Like many parents, I noticed early on that my two children were very different, going all the way back to their infancy. Our oldest son has always been thoughtful, serious and eager to please. Our youngest son has always been playful, creative and marching to his own drumbeat. Even though they’re only 15 months apart in age and are being raised at the same time in the same household, they are very different individuals. So it’s obvious that it’s not just their environment that is making them who they are, they were simply born with different personalities.
Most psychologists agree that an individual’s personality – how they think, how they feel, how they respond to situations – solidifies early on in their life. And because so much development occurs in our first five years of life, children start to develop the predictable patterns of behavior that they will demonstrate throughout their lives. Indeed, most psychologists agree that a person’s personality is pretty well set by the time they reach 18 years of age.
Knowing that, it’s not at all surprising that it’s challenging to get our sales reps to change the behavior we don’t like and do things differently. When we are trying to get them to unlearn bad habits or develop new ways of doing things, we are often fighting against days, weeks, months and years of them doing things a certain way, that is, the way they always have. It’s no wonder that even with many hours dedicated to coaching them to think, feel and execute differently, our efforts often fail to have their desired impact.
So what can we do? Can our nurturing overcome their nature and early life development? Like the answers to most complex questions, the answer depends. Think of different aspects of your rep’s personality/talent as being on a sliding scale. On the left-hand side of the scale, you have the things with which they really struggle. These are things that no matter how many times you’ve coached them to do something differently, they show little to no improvement. On the right-hand side of the scale, you have the things at which they really excel. These are probably things you didn’t even have to teach them to do. They just seemed to intuitively “get it.” And then in between these two extremes, there is a whole lot of gray area. And it’s in this gray area where our coaching can make the biggest difference.
These personality traits/talents in the middle are the ones that can come out under the right circumstances. When a rep is effectively motivated, coached and developed to use these in-between abilities, we will see the rep exhibit them more often. When the rep is not invested in properly, we will rarely see these talents come out. It’s your coaching that can make the biggest difference in creating an environment to bring out the best in these middle-of-the-road abilities. Here are some recommended strategies to coach your reps’ in-between abilities:
- Ask your rep what motivates them to use these abilities and what support they need to use them most effectively.
- Pay attention to times when you see these abilities used effectively. Figure out consistencies in the circumstances so you can re-create them.
- Create learning opportunities for your reps to enhance these abilities. People are often more motivated to demonstrate their abilities when they are being developed.
Coaching can also make a difference on the two extreme sides of the scale (your reps’ biggest weaknesses and greatest strengths), but in a different way. It’s unlikely that coaching is likely to change a strongly ingrained weakness or strength, but it can certainly impact how well our reps leverage their strengths and manage around their weaknesses. Here are the recommended strategies to coach your reps’ more ingrained strengths and weaknesses:
- Remove obstacles so that your reps’ strengths can really shine. If they are naturally good at something, make sure they have adequate opportunities to leverage those strengths.
- Encourage them to spend as much time as possible in their areas of strength, as this is where their greatest success will come. You hired them because of what they’re great at, not because of their weaknesses, so make sure most of their responsibilities are aligned as closely as possible with their strengths.
- Manage around weaknesses by trying to minimize them working in these areas as much as possible. For example, if they are bad at service follow-up, assign them accounts where not a lot of it is required. If they have to work in an area of weakness, you will need to be very prescriptive with what they need to do and not expect more than average performance levels.
Overall, it is difficult to overcome the hard-wiring that happens to a reps’ personality – including their talents and non-talents – in their early years of life, so don’t waste a lot of your time trying to change them. Rather help them spend more time doing what they do best, minimize the amount of time they have to spend in their areas of weakness and create motivation and development opportunities for their in-between abilities. By doing this, you’re not trying to overcome nature, but rather, you are making the best of it
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