2. The Commercial Sales Manager’s Experience

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In his own words: “When you’re engaging consultants, you’re watching to see, what does this guy bring to the party? What can I take from this? How can I engage him? Is it interesting? Is it not interesting? Should I listen, should I not listen? Should I do what he says?

At the time, we were emerging out of a process that had turned everything we had been doing on its head. Roles had changed, responsibilities had changed, reporting lines had changed, but to be honest, that didn’t bother me too much. Every modern corporate goes through these transitions; it’s just what they do. I’m flexible. I’m open to change. In many ways, I welcome change.

At the same time, no one was in any doubt that because of all this, we needed a new approach to things, a new approach to strategy. So I was sitting back listening to Padraig, asking myself, ‘Will this work? Is he the right guy at the right time?’

Our company has been around a long time. There are a lot of very clever, very well educated, very experienced people kicking around here. Coming into that kind of environment is a daunting prospect for any consultant, especially after what we’d been through.

In the past, like so many other corporates, we would have used the Kaplan model or something similar when it came to working out strategy. Padraig advanced the thinking on those traditional models. The ONEThing Plan is an innovation. It takes a completely new direction. Nor was it purely theoretical. Far from it. He showed us the theory, and then he was able to substantiate it in practice.

In terms of the Personal Hedgehog, that process was very instructive – these are your strengths, these are your weaknesses. This is what you’re good at. This is what you could be really good at. And based on the totality of your makeup, whether it’s your innate abilities, your qualifications, your background, your experience, he could say, ‘Look, these are the focus areas for you.’

Padraig was very good at asking questions. He used to say, ‘What would you like to do in a year’s time’, and you might say to him, I don’t know… take a totally ridiculous example… ‘I want to be driving a Porsche in a year’s time.’ And he’d say, ‘And how likely is that to happen? You’d have to have X Euro in the bank…’ So he challenged you: ‘Well, what are you doing to change it? If you want a Porsche, you have to make a lot more money which means you have to add a lot more value, which means you need to … and to do that you need to…’ and so on. That was his approach. He’d put it back on you. If you want something, what do you need to change to get it? And from that you work out what you have to do in three years, one year, next quarter, next month, next week… So you distil it right down until you are staring at just ONEThing!

The process zeroed in on how we approach the market, how we deal with our customers, how we arrange ourselves. That was all under scrutiny. It doesn’t necessarily mean that we had been doing everything wrong. But it certainly means we could look objectively at things and ask, ‘Are we doing it the right way?’   And get some degree of validation around that.

The other point to make about developing any strategy is that our core goal is always going to remain the same, no matter what intervention takes place. We’re in the business of selling machinery. That’s what we do, that’s what the company pays us to do. The market is the market, the customer is the customer and the product is the product. But in a corporate environment, it’s very easy to fall into a mind-set that says that there’s only one way to do things. Padraig opened your mind to see; well actually, there are lots of different ways.

He introduced me to a lot of books, which I read, and I must say some of them were – I won’t say life changing – but they were certainly perception changers. And he opens your mind to think in a different way, which is great, because I think that is how he actually made progress. I mean, what’s that classic cliché? If you always do what you’ve done, you’ll always get what you got. Padraig brought something different to the party. Certainly, I found the process challenging – all of it. If I didn’t find anything challenging, or only found it a little bit challenging, then I don’t think it would have been worth even beginning. Once you’re into it, once you’re changing fundamentally how your business operates and governs itself, I think you’re always in a challenging space.

The big question of course is whether are not it worked. Well, we’re still using the Business Hedgehog. The ONEThing Plan is a kind of moveable feast, so to speak. We put it up at each meeting and walk through it. It’s a close copy, I would say, of Padraig’s design, modified only moderately to reflect what we do here. But very much in line with what Padraig devised. The strategy peer review sessions remain very much part of the weekly meetings now.

I have to say that I really enjoyed the process. I enjoyed the time with him, because he always had me thinking. And thinking differently. As I say, to come in and deliver a programme like Padraig did requires somebody special.   It demonstrates the strength of his approach that he was able to achieve that, to come in and offer something different.”

Padraig Says: “A very strong individual. By the end of the exercise, he realised that he could in fact be a genius at sales. That’s where he really adds value, out there engaging with people, building relationships, closing deals. I learned quite a bit from him.”

