Sheep Dipping or sustainable BD behavior change?

No, this blog is not about some new social media trend involving farm animals. Although the title, ‘sheep dipping’ does refer to the farming practice of dunking large numbers of sheep into a chemical bath hoping to rid them of pests all in one go. It might work for killing fleas and ticks but not for changing human behaviour, especially when it comes to Business Development for professional services.

The old business model of development training for professionals was a linear approach, effectively an assembly line. In my experience, the traditional approach to business development training goes like this: professionals are marched into a two- or three-day intensive training session, trained in processes very different from their usual activities, in an environment disconnected from their real jobs. With no support before or after the training to tie the new learning back to their day-to-day work, it is assumed they are now ‘Certified Experts’!

Little time is invested in determining if this approach actually works. Training programs that operate this way use an approach that I refer to as the Sheep Dipping BD Training for Professional Services. It’s a linear, cause-and-effect approach… and it usually fails to produce sustained behavioural change.

The practice of shuffling large groups of people through a training session in isolation from any other development activity has long been recognised as ineffective yet continues to be adopted by many firms. To address this perception, let’s first explore the reasons this practice rarely works and then I’ll share some ideas on what achieves better results.

Why it doesn’t work

In his book, The Power to Change Anything, influencer Kerry Patterson and his co-authors highlight the problem of using simplistic methods to solve complex problems.

According to Patterson, it takes a combination of strategies aimed at a handful of vital behaviours to solve profound and persistent problems. Sometimes finding better ways means having to accept that problems are more complex than we would like them to be.

For too long, the prevailing attitude in such professional services firms is that its people are interchangeable units of labour – the classic mechanistic approach. If an individual fails to produce or ‘hit the numbers’, they are simply replaced with another one. Under this high staff turn-over approach little thought is spared for the company’s strategic goals not to mention the medium to long-term repercussions on client relationships.

Many professional services firms invest inadequately in learning and development as spending decisions focus on the up-front training cost rather than the expected business benefit. As a consequence, a firm turning over $200 million in revenue will dismiss $5000 for ongoing individual Business Development Coaching as an outrageous extravagance. Instead, such firms only invest in their fee-earners on an ad hoc basis to either satisfy human resource requirements or when, “Revenues are down, so let’s throw some sales training at the team to ‘fix’ the problem”.

What it costs

The impact of this mindset is hard to quantify but one tangible outcome is quantifiable and quite real: high staff turnover.

Turnover is costly to every firm and can be indicative of a systemic Business Development issue. Considering what walks out the door with each departing person (experience, product/service knowledge, client relationships), significant losses are at stake.

There is the risk of the position going unfilled for a long period of time with the result of lost business plus the added strain on other team members having to cover the vacant territory. Not to mention the recruitment costs to find a new professional.

Who really knows what impact turnover has on the long-term relationships with clients? Or what perception other members of the firm have on this kind of treatment?

Our solution: BD Coaching for Professional Services

It’s not to say that training doesn’t have its place, it does, however training on its own will not change the underlying behaviour of professionals.

Business development coaching for professionals on the other hand is a different story. It has proven to be a highly effective methodology to change the behaviour of professionals over time because it addresses four key aspects of habit formation.

Read our previous blog, 4 Reasons why Business Development Coaching is Superior to Business Development Training.