I was a near-disaster as a salesman in my first summer sales job during college. I was green but also bright-eyed and ready to earn my commission, as I stumbled down the suburban streets of California, attempting to hawk pest-control services. In five days I didn't make a single sale.
Yet where the experience paid off was in my life-altering realization during that week that my lack of success as a salesperson was the product of a stagnant industry that had yet to develop any formalized employee training methods.
Instead of quitting, I decided to work alongside management and develop an intricate training program before branching out to build Alterra, the pest-control company I lead today. Now, years later, I’ve applied the lessons, which I learned in those days of flailing and failing as a salesman, to a list of rules I created.
Those rules still guide how I train all of my employees to "think and act like CEOs."
Rule 1: Develop a shared company vision.
Aside from detailing the specific day-to-day tasks of each employee’s role on the first day, make a point to discuss how an entry-level sales job directly affects the company's annual goals. As employees start to envision how their actions lead to overall company success, they will better understand how a CEO strategizes.
Similarly, set outward company goals that employees can attach themselves to professionally. Instead of the bland “Do your best,” encourage employees by offering tangible goals and hard numbers they can aspire to meet. This will not only set a benchmark for the average employee contribution, but allow executives to clearly identify the truly motivated employees -- your future managers and team leaders -- who are beating company goals.
Rule 2: Design a system for tracking employee progress, then use that system to reward employees.
There are plenty of ways to do this: Set company goals or individual department goals, or implement specific monthly incentive programs. Depending on the culture you want to create, see what works best and continue to develop those programs as you gain employee feedback.
Then reward your staff by throwing a party, hosting a movie night at the local theater or buying the first round of drinks during happy hour -- anything that shows how success will be encouraged and celebrated as company goals are achieved.
Rule 3: To put it simply, use your resources.
Every employee has an opinion on how a company should run, so instead of ignoring the water cooler gossip, put it to paper and turn the gossip into feedback. At Alterra, we pay every employee $100 for each idea that gets implemented, and we pay each customer $5 to provide an honest evaluation.
That’s how we began our “So You Think You Can Sell” initiative -- a rookie-vs.-rookie sales competition that has resulted in a large cash prize for winners, and increased participation (and laughter) companywide. By encouraging a culture of forward thinking and constant development, you are training employees to think the way a CEO thinks by focusing on innovation; and you may even have a little fun in the process.
Rule 4: Realize that company culture isn’t just this month’s entrepreneurial buzzword.
In fact, every organization should consciously find ways to rally employees. There’s a reason why you were so close to your high school soccer team -- the pasta parties you had once a week not only encouraged morale, but also allowed for all players to connect with their teammates and coaches.
Apply the same principle to your organization and you will have a company culture of encouragement, shared ideas and open communication that revolves around your organization’s mission. Your employees will feel a sense of loyalty and excitement as they bond with their co-workers and fall in love with the culture.
Host monthly breakfasts or offsite events. Promote weekly competitions with prizes to inspire teamwork and fun. Then designate an employee to create a company Instagram account, post photos and promote your culture online to attract like-minded talent. Your employees can either be your biggest allies or your harshest critics, so take the time to foster relationships both during and after work.
Training employees to think and act like entrepreneurs is unique; it’s something that will set your company apart from the rest. These initiatives require time and professional investment from a company’s leaders, but they pay huge dividends over time. If you make these initiatives a priority, you will start to see mini-CEOs wandering the halls -- encouraging one another, planning group activities and proactively suggesting new ideas that promote company values.