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How to Embed Grit as a Culture in Your Sales Organization


Psychologist Angela Duckworth defines “grit” as the combination of passion and perseverance. She studies grit for a living. Her research suggests that grit can predict success across many different types of groups — from inner city students to military cadets to sales professionals. In her TED talk, “The Key to Success? Grit,” Duckworth concluded her presentation with the admission that we know how to look for grit, but we really don’t know how to build grit. She suggested that more research is needed.

If grit is key to sales success, then this topic should be key to frontline sales managers. So, if you haven’t been able to hire for grit on your sales team, are you stuck? Is there anything you can do?

Duckworth’s recently published book, “Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance”, addresses the question of how to develop grit. Through many great stories and extensive research, Duckworth describes organizations that are creating a culture of grit — where grittiness becomes contagious. People will show more grit when they’re surrounded by people exhibiting gritty behavior.

So, beyond hiring for it, how do you develop grittiness in your sales team? I devoured Duckworth’s new book with this question in mind, and, in an attempt to make it more relevant to sales, I applied many of the concepts from our book and curriculum, “The High-Impact Sales Manager.” As sales leaders and frontline managers, here are the five key factors that can help create a gritty culture on your sales team:

#1 Model gritty behavior.

Passion is contagious. As sales leaders and frontline managers, it is up to us to model the gritty behavior we’re looking for. You’ve all had the manager or leader who demonstrates the work ethic and determination needed to get the deal. Reps will follow the examples they see — so model the behavior you want reps to emulate. People need to see what grit looks like in your organization. In Duckworth’s study of West Point’s efforts to build grittier cadets, one of the officers called it “Leading from the front.” Sometimes you have to jump in, model the behavior, and bring others along with you.

#2 Have a vision and communicate it.

If grit is the combination of passion and perseverance, your job is to inspire passion by creating a vision of your team’s success, and connecting their work to this vision. Share your vision with enthusiasm and show the passion you’re looking for. People will dig deep and “do whatever it takes” if they believe in the vision and understand how their efforts directly contribute to the goal. Inspire your team to achieve something great, and then help them figure out how to get there.

#3 Set high expectations.

Set the bar high. Duckworth emphasizes that high expectations create an environment where participants learn they can do more than they thought possible. She references West Point, high-performing schools, and the Seattle Seahawks as examples where expectations were set high, and exceptional performance has become the norm. Expectations must be communicated in a way that everyone understands what they need to do to support the team and the vision. Set the bar high, show a path to get there, and celebrate when expectations are met and exceeded.

#4 Create a competitive environment.

Competition builds grit. Duckworth shares several stories from Pete Carroll, the celebrated coach of the Seattle Seahawks, that illustrate his ability to create a gritty (and winning) football team. One of Carroll’s mantras is, “Always compete. You’re either competing, or you’re not.” Mike Gervais, one of Carroll’s partners in culture-building, describes it this way: “Compete comes from Latin. Quite literally it means to strive together. It doesn’t have anything in its origins about another person losing.”

Developing a gritty sales team requires creating a competitive, fun environment that encourages people to dig deep and excel. Sales contests, performance dashboards, and publicly shared individual and team accomplishments are all ways to inspire grit through competition.

#5 Provide ongoing coaching to improve performance.

Grit can be developed, and it should be encouraged and coached. High-performing organizations operate with a spirit of improvement. Your management and coaching approach should emphasize open dialogue with team members where you can discuss performance and identify opportunities for improvement — in a non-punitive way. It’s not enough to lay the groundwork and set high expectations; high-performing organizations encourage perseverance and a work ethic where everyone strives to make him- or herself and the organization better than it was the day before. Use coaching skills that create a positive, supportive dialogue, and shared accountability for improvement.

When it comes to improving the grit of your sales team, the payoff is great. With passion and perseverance, your sales reps will push past obstacles and achieve long-term goals. You’re more likely to hit sales numbers. Reps and managers are more likely to stay and be invested in the mission of the company. The grit shown by leaders and peers will leave everyone feeling more fulfilled by their work, and you’ll have a happier, more positive, and more productive workplace.

Passion is contagious. As sales leaders and frontline managers, it is up to us to model the gritty behavior we’re looking for.”

Ray Makela | Chief Customer Officer, Sales Readiness Group

Learn More

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