You’ve defined your X-Factors… but so what?

By Mike Erlin

By Mike Erlin

Co-Founder & CEO

The unique combination of human capabilities that drive performance in your business have finally been discovered, but what further evidence or insights are needed to provide a foundation for impactful change? Or in fewer words, “so what?”.

It’s a question that can drop like a tonne of bricks, particularly when you’re expecting imminent confirmation of your genius. A lack of conviction during a client’s moment of skepticism can seriously undermine your offering. After all, any claim made without evidence can be dismissed swiftly.

During the 2000’s I was part of an e-learning company when ‘e-learning’ was seen as the next best thing to email. We were schmick. The world was our oyster and our brash approach was summed up by our tagline: “Smart Companies Get It”. Frank, however, was less forthcoming in “getting it”.

Not known for being backward in coming forward, Frank came in as head of training & development for one of our top automotive customers and our team was excited about our ongoing relationship with this leading brand. A brief was prepared overviewing the numerous projects we had successfully completed for the sales, maintenance and customer-care groups across the 1000+ dealership network.  

We advised Frank that we’d applied a capability framework based on our expert’s evaluation of the work environment. Capabilities of top performers had been identified and our learning strategists, instructional designers and web developers had collaborated to produce learning content to improve capability and drive performance. It was a killer briefing.

*Delivery team waits for applause*

“So what? I see no quantitative evidence of your findings that supports the recommendations you’ve made and we’ve bought. Show me the problem and how this proposal fixes it?”

Queue the crickets, tumbleweed and a 6”4 team leader that could momentarily be held between index finger and thumb. We ended up having a successful relationship that continues to this day but he was right. His pragmatic objection was based on two unproven assumptions in our brief:

  1. How does Frank know the capabilities identified by our expert teams’ subjective interpretation of his business were actually correct.
  2. Even if he accepted them as correct, there was no quantitative data that a problem with those capabilities existed within his workforce.

It was certainly a humbling and enlightening experience that, in large part, has led to the founding of AbilityMap.

Workforce Capability-related business cases have traditionally made sense to the ‘people’ team, but a lack of quantitative supporting evidence makes them less popular with those ultimately allocating the resource or writing the cheques.

AbilityMap provides the insights required to firmly answer ‘so what?’.

We were charged with solving a very difficult and persisting problem of performance variance within a leading global SaaS provider’s Australia sales team. Despite following best practices in recruitment and training, the gap between the top and bottom performers was just too large.

Using the AbilityMap Job Profiler, we defined the X-Factor capabilities that actually drive high performance in the sales role within the company.

We established the following:

  • One-third of the sales team would be replaced each year due to underperformance against targets. Why does the problem persist? There is a clear lack of understanding of the drivers of performance in that specific role and/or an inability to identify these capabilities in potential candidates.
  • The human-skill capabilities held by the Australian sales team as a whole were not what the collective sales managers wanted. We have often found a common misalignment within companies with regards to what they want, have and need.
  • When evaluated using AbilityMap’s solution, the top 10% of Sales Account Executives possessed a succinct, ranked list of inherent capabilities (listed below) that differentiated them from the rest of the team. These X-Factor capabilities set those who consistently made target year-after-year, apart from those that consistently did not deliver.
Top 10% Performers.

The VP of Sales and other sales managers were gratefully forthcoming with their praise for our findings. Finally, somebody had categorically demonstrated why they were observing such high variance in performance. However, we are still looking at the problem through a keyhole and need to unlock the rest of the puzzle before recommending actions and associated investment. In short, answering “so what?”.

Question 1: How common are these X-Factor capabilities in the Australian sales team?

Firstly, the scale of the problem must be understood before taking any action. AbilityMap’s AMCO Score is a single metric that quickly identifies a person or candidate’s suitability for a role based on their Ability Imprint and the Job Profile. Using this tool we were able to compare the inherent capability levels of all sales team members to the X-Factor profile.

28% of the Australian sales team fell under ‘Development Need’ and 34% ‘Average’ when compared to the ideal capability profile. Remember, between a third and a half of the team were consistently missing targets. There is a clear opportunity to improve capabilities, and therefore performance, via development and support intervention and/or relocation or replacement.

Question 2: To what extent is weak X-Factor capability present within the different sales divisions?

We know there is a problem and the scale of it. Now we needed to find in which teams the problem exists and more importantly which capabilities needed to be stronger for the teams to sell more. AbilityMap AMCO Scores were produced for each of the sales divisions: Enterprise, Mid-Market and SMB.

Bar Graph - Job Fit Level against X-Factor Profile of three teams.

The Enterprise division maintained a strong X-Factor performance alignment within the team. The Mid-Market and SMB teams did not fare as well. Over half of each team lacked the inherent capabilities that we had proven drove success within the role. The Mid-Market team’s Capability Balance Sheet identified meaningful ‘Development Need’ across all performance criteria.

A closer look at the poorest performing team revealed that a startling 22-44% of the team ranked ‘Development Need’ across all the individual capabilities. Due to a lack of understanding of the performance drivers, individuals had been hired that lacked the critical inherent capabilities to succeed. Put simply, they had hired the wrong people for the job.

Question 3: To what extent is weak X-Factor capability present within the different sales divisions’ teams and people?

So what does this look like on the front-line at an individual level? In collaboration with Scott, a team leader, the AMCO Score and Capability Balance Sheet were applied to his team. Scott’s team AMCO Score showed the majority (57%) aligned with the X-Factor Profile but 43% did not.

Now for the real specifics. The Capability Balance Sheet identified Scott’s team’s largest deficit was in the most critical capability, Handling Authority. 58% of his team were not inherently ‘Capable’ at taking real control of a situation and driving home a sale.

Scott agreed with our findings and provided some insights of his.

Although no ‘Development Need’ existed in Personal Selling, 57% of the team was inherently below ‘Capable’ in this X-Factor.  Additionally, 58% were below ‘Capable’ in the finer art of Influencing & Persuading, with 29% maintaining ‘Development Need’.

Scott revealed that a number of his team had been promoted from SMB to Mid-Market where the nature of sales are less transactional, so this finding was important and understandable. His Team Member Capability Balance Sheet was once again expanded to each sales person’s individual profile.

His comment:  ‘Your AMCO scores mirror my current team’s performance stack rank!’
Our reply: ‘That’s pretty cool.’

(Names above are fictitious.)

Scott advised:

  • With his support, Debra had recently left the team.
  • Georgia had expressed concern about not being well suited for the role and they were looking at other potential roles within the company.
  • The insights called out items Scott could not put his finger on in relation to Max and Orville – they didn’t ‘drive their buses’ nor give/take feedback well enough.
  • Alberta was his reliable performer.
  • Toni didn’t take action quickly enough for his liking.
  • Stuart was short-listed for promotion to the Enterprise team.

Now able to compare his team’s inherent capability levels to the X-Factors known to drive success, Scott committed to adjust his team member support toward improving the needed capabilities. He agreed with the recommendation that his team engage in broad-based development on Handling Authority and Influencing and Persuading.

So What? Well let me show you.

Understanding the drivers of performance in a role is critical to your businesses’ success. Without that fundamental insight, everything from recruitment to training is at best potluck and at worst futile. Defining the specific capabilities that make up the X-Factor capability profile is the first step.

And…then what? Well, with the X-Factor Capability in hand, we must quantify if a problem persists and if so, where it exists before initiating any capability development or transformation program(s). Making decisions on unsubstantiated claims or beliefs has after all led to the misalignment we are finding in these companies. 

Our next article will answer the final killer-questions: What do we do now & what can we expect in return?

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