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Is 'Creating a Self-Directed Employee' an Oxymoron?

March 23, 2016
By Tracey E. Schelmetic - Telemarketing Software Contributor


If cloning humans ever becomes reality, sales organizations are likely to be the first in line. Every organization has a small handful of workers who redefine the word “self-directed.” They learn the basics of a job, they grasp the end goals, and they forge new and effective pathways to get there. They use their initiative to rework existing process, they make new and important connections, they develop time-saving short cuts around existing administrative tasks and they go above and beyond the call of duty to build fruitful sales relationships.


A self-directed worker is every sales manager’s dream. So how do you find, recruit, hire and train the people who can help breathe new life into your sales process? It’s part of the sales manager’s job to create the employee engagement that creates organizational magic, according to Renie McClay writing for the Association for Talent Development. Otherwise, companies should expect to meet the bare minimum when it comes to sales.

“Indeed, creating engagement is how a sales team will progress beyond fulfilling basic requirements,” wrote McClay. “It is the process of positively influencing others, gaining commitment, and attaining sales goals. Sales leaders must create the vision that inspires others to achieve more than they ever thought possible. In other words, leadership skills inspire team engagement. And when a sales team is engaged, lots of good things follow.”

Engaged and self-directed employees are initiators, not responders. They are action-oriented, not passive. When it comes to day-to-day work, they anticipate rather than react. The benefits to the sales organization are immense.

“Self-directed employees require less supervision,” wrote McClay. “The business outcome is that supervisors can spend less time on the tactical tasks and more time on strategic issues—like connecting the team to a larger vision.”

So how does a sales manager encourage workers to become more self-directed? For starters, the onus is on the sales manager to fully grasp the sales process, the supporting technologies, the goals (and the metrics to measure when they are attained) and the products and services the company sells. To begin with, the sales manager needs to develop a robust sales training program. Rather than lead and expect others to follow, however, it helps when sales managers actually allow sales professionals to self-direct in their own training. Self-directed learning (SDL) is a proven method for creating better, more independent sales professionals.

Self-directed learning as a means of improving professional training has been shown to be highly effective in a number of studies, according to a 2012 article in Marketing Management Journal titled, “Improving Sales Performance with Self-Directed Learning.” The paper’s authors, Stefanie L. Boyer of Bryant University, Andrew B. Artis and Paul J. Solomon of the University of South Florida, and David E. Fleming of Eastern Illinois University, concluded that empowering the employee to manage his or her personal learning actions and attitudes while the sales manager provides guidance builds invaluable self-directed sales skills and improves on traditional training in two ways.

“First, SDL allows adult learners to customize their expertise by developing skills, knowledge, and abilities to meet their unique needs and workplace situations. Second, it is a way to maximize organizational learning by decentralizing the training function and requiring individual employees to take charge of their professional development within guidelines set by supervisors.”

By inextricably linking the success of the organization with the personal success of the sales employees, companies can ensure that all work being done in the sales department is pursuing the same goal: an expansion of selling. It’s also a way to engage workers and keep them for longer: it allows them to use their strengths to their advantage and to the benefit of their employer, and better equips them to adapt to a challenging and competitive sales environment.

While many sales managers often choose the “my way or the highway” approach to sales training, this method may not be doing anyone – the sales managers, the sales employees or the organization as a whole – any favors. 




Edited by Rory J. Thompson



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