We’ve Made a Commitment to Being Unconventional

March 26, 2014
  • Bob Chapman
  • Bob Chapman
    CEO & Chairman of Barry-Wehmiller
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We didn’t get where we are today by thinking conventionally.  Whether considering our business strategies or our cultural initiatives, much of Barry-Wehmiller’s long-term success has resulted from our willingness to break tradition.

Our approach to sales forecasting—or more accurately, our elimination of annual “forecasts”– is a good example of our unconventional thinking.

About fifteen years ago, we had been experiencing wide variations between forecasts and order patterns. About the same time I noticed the way contestants on the popular “Who Wants to Be A Millionaire?” game show contemplated walking away with their winnings versus risking it all by moving on to the more difficult questions—with an exponentially bigger payout if they answered correctly. Often, they made a thoughtful decision to take their prize and run, after weighing their chances of knowing the answers against what their guaranteed winnings would mean to their families.

It made me think there might be a better way for our sales organization to more closely align forecasts and actual sales. We currently followed the traditional top down approach: sales leaders determined an annual forecast which, in turn, established each sales executive’s expected annual quota. Couldn’t we do a better job of establishing and then achieving our sales goals if those closest to the customer determined their own personal level of order commitment?

Wouldn’t their personal commitment—to themselves, their families, their team members—be more inspiring than someone else’s forecast?

From these initial thoughts, we developed our CIA2 program, which stands for Commitment, Intensity, Achievement Award. Each quarter, our sales executives share with us the number of orders they commit to closing in the next 90 days. In turn, they receive incentives for reaching each commitment level, and also receive incremental bonuses as long as they attain each quarter’s commitment. By engaging our sales executives to make a personal commitment, based on their personal view of the market, we hoped to empower them to use their skills and knowledge fully in creating value for themselves and the organization.

“Commitment is a very strong word,” shared Ed Haarsgaard, a veteran sales executive with our HayssenSandiacre division (now BW Flexible Systems). “You hear great coaches use it to motivate players. You hear it from counselors who advise about marriage. That word means everything about the program. To me, it is my pledge. I will bust my back to fulfill a commitment I make.”

The CIA2 program’s shortened goal period helps intensify sales executives’ focus. “From the very outset I have to clearly understand what I can deliver and be more engaged with my accounts at a much deeper level to anticipate any variables,” explained Ed. “Trying to forecast beyond a 90-day timeline really is fraught with potential pitfalls. The quarterly commitment means you are never out of the running to achieve your goals. If you miss a quarter it is not demoralizing.”

Identifying a more predictable flow of orders into the business to optimize value creation is a leadership responsibility. Engaging those with the best view of the market into a collaborative forecasting process, like we do through our CIA2 program, is a more truly human way to approach that responsibility. It shows great respect for our sales executives’ experience and talent but, more importantly, inspires them to achieve greater levels of performance and shared value creation. The reward, however, is far more than monetary.

“It is an awesome responsibility which yields a great sense of accomplishment when you make your commitment,” said Ed. “A lot of team members count on me to make my pledge. Their livelihood depends upon me in part. I not only feel like I am helping my family but many others on our team.”

Ed finished by sharing his motto: “Commitment: Make it. Do it. Celebrate it.”

What is your leadership commitment to your team? Do you lead by tradition or do you lead through inspiration?

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