Your senior VP of sales is riding high. The CEO is thoroughly invested, in terms of compensation, coaching, and trust. With bonus check in hand, your sales leader is weighing new opportunities.
Odds are, it’s only a matter of time before your SVP moves on.
You, the HR leader, understand the impact his or her departure will have. You’ll be left with a gaping hole none of your sales VPs can fill. One step up to the C-suite is, for them, just too steep a climb.
The only option? Recruit from outside the company. Your CEO will pay top dollar for top talent. And the same scenario will play out again.
It’s a vicious cycle, but it can be overcome. You just need to develop a human capital pipeline. That means helping your sales VPs become C-suite material.
Your Crucial Role: Leadership & Development Support
Many sales VPs are experts when it comes to certain regions or industry verticals. They execute like champions. But they tend to think and act on a tactical, rather than strategic, level.
There are two reasons for this.
- The VPs have limited knowledge of how the business operates outside of sales.
- The SVP is the strategist. He or she expects direct reports to simply carry out orders.
First, let’s talk about issue #1: the knowledge gap.
To close the gap, you need to establish a universal leadership curriculum. It should consist of these six types of educational resources.
- Content. Content is everything from process and policy to program governance and best practices. It’s anything that defines excellence in a given area. If this content doesn’t exist, it will have to be created.
- Organizational Primers. These are brief overviews of various business functions—finance, manufacturing, logistics, etc. VPs will come away with a basic grasp of operations outside sales.
- Courseware. Courseware actuates the written material by way of learning modules, training, coaching, and testing. Seeing and contributing to business functions in real time aids understanding.
- Development Path. This will involve tours of duty in different departmental areas or business units. Cross-functional training will force VPs out of their bubble and broaden their view.
- Competency Assessment. Profile the role of the SVP. Choose a series of behavioral competencies and skills, pairing them with ongoing development items. After testing for competencies, provide the resources necessary to close any gaps.
- Third-Party Resources. Provide access to outside courses (Harvard Business Review and others). Topics should be leadership-focused and address common deficiencies.
What If Your Senior VP Resists?
A-Player sales leaders understand the necessity of developing future leaders.
If your SVP isn’t an A-Player, his or her chief concern is maximizing income. Thus your efforts to develop the VPs’ leadership capabilities will likely meet with resistance. If VPs aren’t focused on selling, the SVP will argue, they’re wasting valuable time.
With a mediocre sales leader in place, there’s not much you can do. But you can start preparing for your next SVP to reduce the risk profile.
- Take the time to fully define the SVP role and its competencies.
- Rather than trigger alarm bells by conducting a formal search, start developing networks. Identify the types of people best suited for the role.
- Gauge your company’s reputation in these circles. What’s appealing, or not, about the SVP role as you’ve defined it?
- Encourage the CEO to screen SVP candidates appropriately. Interviewees should be told they must have their replacement ready in two years’ time. The CEO should make clear that you’ll be guiding the effort.