Question: I like the idea of setting goals for personal improvement, not only with my salespeople but for my own growth and development as well. Can you give me a more specific idea of what kind of goals I should be creating?

Answer:  Sure. This is one of my hot buttons.  I believe that salespeople should be continually focusing on personal development – and implement continuous self-improvement.  That means that they should create specific personal goals, each month, to become better, more competent, and more valuable people.  It’s not only a good idea for salespeople, but also for business owners, sales managers, and executives.

These personal goals articulate an improvement in skills, the acquisition of competencies, the addition of knowledge, or the participation in learning events that you would like to achieve this year.  I’ll explain each.

Types of Personal Goals

Improvement in job-related skills.  You may, at the beginning of the year, decide that you really do need to do better at coaching your salespeople.  That’s a skill that takes time and practice to develop. It helps you do better at the job you are doing.  So, when you decide to improve in this area, you make a commitment to improving a skill that directly impacts your job.

So, too, with salespeople.  There is a set of competencies that every salesperson needs to have in order to be competent at the job.  (See my book, Taking Your Performance Up a Notch)  There should be an assessment of what competencies they have and in which of those are they strong and weak.  Out of that should come a commitment to improving some job-related skills.  For example, one of your salespeople may need to become more proficient at building relationships, becoming more organized, etc.  These are all job-related skills.

Acquisition of collateral competencies.  These are things you learn which improve your value to the company and qualify you to do something other than the job you have.  For example, you may decide to improve your strategic planning skills.  Not that you use these skills that much in the job that you have, but it’s a competency that will make you more valuable to the company.  And, who knows, if you become CEO one day, you’ll need that. Some of your salespeople may want to focus on collateral competencies.

Addition of knowledge.  You decide to learn things that you don’t now know.  Knowledge is different than skills.  For example, you can determine to improve your knowledge of a certain product line or a market segment.  That’s knowledge.  Improving your coaching ability is a skill.  It requires you to do something.  Improving your knowledge is the information you acquire.

To grow more valuable and competent in your job, you need to do both.  So do your salespeople.  Goals to acquire certain knowledge which they are currently lacking are very appropriate.

Participate in learning events.  Sometimes, you can invest in your own development by participating in a learning event, with only a vague end result in mind.  Let’s say, for example, that you decide to go to a seminar on “Leadership skills for the 21st century.”  You’re not exactly sure what you’re going to learn, but you feel confident that you’ll come out of that event with something.  In this case, your focus is not on the end result you want, you’re more open to the serendipity learning that you expect to happen as a result of your involvement in the event.

So, too, for your salespeople.  If one listed a self-improvement goal of “attending three seminars this year,” or “reading all of Kahle’s books,” I’d be happy.

Any of these are legitimate ways to focus your salespeople on the goal of “continuous self-improvement,” and can be guidelines for your focused own personal development as well.