Why working harder might make you less effective

George Brontén

“Grind till you shine.” “The price of success is hard work.” “Success is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.”

These popular quotations are slung around on social media like commandments, calling on everyone to give just that 10% more, work that extra hour, burn that extra calorie. Promising that a breakthrough is just on the other side of one more year of hard work.

But is it actually good advice? Is working harder really the answer to achieving more success? Maybe. But maybe not.

In our experience working with sales teams all over the world, we’ve learned that it’s not always the salespeople who are putting in the most time and engaging in a lot of activities that are bringing in the sales. In fact, sometimes the top performers are going home early while mediocre reps continue to plug away at their desks.

It’s not that hard work isn’t sometimes necessary. It’s just that hard work alone isn’t enough, and too much hard work can actually be counterproductive. Activity does not always equal progress.

Here are 3 reasons why working harder may be undermining your success… and 3 ways to increase effectiveness without adding hours to your (or your team’s) work day.

All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy

There is great truth in the old proverb about Jack.

The human brain is not wired to work 100% of the time. It requires breaks in order to operate at optimal performance. The longer we go without breaks, the more our minds slow and dull.

Activity does not always equal progress.
George Brontén

“Deactivating and reactivating your goals allows you to stay focused,” says University of Illinois psychology professor Alejandro Lleras, who led a study on the nature of attention. The study reveals that even short breaks can restart attentional focus and increase productivity.

Mary Helen Immordino-Yang of the University of Southern California, in a meta study reviewing current scientific research into the nature of cognition, concluded that mental downtime is critical to learning, focusing, and solving problems.

When we focus all of our attention on working harder and grinding heavier, we risk forcing salespeople–and ourselves–to sacrifice our ability to think, solve problems, and be productive.

Too much focus on “work” reduces opportunities for learning and growth

Another side effect of the cult of “hard work” is that it leaves very little room for salespeople and others to slow down and focus on learning and skills development.

Top performers consistently improve their effectiveness by attending training, reading books, watching training videos, and practicing new skills.

All of these activities require time away from “work.” A too-heavy focus on “work ethic” can force salespeople to stay “in the grind” at the expense of developing the skills that could help them escape the grind and reach their optimal performance.

Doing more of the wrong things doesn’t make them right

We all know that salesperson who stuffs their activity log with more cold calls, emails, and other activities than anyone else, yet never seems to rise to the top in performance.

Many organizations encourage this behavior by setting blind activity goals without providing a framework for determining which activities are actually effective.

Other organizations know better, yet fail to curb this behavior, simply assuming that salespeople who don’t “perform” are “not cut out for” the work, and letting them go without ever giving them the opportunity to learn how to do better with their time.

Top performing organizations understand that more efficiency and more activity doesn’t always mean more results. Salespeople need to know the right things to do and have the skills to do them, in order to yield the desired performance.

Do this, instead

If your salespeople are caught in the “hard work” trap, or if you simply want to increase effectiveness without adding hours to your (or your team’s) day, try these three steps.

1. Identify the exact behaviors and activities that yield desired results

Though it sounds simple, this step can be complicated. Most sales CRMs don’t provide the kind of insights you need in order to really understand which activities, skills, and behaviors are leading to the results you need.

You need a platform that accurately tracks a salesperson’s progress through your sales process, and provides visibility into where slow-downs occur, and when and how and why opportunities are dropping out of the pipeline, as well as the identifying factors that determine which opportunities are the most promising.

2. Create a system to reinforce and coach those behaviors, skills, and activities

Once you have identified which skills, behaviors, and activities are yielding the best results, create a system to reinforce those across your team.

Again, most CRM systems won’t automatically give you the tools you need to accomplish this. You need a tool that allows you to build a milestone-based process directly into the salesperson’s workflow, and to attach training and enablement content directly inside their workflow, at the points in the process where they need them. This gives them the support they need to engage in more productive behaviors.

3. Engage in continuous improvement

Finally, your system should allow for analysis to continually identify emerging best practices, and to deploy them across your organization on an ongoing basis. And it needs to help managers do better coaching.

With these three steps in place, your team can quickly learn to yield better results in less time–leaving plenty of time for rest, rejuvenation, and skills enhancement.

Find out how Membrain gives you everything you need to implement such a system. Schedule a call with us today.

George Brontén
Published November 7, 2018, written by

George Brontén

George is the founder & CEO of Membrain, the world's 1st Sales Effectiveness Platform that makes it easy to execute your sales strategy. A life-long entrepreneur with 20 years of experience in the software space and a passion for sales and marketing. With the life motto "Don't settle for mainstream", he is always looking for new ways to achieve improved business results using innovative software, skills and processes.

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