Front Line Manager as Change Agent
L&D Should Provide
A “managers only” version of the training program in order to accelerate managers’ understanding of the new skills and knowledge
Speaking points for the overview meeting
An e-mail with the pre-work and average time it takes to complete
An e-mail template for recap and expectation setting prior to the training
Proactive analysis of likely barriers to salespeople using their new skills and knowledge back on the job
Multiple opportunities for sales managers to attend the training with their salespeople
When sales managers cannot attend training with their salespeople, an abbreviated overview of the training for managers would be important
Reminders to managers that clear communication about who is backing-up and covering each participant during the training period is extremely helpful
Announcements about post-training “next steps” built into the end of the training
Coaching training so that managers can engage and coach the participants developmentally during the post-training period
Coaching checklist for the course so that managers can quickly and easily remember the critical skills and knowledge that they should be looking for among their salespeople
Template for a post-training individual reinforcement plan either paper-based or via the learning management system
Monthly check-in meetings with all the other sales managers who had salespeople attend the training to discuss successes, barriers and best practices
A report on successes, barriers and best practices as well as a formal request for senior sales managers’ assistance in removing key barriers
Training Without Sustainment is a Wasted Investment
Training is a human capital-centric, value-creation process. Unfortunately, when sales training is treated as a one-time event, participants have been shown to lose up to 87% of skill and knowledge within four weeks. This “brain drain” needs to be dramatically reduced and significantly reversed in order for companies to optimize their investment in behavior change. One of the key components in reducing and reversing the “brain drain” is a salesperson’s front line sales manager. The sales manager has a crucial role to play before, during and after training. A sales manager’s active involvement increases the likelihood of salespeople initiating, engaging, and sustaining new selling behaviors over time.
Before Training: Increase Awareness
Salespeople need to understand why the training is important and how the new skills and knowledge will benefit their performance back on the job. Managers:
- Should, ideally, attend the training prior to their salespeople.
- By exposing themselves to the skills that their salespeople will learn, sales managers can better identify the key skills that they will need to coach to back on the job.
- Should schedule a 60-minute overview meeting with their salespeople one month before training will take place.
- Should explain the case for change at the overview meeting:
1. What is happening in the business that is driving the need for training on new skills and knowledge
2. Why this training is happening at this time
3. What happens if they don’t develop new knowledge and skills now
4. What skills and knowledge the participants will gain from the training
5. How these skills will benefit the participant back on the job
6. How performance on the job ties back to key corporate goals and go-to-market strategy
- One week before the training, the sales manager should ensure that salespeople are in the process of completing any pre-work required for the training.
- Three days before the training, the manager sends an e-mail reminding the learners to actively participate in the training, expand their network of contacts and complete the prework. In addition, the sales manager sets expectations for applying the learning on the job and immediate next steps after the training.
During Training: Create Dedicated Space and Time
- Attending the training with their teams whenever possible. This shows the participants that the manager believes the skills and knowledge learned from the training are a top priority. Attending a specific training program is an important strategic choice for managers since their time is limited.
- When it is not feasible for sales managers to attend training with their team, managers should request and attend an abbreviated form of the training either virtually or in-person in order deepen their own understanding of the new skills and knowledge the training will instill. This again signals to the salespeople that the manager is knowledgeable about the training and the key behaviors they should demonstrate as a result.
- Ensuring participants have arranged their own back-up and coverage so that they can attend the training without being interrupted. When this is not possible, as in the case of salespeople who have unanticipated customer emergencies, the manager should ask the participants to limit calls and meeting to the designated break times in the training agenda and pull the manager in to help handle situations that would require extended engagement to solve.
- Not scheduling important meetings or sending out urgent e-mails requiring an immediate response during the training program.
After Training: Question, Observe and Reinforce
Post-training is all about applying the new skills and knowledge back on-the-job. This is where most sales managers begin to move onto other priorities. After all, training has been complete and they feel that they can “check the box.” This is actually where managers need to step up and play an even more active and visible role. In order to be effective, managers will also need the Learning and Development staff to up their level of support. To ensure application of the new skills and knowledge, managers should:
- Schedule a 30-minute individual follow-up session with each participant to review that individual’s key take-aways, especially strengths to continue leveraging an area for change that would improve effectiveness. The key here is that the participant should generate these take-aways and the manager should question and listen.
- During the last ten minutes of the follow-up session, the participant and manager should agree to a regular, weekly/biweekly, 15-minute coaching session.
- Ensure that the participant send out calendar invites so that the 15-minute coaching sessions are on calendars.
- View these coaching sessions as “untouchable” because cancelling these meetings makes salespeople think that their efforts to change behavior don’t matter to the manager.
- Report back to Learning and Development any workplace barriers that are getting in the way of the behavior change that the manager cannot remove himself/herself.
Sales Managers Cannot Do It Alone!
While front line sales managers play an oversized role in optimizing a company’s investment in sales training and are central to the application of new behaviors back on the job, they need help. Learning and Development can help managers with raising awareness, creating learning space, and encouraging the application of new behaviors back on the job. (Details have been provided.) However, Learning and Development needs to advocate for the following to be in place at the corporate level or they will not get full buy-in from front line sales managers.
- Time is a finite resource, so senior managers need to tell front line managers what they can stop doing in order to “free up” time to develop their salespeople.
- Managers must be incented to make training a priority and actively spend time and effort supporting their teams’ development. Making development of their team 20% of their performance objectives is appropriate.
- Managers need to be able to coach. While Learning and Development can provide high-quality coaching training, senior managers should be coaching the managers on coaching skills. Often senior sales managers have to ask good questions in order to understand the quality and extent to which front line sales managers are coaching consistently.
- Managers at all levels, from front line sales managers all the way up to the Chief Sales Officer (CSO), must be able to clearly and concisely, in their own words, describe how changes in skills and knowledge learned during the training support the company’s overall go-to-market strategy and goals.