You have to leave Gilligan's Island to play hockey!

Wayne Gretzky is quoted as saying “A good hockey player plays where the puck is. A great hockey player plays where the puck is going to be.” My son played hockey all through high school. He played as a defenseman and had to anticipate where the puck was going. He got pretty good at it and loved the experience. I learned a lot about hockey watching him play.

Hockey, like life, is a game that is constantly changing. As humans we don’t like change in our lives! In early humans we saw change as a threat to our very existence. Therefore as humans we crave stability, predictability and a sense of normalcy that is dependable. The problem with the future is we don’t know what is going to happen and when we do see a glimpse of the future we don’t like that either because it invariably requires us to change!

Financial advisors, insurance professionals, bankers, ask us to “prepare for the future” by planning for it. But we don’t like that either. Planning for the future requires us to do two things that humans simply don’t want to do. First you have to imagine a world that is different than the world today. Remember we crave predictability and stability. We like where we are because it is safe, comfortable and it gives a feeling of confidence that we are in control. Different scares us so we naturally avoid thinking about it.

Secondly, in “planning for the future” we have to make decisions about how we are going to respond to those changes that may or may not happen. We have no real data or experience to rely on and no assurance that all the anxiety associated with the exercise will really help us. So we say, “Thank you very much, I’ll stay in my cave and watch Gilligan reruns”.

I work with Sales organizations that take particular pride in trying to maintain the status quo. Sales managers buy into sales process models that mimic their experience. They measure compliance to the process and coach around adherence or deviation from it. They want their sales staff to follow the model and not deviate. The problem is the customer doesn’t have the same script!

So the sales person is required to bend between adherence to a process that does not fit and addressing the customer needs at the same time. What would be helpful is an approach and mindset that accommodates the real world. Not one locked in a process or one that is driven by unstructured customer demands.

We have learned that the SEAL Teams have a description for the world in which they operate, VUCA. It stands for Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous. That’s a pretty good summation of the world we all live in. But how does having an acronym help us? What it helps us do is become agile. Being agile operationalizes Gretzky’s quote.

Being able to go to “where the puck is going to be” would make you clairvoyant. Seeing the range of possibilities of where the puck might be and preparing for the most likely event makes you agile. Agility Consulting and Training, LLC calls this process Scenario Planning in the context of developing an Agile Sales Team. What are the possible options for the future, which is most likely and how do we prepare for it. The process involves whole teams and helps synthesize the teams thinking and uses insights that may otherwise be left out.

But developing an Agile Sales Team requires more than simply looking to the future. It requires making sure the team is engaged and confident of that future and the management that is leading them. It also means taking action. Actions that will be needed to address customers’ needs as they address their futures; and actions of the team to ensure they have the resources to be successful.

The ActionPoint Perhaps the most important element of being an Agile Sales Team is being able to think beyond traditional boundaries. If you are going to be “where the puck will be” you can’t think in straight lines. The ability to flex and change direction, bring in a new resource or retool your approach are critical to success in a Sales 2.0 world. Becoming an Agile Sales Team is not "Sales Training" it is developing a VUCA mindset!

Wayne Gretzky retired in 1999. Most of today’s young hockey players didn’t get to see him play, but his impact is still strong on the sport and on all of us who follow sports. Thanks Wayne for helping us think outside the rink and become more agile!

ActionPoint Partners, LLC, provides selection, assessment, development and professional expertise and resources that address critical performance needs of sales organizations. For more information please go to ActionPointPartners.com

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