Skill vs. Will

Throughout my career in sales, and sales training, I’ve been challenged by individuals who simply fail to execute on behaviors or meet basic job expectations. In sales, their failure to execute is directly tied to their ability to generate commission. That makes it doubly frustrating for me because they aren’t just hurting my results, they are limiting their own ability to generate more income!

When I made the transition from leading a sales team to a full time sales trainer, I quickly realized something; training is often used a scapegoat. I’d be sitting in sales meetings with senior leaders and sales managers, invariably someone would say: “we can’t hit quota because my team isn’t properly trained!” As a new trainer, you take that a bit personally! I took that feedback at face value and re-committed to improving my efforts in every area. However, after a few meetings and hearing the “training excuse” 20-30 times, I realized some things weren’t adding up.

I had seen employees who had failed to hit their goals execute flawlessly in training. Heck, I’d even seen them do it on the sales floor! They knew how to do it, they were choosing not to! In discussing my frustration with my supervisor he shared a gem with me that was (and is) pretty powerful.

Supervisor: “If you offered this same employee $10,000 could they capture a referral from a customer?”

Me: “Absolutely!”

Supervisor: “Then you aren’t dealing with a training issue. If they have the SKILLS to do it, we’ve done our job equipping them. If they have the skills but they aren’t executing, you’re dealing with a WILL issue. You can’t train motivation, ambition, or tenacity. However, you can coach employees and hold them accountable for their behavior and results.”

Each employee is unique and each employee requires differing levels of training in order to succeed. There is no “one size fits all solution.” Leaders need to be diligent to observe their employees so they can determine when an employee is failing due to a lack of “skill” and when they are failing to due to a lack of “will.” It’s equally important for leaders to hold their teams accountable for their behavior and results once they’ve proven they have the necessary skills. Diligent training coupled with disciplined coaching leads to high accountability and ultimately superb results.

A final note about one of the most undervalued aspects of training. Training removes excuses. Employee’s can only cry “untrained” for so long when they are consistently being presented with opportunities to learn and practice their skills. Training provides managers with some effective accountability questions:

  • “I know that you were trained on this: I’ve attended the same training, reviewed your workbook and role played with you. Either you were not engaged in training OR you are trained BUT not putting the training into action. Which is it?”
  •  “We’ve talking about my expectations for you regarding this behavior. I’ve seen you do it effectively in a role play and in some customer interactions. I’m having trouble reconciling how your “lack of training” has enabled you to execute in the past but is not sufficient for you to execute consistently?”
  • “I agree, more training could help you deliver this behavior more consistently. Tell me this, how much training do you feel you need before you are trained? The quicker we can get you from learning to doing, the more commission you’ll be able to generate.”

Training removes excuses. Skill vs. will empowers leaders with a diagnostic tool, enabling them to zero in on the root cause for missed execution.