Q&A with Brian Waldron, PeopleFirst

Brian Waldron – Managing Director at PeopleFirst shares his perspectives on how you can best set your sales teams up for omni-channel success. In this interview, Brian reflects on his current and previous experience to share tales from the trenches and practical tips for future-proofing your frontline, leaders and managers.

Hi Brian, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your career history?
Sure, I graduated with a Business degree at Trinity College, Dublin and worked in corporate for about 30 years. I’m currently the Managing Director at PeopleFirst, which is a professional development and training organisation that I set up in 2006. In that time, we’ve worked with a wide range of companies across different sectors spanning Banking, Insurance, Health Sciences, Construction and Hotels – in Ireland, the UK, Europe and the Middle East.
COVID-19 has seen customer behaviour and engagement preferences evolve – fundamentally transforming the world of sales. In your perspective, what are some of the critical priorities for leaders to set up for omni-channel success, given the irreversible shifts in ways of working?

It has been interesting to look at how businesses have reacted to COVID-19 – there’s organisations that are recognising, understanding and embracing the change that is occurring, and then there are laggards. The organisations that are seeing success are the ones that are saying “We cannot stay the way we are – we have to be fit for purpose, future-proof our business, and take a very holistic look at the way we drive ourselves forward”.

The first priority for organisations should be to understand where they are now and define their ideal future state – there must be some level of baseline assessment as to where the business is from an organisational, functional and people point of view. This will require time, effort and energy, and will need to be backed by technology. There also must be alignment around the organisational processes and systems that will enable a new way of working – however, technology isn't the solution, it is only part of the solution.

Driving change requires investment in people, that’s the oil that keeps the business running at the end of the day. The frontline staff must embrace these new ways of working and sustain it through their customers, and senior management must become agents of the change. If the people don’t have the appetite to get below the bonnet to understand what these particular enablers might be and how it might help the business – they will be missing a key part of the whole process.

How can organisations best set themselves up to support these new ways of working?

Understanding the organisational and individual role benchmarks required to deliver commercial success is key. There are two ways you can do that – either you can look internally in your own organisation and see the differentiation points between top performers and those who don’t perform as well – and distil exactly what it is that makes the difference between the two. In my experience, I find that turning to the Human Resources department for insights can also help as they are often the ones who say “we know the behaviours that will deliver on a role basis, and from a customer-centric point of view across the omni-channel environment”. The other way is to refer to external research and see how it can apply to our own environment. Why reinvent the wheel, if you don’t have to? If there are relevant data and insights out there, use them.

How important are organisational enablers to the customer journey?

Enablement is multi-faceted, there’s no doubt about that – it’s got to ensure the resources are there, the people are there, the functions are working in collaboration and delivering what needs to be delivered, and that hindrances are removed. All of this should be in the context of a customer-centric approach and aligned with the new way of customer buying, the customer journey, and each touchpoint along the way.

How important is it to have leaders bought into the change? 

We need leaders to be the voice, behaviour, and action of what organisations are striving to achieve within the business. At times, they are not given the tools needed to drive results and are dragged into transformation projects that hinder them from completing their BAU tasks. However, for the change to be sustainable and robust, it’s critical that they understand how important they are in the process, and that this change be communicated to them in such a way that connects to their values and ways of working – if not, the appetite to help deliver the capability will not be there.

For example, when I worked in banking a few years ago, we were undergoing a project that revolved around transforming the value proposition for our customers and how they would engage, both digitally and face-to-face. Whilst the bank was investing heavily in technology, there was only a light investment on mobilising their people, whose roles were changing significantly. The leaders were left a little lost, due to a lack of connection to the ‘why’ – they hadn’t felt this change would enable them to perform their jobs better and deliver improved customer experiences. We had to work on it heavily and managed in the end, but it didn’t need to take that long to get there.

What are your tips for sustaining change into an organisational culture over the long-term? 

  • Individual buy-in from senior management. There has to be clarity around what’s expected of leaders, and a strong organisational commitment to delivering that, is critical. Creating a connection point to the end-value the customer receives, is a good way to get things off the ground, executed and sustained in the long-term.
  • An end date. Setting an end date for the project and technology implementation will ensure that these transformational initiatives are launched in a timely manner.
  • Frontline compliance/buy-in. Creating a rhythm between managers and frontline, reviewing performance and identifying opportunities for uplift will shine light on what to do next, and help inform what initiatives will need to be undertaken to drive you forward. They must believe that this change will allow them to perform their jobs better than ever before. It's easy talk about sustainability, but without a strong coaching connection, maintenance of quality standards, and preservation of behavioural identity; hard decisions will have to be made.

For deeper insights into the key leader and manager disciplines proven to drive sales performance, click here: