ATD Blog

Ensure Sales Training Success with Change Leadership and Management—Part 2

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Welcome back sales enablers! Last week, in part 1 of this series, I shared some thoughts on change management and leadership. These topics are deserving of entire books, but to keep things manageable for this follow-up post, I’d like to share some specific differentiating elements that we’ve found very effective at Richardson.

Storytelling still sells

First, let’s review some sobering facts.

  • 70 percent of change projects do not achieve desired outcomes
  • 52 percent of change projects fail with no evidence of change, and in many cases, they cause long-term damage to the organization. (Thanks, John Kotter, for the grim news.)

Yet, what it takes to successfully drive change is NOT a secret. (And much to my chagrin, no magic decoder ring is needed.) I wrote more about this in a post called Sales Transformation—No Guts, No Glory.

And other research from Kotter tells us:

  • The number one reason change initiatives veer off course is the failing of the leadership team to lead the change through vision, actions, and engagement.
  • The number two reason change initiatives fail is under-communication. Kotter says that most organizations under-communicate by a factor of 10.

Seriously… this is the stuff we let get in the way. Clearly, there is great need for better storytelling in our work.
The Change Story Framework provides a great way to communicate the vision, including:

  • goals and objectives
  • challenging issues
  • strategic initiatives
  • roles and responsibilities.  

It’s a simple but powerful tool that can be used early in the change process and reinforced throughout by various levels of management. Clients have told us that when leaders truly personalized the roles and responsibilities section of the Framework and shared how they plan to commit to the change and support their staff, it was actually a moving experience for some employees. Contrast this to the weak creation of change slogans, such as “Quality in everything we make,” which cynical frontline employees can easily twist into satiric phrases like “Quality is everything we fake,” while snickering behind management’s back. It’s way past time to go beyond slogans.

Ack—it’s math

In creating your change story, a little math can go a long way. Okay, not really. But this pseudo math formula can really enhance your stories. Officially, it’s P+P+A+S>R, but as a former math geek, I can’t force myself to have two Ps that mean different things, so I’ll call it: PS + PL + A + S > R.

  • PS = Push:  The “pain” of the status quo has to be high and relevant to the audience.
  • PL = Pull:  The solution has to be achievable and feel like “the right fit” for the pain.
  • A = Action:  Clear next steps to advance the change.
  • S = Support:  Define what you will do to prepare your people to take the action you ask of them.

…the sum of which must be greater than (>) the….

  • R = Resistance:  A natural and expected part of every change effort.

(Side note for sales enablers: Hmm. Sounds a lot like “selling,” doesn’t it? Imagine that.)


Not surprisingly, other factors to help ensure the effectiveness of your story are

  • be clear and jargon-free
  • be concise—meaning short (maybe five minutes or less)
  • be compelling; it should acknowledge the audience’s personal concerns and risks, contain a clear WIIFM (What’s In It For Me) message, and convey a sense of urgency
  • be consistent
  • be customizable—meaning highly relevant to the audience and tailored to their perspective.

Honey, let’s adopt

Lastly, an idea that sometimes seems foreign to many when we first mention it (but resonates well afterward and gets results) is the concept of “adoption questions.”

Adoption questions are

  • open-ended questions that ask for specific evidence that a behavior, signaling ownership of the change, is occurring.
  • a way to verify that change is taking place in the organization and objectively determine the pace and depth of that change 
  • a way to assess how the change is flowing through the organization (say, after training) 
  • effective—because they surface leading indicators of change.

When we talk with clients, the adoption questions are considered the “new thing” that seems so simple, but we know leaders are not doing it.

Some related definitions you may need to use adoption questions:

  • Lagging indicator: a metric that measures the outcome or result of a change.
  • Leading indicator: a metric that predicts or forecasts the probability of a specific outcome or result.

Just do it

If we fail in communicating and reinforcing change by a factor of ten, it’s obvious that we need to up the voltage on message delivery.


While this is only a slice of the ADKAR® methodology, it does address the top-two reasons for failure, and is a great starting point. When you deem a change initiative necessary for your sales training or enablement initiatives, now you can develop compelling change stories and conduct leading-indicator verification checks using Adoption Questions.

As you’ll see in the Leadership Discipline Framework, this needs to occur at all levels in the sales organization and be supported by developmental coaching and feedback, as needed. (You didn’t think you were going to get to skip coaching, now, did you?) 

Put this stuff together and you are well on your way toward stamping out those top-two reasons for failure. Add good project management and the other basic elements of change control (management), and you’ll be well on your way to successful change.

I’ll close this post with some other change models to explore (if that sort of thing interests you), as well as some related reading. As always, I hope you found something here helpful and either way, I invite your comments. I’d especially enjoy hearing your success stories or challenges with change leadership and messaging.

Until next time, happy enabling!

Change models to explore

Related reading:

About the Author

As VP of sales effectiveness services for SPARXiQ and a nationally recognized thought leader in sales improvement, Mike Kunkle designs sales training courses, delivers workshops, and works with clients to implement sales effectiveness systems that dramatically improve results.

You can connect with Mike on LinkedIn or follow him on Twitter at @Mike_Kunkle.

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