It started with a small group of high-potential sales leaders: seven VPs and directors our long-time client wanted to ensure they retained, because losing even one would have a pronounced effect on revenue.
The company had been heads down for three years on a strategic and operational transformation designed to boost profitability. And it worked. In that time frame, their stock price had gone from $6 a share in 2014 to a high of $38 this past April, a phenomenal turnaround.
Early in this effort, the president realized the company had little in the way of succession planning, and he was concerned about the risk this posed. The topic came up during one of our periodic conversations.
“I have some extra money in the budget, and I want to invest in training. Can you build a business acumen program?”
Sure, we do that kind of thing all the time. It’s usually a multi-day class on customer economics. It’s designed to help sales professionals change how they discuss value by using insights to show how their offerings can impact the customer’s business, financially.
“I was thinking more like a mini-MBA.”
The Objectives that Set the Program in Motion
The president had a high-potential training academy in mind, one that would deliver a holistic business and leadership education over several months. The objective was to groom middle managers for greater responsibility, but he also wanted to use it as a vehicle for talent retention.
We protested at first. “We’re sales effectiveness consultants. It’s not what we do.” The president knew this perfectly well; we’d worked with him for years. Why on earth would he want to hire us for this kind of thing?
“Yeah, but you’ll figure it out.” And so we did. He’s really not a man you want to disappoint.
The "Mini-MBA" in a Nutshell
That was two years ago. We’re about to start our third iteration of the program that we call “The Symmetrics Group Leadership Academy,” and we’re in discussions to start a fourth. At this particular client, participants now come from every business function, not just sales.
But we believe sales and marketing leaders remain essential candidates for the simple reason that fully one quarter of all CEOs come from these two areas.
Our leadership academy has six modules covering the following topics:
- Corporate strategy and competition
- Sales and marketing
- Quality management in manufacturing operations
- Principles in corporate finance
- Excellence in leadership vs. management
- Executive presence
We conduct two-day classes every 6 to 8 weeks. Homework assignments include a mix of classic articles from Harvard Business Review and an array of books, such as The Challenger Sale and What Got You Here Won’t Get You There.
To this, we’ve added TED talks that span a variety of thinkers from Simon Sinek to Stanley McChrystal and Rosalinde Torres. Guest speakers have included CFOs, chief strategy officers, and adjunct professors.
The Icing on the Cake
By far our best idea for the program was assigning a thesis project. Working in pairs, course participants each choose a strategic opportunity or business issue that the company is currently facing. They research it, build a business case, and recommend a course of action that they present to the company’s top 8 to 10 executives.
One team from our last class received investment funding on the spot to pursue their recommendation for how to obtain a higher, more measurable ROI from product package claims. The thesis assignment has become a surprise source of client value.
As for us, the effort needed to continually refine the course content to ensure that it’s the right mix of classic and contemporary management thinking, and that it will resonate with millennials and baby boomers alike, keeps us on our toes. It’s also made us better consultants. Plus, it’s a heck of a lot of fun to teach.