leadership style.

4. Describe the style of leadership you are using in the business now.

Throughout the last 6 months we have changed management systems within the business as well as the way those systems are used.

We now have weekly sales meetings with a clear agenda and everyone reports to the meeting in the same way.  Whether you are a long-term team member or a new arrival you are accountable to the team for your performance in exactly the same way.  I have taken on a facilitator role within the meetings.  Instead of being the main person talking I now focus on asking questions to get people thinking and extract learning. 

We also have designated times for one-on-one coaching sessions and new team members are also matched with long team members for mentoring.  This has enabled leadership in the business to be decentralised.  The pressure is off me. I?ve stopped being a bottleneck and everyone has greater ownership of the success of the business.

5. What have been the benefits for the business?

We are exceeding our sales targets and our pipeline of work is extremely healthy.  For a long time it felt like we had hit a glass ceiling in what we were able to achieve sales wise with the existing team.  Now the business has shifted to a completely new level.

We have lost some staff along the way.  In fact we are exceeding our targets with fewer people.  Some people didn?t like the new environment of transparency and accountability and they have left.

I personally have a much better routine happening.  I am able to dedicate my time and energy where is can have the greatest impact. 

The team overall is far more engaged.  Buy-in to any new initiatives flows very easily.  People have got into the habit of thinking for themselves and seeing the opportunities rather than waiting for me to give direction. There is a very positive buzz in the office.

The end result of all the changes as been people working with much greater synergy, morale is better and increases revenue just flow.

Recently the team completed a 360o analysis of my performance.  Team members were able to provide confidential scores on how well I was doing as a leader.  The results have given me greater confidence that I am effectively leading the business and I am excited about our future.

6. Finally, what tips do you have for other business owners who need to go through a similar transition?

Get help. Have someone who can help you objectively look at what's going on and who can challenge your beliefs and actions.  This is the role Eyes Wide Open has played in my transition and it was vital.  Make sure you work with someone who knows the practicalities of your situation and who has the skills to really help you shift your mindset.

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