Are You Willing to Measure Change?

Jul 30, 2019

By Donald A. Brown

Marshall Goldsmith famously said, “If you can measure it, you can change it.” But who’s willing to measure change? According to a new analysis, fewer than 7% of organizations.

If you can measure it, you can change it.  My friend and colleague Marshall Goldsmith has rightly noted this more than once.

Make no mistake, I agree wholeheartedly. Also make no mistake, not everyone is willing to measure.

The Journal of Applied Psychology reviewed 40 years of published training and development literature, including only material related to the evaluation of organizational training and change. After looking at articles, books, papers, presentations, and dissertations, the authors found that within those four decades less than 7% of organizations had the courage to measure the impact of their human development efforts against bottom line metrics such as sales and profit.

What did they measure? For almost 80%, participant reaction was the needle (did participants “like” the event)? Even today, in an era crying for economic accountability, no more than 10 or 20% of organizations conduct a thorough ROI on organizational change efforts.

What, When, Where and How Much? 
I happen to believe that training does in fact equip today’s workforce to compete more effectively, but my position has always been that a training event alone is not the answer. All too often, clients decry the “flavor of the month” nature of change initiatives, yet ask what we can do for their practitioners in “a day or less.” Then there was the case a couple of years ago with one client eager not only to break the event paradigm but to document “just how much of a change” we could make.

The purpose of the study we conducted for them was to investigate a link between their use of our sales training and our behavioral coaching, and the bottom line variables of revenue, gross profit, and “line count” (the number of line items per invoice—a significant cost metric for them). The client was a leading North American distributor of industrial products and services. Bearings, belts, fasteners, and fluids are just a few of the tens of thousands of parts represented by such a distributor.

Customers of the client organization run the gamut from smaller job shops and walk-in customers to the largest national accounts, from automotive manufacturing to food processing and durable goods. In this study, inside salespeople made up the subject pool.

Inside sales in general is an environment with: 

  • An average sales cycle of less than 90 days  
  • An average sale of less than $25,000, with 50% closing at under $5,000
  • 80% of deals closing in fewer than ten calls. 

Participants in the research were drawn from two regions, one from the eastern U.S. and one from the western; 176 CSSRs were involved, and organized into four groups: 
Group 1. Control—Received no intervention. 
Group 2. Trained—Received 1-Day of sales training. 
Group 3. Volunteered—Received 1-Day of sales training, and then at least volunteered for behavioral coaching. 
Group 4. Coached—Received 1-Day sales training, and engaged in four or more follow-up tele-coaching calls. 

Participant Groupings 
For each of the 176 participating CSSRs we had 12 months of data. We wanted to know if the training and behavioral coaching that took place in the middle of the twelve-month period effected any change on their output. The primary focus of the data analysis and subsequent interpretation was to look at the data from each group for the six months prior to the training and coaching and compare them to the six months after the training and coaching.

The first question was: did individuals within any group sell more or less after the training and coaching than they did before the training and coaching? We wanted to know if those who were involved at each level of intervention sold significantly more or less than the control group. This same process was undertaken with data reflecting impact on Gross Profit and Line Count as well.

Coaching—the Change Catalyst 
After undertaking a comparative (or simply, face value) analysis of the results of this research we found:

As a baseline, the control group experienced a revenue drop of 3.7% when comparing their sales “post” versus “pre.” These CSSRs, within not only the same organization but out of the same service centers, had no contact with our training or coaching and ended up selling 3.7% less in the six-month period after their peers participated than in the six months leading up to the events. At the same time, the CSSRs that only participated in the sales training event (with no follow-up) saw their revenue rise, but only by 1.1% comparing “after” to “before.”

Group 3 members who participated in sales training—and then volunteered for the behavioral coaching, but didn’t stay with the process— saw a revenue jump of 10.2% in comparing the “post” to “pre.”

Lastly, Group 4 individuals who took part in the 1-Day sales training, volunteered for behavioral coaching, and engaged in an average of eight 30-minute tele-coaching calls—achieved a 22.4% leap in revenue when comparing the 180 days after the training and coaching interventions to the 180 days prior to the process.

Perhaps this impact can best be communicated by including the actual dollars and cents involved.  Just the CSSRs that participated (they have over 3,000 more) turned in collective revenue of almost $5,000,000 over the study—these are significant stakes in any setting. Even more stunning, those who stayed with the behavioral coaching returned 20 times the growth of those who only attended “an event”!

As a final note, at each higher level of participation in the training and follow-up, profit went up with revenue. Not only did CSSRs that participated in the training and follow-up sell more but also made more money (up to 10 cents on the dollar more) from each dollar of sales!

So What, and Now What? 
It is true, if you can measure it, you can change it—but you do have to be willing to measure it. Measurement brings data, and perhaps data brings risk. We know the following to be true about change:

  1. It is possible to measure impact, often through existing organizational metrics. 
  2. You can maximize the impact of change efforts through behavioral coaching and follow-up—the change catalyst absent in most initiatives.
  3. It takes courage to break the event paradigm in any organization. Try it; you’ll be glad you did.

About the Author(s)

Donald A. Brown credits his work and mentorship under Paul Hersey and Marshall Goldsmith as the solid foundation of his success. Affiliated with Dr. Hersey for over 25 years, he coauthored Situational Service®—Customer Care of the Practitioner with him and has worked with him to create several successful training programs, including Situational Service®, From Vision to Results™.  With Marshall Goldsmith, he coauthored What Got You Here Won’t Get You There—in Sales! with Marshall Goldsmith (McGraw-Hill, 2011). His  Just One Thing—5,000 Teams on What They Want from Their Leader will be published by McGraw-Hill in 2012. Contact him at [email protected]