In his own words: “That big internal realignment hit my team really hard. Just prior to this, we had been on a wave going up, and when this realignment came along, our wave crashed. Suddenly, we weren’t the superheroes that we thought we were. The team no longer knew what their responsibilities were, and at the same time, they had to go out and form new relationships within the new structure. So this generated a lot of personal angst. Suddenly, it became really difficult to motivate them. We were now small fish in a bigger pond. We were struggling as a team and frankly, I was struggling to make sense of it all.

As well as that, we had been implementing a long-term strategy that had been a couple of years in the making. After the re-organisation, that strategy lay in tatters.

When Padraig came in first, we started working on our Business Hedgehog, as a means of working out where our strengths lay, but it quickly became obvious that that wasn’t the right place to start. The trauma we had been through meant that the only way to rebuild was to start at foundation level. We needed to get back to basics and focus on our own Personal Hedgehogs.

The first key moment in the process came with the realisation that even though I have lost a lot of responsibility, that doesn’t necessarily mean that I can’t perform exceptionally within the scope that remains. It doesn’t take away my Personal Hedgehog. So, if parts of my role are stripped out and I’m asked to refocus, that’s fine. That’s my business and that’s what I’ll do. The process of working on my Personal Hedgehog helped to show me how to optimise my performance within the constraints I now operated under.

The truth is that to survive in middle management, you have to be a multi-tasker, but when your role forces you to multitask a lot, you forget what you’re good at. Working out my Personal Hedgehog was exactly what I needed, at exactly the right time. I would definitely recommend it for managers. The truth is we don’t do enough of it; we forget how good we are.

Round about April, we started to think about bringing the team into the process. So we did a development piece with them, and that helped to re-engage them and get their views about a way forward. We started asking, ‘Ok, what are we good at?’ and began listing the positives: We’re very good at relationship building, we’re very good at working with clients and customers, so let’s start building our own internal client network a bit more. Let’s focus on that. Through Padraig’s intervention, the negativity that had infected everything began to seep away. He helped us to focus on what we were good at.

If you want to do well in this company, you’ve got to tick lots of boxes, so we said, ‘Ok, let’s focus on ticking all those boxes, guys. Let’s work with the constraints.’ Previously, we had always been thinking outside the box. And that’s fine. But now we were being told to work within the box. ‘Don’t solve the world’s problems, solve your own problems.’ That’s not to say we had become robots. It was more a case of, let’s keep the creativity going, but focus in on the issues under our control that may have a longer lasting impact rather than trying to solve the global problems.  Padraig’s programme helped us to focus.

Developing the ONEThing Plan from the Personal Hedgehog – I found that really powerful. Padraig’s energy levels are very high; he keeps you challenged. He’s very good at what he does. Today, the ONEThing Plan brings clarity to what I want to do, to what I want to get out of things. I don’t find myself wondering what the company is going to do for me, or do to me. It’s a case of, here is where I’m going with this and that’s fine. The programme extended beyond my work to my personal life, my personal development, my finances, allowing me to take a more rounded view of things. I would actually say that the tools that Padraig gave for that helped me to mature.

As a team, we use the ONEThing Plan to reflect on. We tend to bring it out on a monthly basis and say, ‘Okay, here’s what we need to do… Here are the big dominos we need to knock down.’ Then we look at the impact of what we’re doing. We ask, ‘Are we doing the right things to keep the focus on this strategic thrust that we have?’ The long-term plan, the Big Hairy Audacious Goal hasn’t changed a huge amount.  And it shouldn’t. You shouldn’t be reinventing the wheel every month. We just add notes to it. We try to keep it simple and then bullet point tasks fall out of it. I still return to my own OneThing Plan. Not on a weekly basis as Padraig is advised, more like bi-monthly. A quick catch up to see if I’m still there.

For the team, it was also good to be able to refocus ourselves using a common language. It wasn’t just one person saying, ‘Oh, I read this book and here’s what it all means and shall we do it this way?’ That allowed us to build a coherent strategy, one that worked for the new world in which we now operate.”

Padraig Says: ”I really enjoyed working with him. He’s wanted to learn, to develop and grow. I think what he was most looking for out of the exercise was to develop a focus and a personal plan, to decide what he wanted to do with his life. An excellent client, who, I think, got a lot out of the process.”