Culture Change: Is Failure Self-Fulfilling?


Change. Sometimes, it is refreshing, invigoration, and certainly can do you good!

And other times….. well, not so good…

Navigating Rough Waters of Change


Recently I’ve been speaking with a good client ($1 billion + in revenues) who wanted to reorganize one of their divisions’ sales forces.

Since I’d had some experience with this same client on previous “sub-optimal” attempts to reorganize, I sent the e-mail below to my contact (all names & many details changed), with a warning about the danger I thought they were risking.

While the circumstances are unique to this client and their specific situation, I think the warning is universal:if change doesn’t start at the top, with more buy-in and involvement of the leaders near the top of the food chain, then I say don’t waste your time by trying to implement a major change from middle management down.

The plan will fail.

My Recommendation

What follows is the text of my e-mail:

Because I’m a consultant, let me repeat (in different words) the warning Tim and I discussed back in January: most training (and remember: I’m a training guy, so I don’t like saying this!) fails, and ends up being a waste of everyone’s time, effort and resources.  And not because it’s badly designed, or off the mark, or even poorly delivered.

I believe this plan may fail because it appears it’s being planned as an event, not a process.

And – as an event – people are almost never expected nor held accountable for using what they learned.  You have to stretch people to get them to change; most often the “groove” that our human nature craves for efficiency becomes a “rut” in which our effectiveness dies, which is why the change becomes necessary in the first place.

And people seldom get out of their rut because their managers (who should hold them accountable) don’t know what the specific change details are that their people are learning (I guess we just assume that the manager “already knows this stuff”; are we assuming that here, about the Sales Managers?).

In fact, without adequate exposure, managers seldom know what the “new groove” looks like or consists of, don’t know how to hold their people accountable for using it, and sometimes don’t even know there IS a new groove.

Therefore, please understand the magnitude of the task you’re undertaking to change the sales culture of the division.

And remember that, no less than the sales people, the Sales Managers have been in a similar groove (or a rut?), and some of them (and this is a guarantee) will resist this change.  Plus, most of them have never supervised outside sales people (at least not in your company).

And the fact that the division has always been profitable in the old culture provides them a strong impetus NOT to change, or at least to stay in the rut.

As a result of all these factors, I recommend you train the Sales Managers in at least the “basic outline” of what their new sales people will be getting, with an emphasis on exactly what the sales people are expected to do.  Make it clear to the Sales Managers what their duties and responsibilities are for enforcing sales accountability, and train them thoroughly how to do it.

And the Regional Directors must hold the Sales Managers accountable for effective sales management, so they need to understand “the new groove” as well.

Upon completion of the training, hold the sales people responsible for identifying (in writing) which elements from the training that they will use personally, and specifically how they’ll do that.  Communicate those specific commitments to the Sales Managers so they can enforce accountability.

I have developed a process and a form to do that, and I’ll be glad to share that with you.

That’s how to turn training events into development processes.  I can help you with all of it.  Because most culture change initiatives fail with the leadership, that’s why I am recommending you go with the 5 day leadership course before this project itself gets started. You’ve got to get the leaders on board AS leaders, in their leadership roles.

As good as you might make the sales people (even if the training is wildly successful!) this initiative will rise and fall with the Regional Directors and Sales Managers.

“Business as usual” will automatically be their default, unless you break that cycle.  Breaking that cycle is your first responsibility in this initiative.”

Doing the Right Things

This message, and the subsequent conversation to review and discuss it, may cost me the business, but it has also caused the client to slow down and reconsider the speed and direction they were trying to move this project.

For those of you considering your own “culture change” project, or perhaps are being asked to consult with clients on theirs, I think the thoughts in this e-mail are worth considering.

I’d love to hear from you on what you think.


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Learn, Grow & Develop Other Leaders

Scott Crandall
 is Principal of Trinity-Lincoln Consulting
He specializes in Leadership, Coaching, Training and Project Consulting
Email | LinkedIn | Web | Skype: scrandall31 | (864) 787-1087

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2 responses to “Culture Change: Is Failure Self-Fulfilling?

  1. Hey Scott…I don’t think this should cost you the business because you are absolutely right. Training is wasted unless it is followed up on and as you say, becomes a process rather than an event. That is how I try to work with my customers as well. Those who stick with it improve…those who don’t go back to their old ways in short order. Great article!
    Cheers, Wayne


  2. Wayne — I knew I could count on you to give a good read — and I also would have guessed that you’re big on accountability. Thanks for the comments and support.


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