A CEO client of mine asked for advice on pressure he was receiving from the head office for a dramatic increase in sales targets for the coming year. He has successfully grown business consistently every year at a faster rate than any other country’s operation within the group. His managers now want more — a typical situation for many of my clients.
“The targets are really ambitious, and I am concerned about being able to achieve them. I don’t want my team to be discouraged and I don’t want to fail. Should I push back?” he asked.
“No, push forward!” I said. “Never push back!”
“What do you mean?” He asked, and I explained.
Nothing is really ever impossible. There is usually always a way to achieve even extremely ambitious targets. It is a matter of method, time, money and people required, and your tolerance for risk. Pushing forward is about discussing options for achieving any goal in the context of changed methods and resources, the risks involved, and how the risks might be mitigated. It is pointless to reject any proposed goal or target out of hand without a discussion of this kind of contact. Then, you can make a rational business decision together.
So, for example, if you are asked to double the business next year, rather than pushing back, you might respond by proposing that you have the following options:
- Acquire company
- Increase our sales force and target the Kansai area where you are not present
- Raise are prices on our most competitive items and drop products that are more commodity-like so sales people can focus on the highest value offerings
Each option has associated risks. For example, raising prices on the most competitive products may cause some customers to balk. You can lose out if you fail to choose an optimal price increase. Also, your sales force may resist dropping the commodity-like products. You may also find that the sales force is ill-equipped to sell the highest value products because as it is a complex sale that requires the business acumen to understand the customer’s business, as opposed to the commodity-like products when there only issues are price and delivery time.
Each option also has associated requirements for investment. For example, raising prices on the most competitive products might require improving capabilities of the sales force. That will require an investment of time, and perhaps money to get help in educating sales people in better methods or hiring new sales people with a different skill set.
It is not possible to have a rational business discussion about the options, the associated risks and required investment in order to make a decision to move forward with one of the options, maintain the status quo, or investigate additional options.
It also makes you appear as a proactive business leader with a high degree of business acumen. And from your own perspective, isn’t this how you would want your staff to respond when you ask them for improved results?
So ask yourself, when you find yourself under pressure from above, do you push back or do you push forward. If you are pushing back, try pushing forward next time, and see how it works!