Want Sustainable Growth? Hold Agents Accountable

Teach yourself and your sales associates to embrace conflict and accountability.

November 1, 2013

After he finished the grueling work required to be a contestant on the weight loss show “The Biggest Loser,” Erik Chopin got a lot of advice he thought was silly.

“Beyond the finish line, I’d heard from so many people [that] maintenance is the hardest thing,” Chopin said. “[I used to think,] ‘Try losing 200 pounds!’ But maintenance really is a lifetime.”

It’s the same in sales. Even after agents equip themselves with all the information they need, they, like Erik, will need to be held accountable if they are going to have sustainable success.

People are often afraid of the word accountability. They think it’s going to mean someone’s breathing down their neck, shining a spotlight on their every misstep, and making them feel like they’re just not good enough.

It doesn’t have to be that way, though. When brokers forge a “want to” relationship with agents, they become less of a manager and more of a coach. And agents begin to see accountability as the thing that increases their paychecks and leads them to achieve more satisfaction in their careers. They will want a leader to play the role of coach in their lives.

Coaching succeeds because it focuses on the execution side of learning. The most powerful lessons do no good if they are not applied. You can book the best, most inspiring speaker, but if agents don’t know what to do (or don’t believe they are capable of doing it), they won’t retain that knowledge. At best, one-day training events produce a shot-in-the-arm effect: a short-term boost in sales numbers.

Research shows that performance tends to increase minimally — and the increase tends to be short-lived — when the education part stands alone. According to an executive briefing by the Corporate Executive Board’s Sales Leadership Council, without continued coaching and on-the-job reinforcement that is tied to outcomes, trainees lose 87 percent of what they learn within one month. But with long-term coaching, performance increases because ideas become behaviors and behaviors become habits.

Putting lessons into practice can be easy, but it’s easier not to. Just ask the former “Biggest Loser” contestants who have gained all their weight back. Those who succeed in the long-term typically have a support system to keep them on track, motivated, and inspired.

One of the most important factors in accountability is embracing conflict.Without conflict, there is no change. I’m not talking about the “make my day” Clint Eastwood type of conflict. I’m just talking about holding people accountable for actions they might be uncomfortable doing, but that will lead them to become the best version of themselves. Leaders don’t enable people to stay in their comfort zones.

One of the greatest benefits of embracing conflict is that it allows you to set expectations and hold people accountable to those expectations. As counterintuitive as it may seem, this also builds trust. The best leaders I’ve seen know exactly who they are and everyone around them knows what to expect from them. They have no problem with conflict coming from any direction, and this assertiveness builds trust with their teams, allowing them to lead effectively.

There’s a dangerously prominent idea that conflict equals death. We may not say it, but any time we delay a tough conversation or sweep our observations under a rug, we’re denying the power of conflict. While it can cause our hearts to pound and sweat to gather on our foreheads, a lack of conflict cheats us out of progress and growth, leading to mediocrity and dullness.

Really, it’s a lack of conflict that leads to a sort of “death” of progress. Think about it: The adrenaline rush of a fierce conversation is a physical indicator of health and vitality. The only other option is to just exist. Who wants that?

If I had to choose an environment with too little conflict or one with too much, I’d choose the latter. Without it, leaders and team members alike end up stagnating. Conflict allows us to hold agents accountable for doing the things they don’t want to do so they can earn what they want to earn.

Jason Forrest is a sales trainer, management coach, member of the National Speakers Association’s Million Dollar Speakers Group, and author of three books, including his latest, Leadership Sales Coaching. Learn more at  www.fpg.com.