Companies have been hit and plans have been upended and perhaps the most common boardroom discussion is centered around the question of “How to take care of people on the ground & ramp up business performance at the same time”? There can be no definitive answer to this question, but the Industry is better prepared now, having weathered the impact of one of the strictest lockdowns in the world in the first wave and the humanitarian crisis in the second wave.
Having managed sales during these turbulent times, I have had many takeaways from the everyday challenges of navigating the situation.
Here are the top 10 on what clicks in keeping the salesforce motivated on the ground.
Be Visible & Emphatic
The management needs to be visible, accessible and empathetic to both business and personal challenges. It’s ‘ok’ to over communicate. Listen to your teams, understand the on-ground realities and re-prioritize goals and targets accordingly.
Keep it Simple
With performance pressures looming large, tendency of organizations is to plan multiple activities (‘Something must click’ syndrome). The management team needs to remember that there is a lot happening on the ground. So going back to basics in such times is a good idea. Keep things simple, give them the flexibility of planning the deployment of resources, identifying the right portfolio and help them identify and focus on a `critical few’.
Invest in safety and wellbeing of employees
In India, where a large part of retailing is unorganized, physical presence at point of sales, channel partner premises etc., tend to become a business necessity thereby making the sales teams more exposed and vulnerable to infections. While business has to continue, the management needs to come up with a version to ‘minimize risk’ and ‘invest behind what is right’ for the safety of the teams. Emergency funds, increased insurance covers, vaccination drives for employees and their families, allowances for protective gears like masks, sanitizers (especially for front-end and channel partner teams) should be implemented on priority.
Striking the right balance
From physical interactions at offices, meeting consumers and customers together during market visits, catch ups over chai breaks, watercooler moments, impromptu stand up meetings, to a whole new virtual world, where the joy of physical interaction has diminished, everyone, especially the teams on ground, have been stressed. As part of the management team, it is essential that we find ways to strike the right balance. Recognizing the stress of digital way of working and being emphatic towards the working hours has become super critical. We must realise that work from home is not work anytime.
Invest in Learning
Virtual working should not be a deterrent to learning and development. Start with upskilling them on digital. Follow it up with programs to enhance their learning as well as engagement. Create e-program, invite experts, and create platforms to continuously enhance the team’s learnings.
Redefine ways of working
With the external environment changing rapidly, recognize the change & adapt your teams’ ‘Ways of Working’ accordingly. Can Sales be done sitting at a remote location? Can we meet customers virtually? How do we travel now? In changing external dynamics, all organizations and management teams need to appreciate the fact that the same ways of working may not yield results. Ask the sales team for suggestions, encourage them to experiment, share the learnings and best practices, incentivize out of box thinking – it is important to make it a ground-up approach.
Stand with your Channel Partners
The pandemic has impacted the entire Value Chain and along with the organizations their channel partners have been equally impacted. Organizations need to have a robust plan to support their partners such as extending credit, lean /reduced inventories etc. Stand with your partners in tough times and assure them about activities normalizing. This will also help sales teams to manage expectations.
God is in Details
‘Heterogeneous’ planning is the need of the hour. Track your business by states and districts. Keep a close tab on the ‘COVID’ trends. Find the opportunities where
with minimum personal risk, the sales team can maximize business. This will be easier to achieve if the management is on top of district wise trends and aware about norms for market operations so that they can guide the teams accordingly.
Future planning & agile action
As leaders of an organization, it is important to keep business recovery plans ready (and you may need multiple plans). Focus on how to extract maximum from the small “duration” windows that your get. Co-create plans as it is important to involve a larger set of people in planning. Cascade now as agile teams with quick reaction times are the ones who are going to bounce back the fastest.
Panic never helps
The last 18 months has shown us the ‘unpredictability’ of the pandemic. The least that we can do as part of the management is to avoid creating panic within the team. Business will be impacted and will bounce back too. Stay calm, take care of teams, plan well and maximize business with minimal risk to people.
Although the list is not exhaustive, these 10-points may help business leaders steer their teams effectively during the current situation and help them deal with the post pandemic realities.