Episode 175: Tim Ohai on Strategic Decision-Making to Lead Transformation

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Shawnna Sumaoang: Hi, and welcome to the Sales Enablement PRO podcast, I am Shawnna Sumaoang. Sales enablement is a constantly evolving space, and we’re here to help professionals stay up to date on the latest trends and best practices so that they can be more effective in their jobs.

Today, I’m excited to have Tim Ohai from Workday join us. Tim. I would love for you to introduce yourself, your role in your organization to our audience.

Tim Ohai: Hey, aloha everybody. This is Tim Ohai and I am a director at Workday. We provide cloud-based solutions in HR, and fins, and strategic sourcing, and employee engagement areas. I work specifically with our Salesforce globally around helping them figure out how to be better in the conversations and interactions they’re in.

And we work heavily with not only the AEs, but the RSDs, the RVPs, and then cross-functionally with our pre-sales organization and value, etc. And I get to play in all those spaces.

SS: I love that, Tim. And we’re so excited to have you here today. We’ve been connected for some time and on LinkedIn, you actually wrote an article earlier this year on the impact of poor decision-making. So I’d love to start there with our conversation. What are some of the factors that can drive poor decision-making for business leaders these days and how can poor decision-making impact the organization?

TO: Wow. So, yeah, that’s a huge topic because I’ll lead off with this idea that the number one reason that businesses fail is poor decision-making. And you could take that down to initiatives and projects, etc. Decision-making is where you not only get off on the right foot, but you stay on the right foot all the way through to execution.

The biggest problem I see is there’s often a lack of clarity of what success looks like and in that article you mentioned, I talk about goal clarity and role clarity, and they’re huge. Man, go back to the 1970s and then the eighties with GE when they were pushing really hard to be a number one or number two in their industries and one of the things that they drove, part of the secret of their success back then, was to make sure people had goal clarity and role clarity.

The result is, if you make it really clear what success looks like and bring people into alignment so they all have the same goal, they’re all pursuing the same definition of success, it’s amazing how people naturally just clean up in their efforts.

The same thing then comes right down with role clarity. If you know what the goal is, and everybody is doing their job and not undoing somebody else’s job or redoing somebody else’s job, it changes the entire execution. So all of those elements are contingent upon great decision-making.

Unfortunately, A, we don’t provide that clarity so people wind up making their own information up as they go and that affects decision-making in the moment. And B, we have a tendency to inject a lot of bias in how we think, so if we don’t have that information, we don’t have that clarity, then you wind up seeing leaders actually stumble over each other.

Well-intentioned, wonderful human beings are literally causing conflict in their own organizations and it’s really true. It’s really true in sales enablement. So when I think about how poor decision-making impacts an organization, I have to think about how great decision-making impacts an organization.

That’s where I would say, what can you do as a sales enablement professional to both surface that idea, bring it into the discussion and say, okay, how can we make sure that we’ve got clarity? Because if you’re asking the question, what does success look like? You can go one step further and say, what’s the outcome you’re looking for? What are the metrics we’re going to apply? And what are the requirements you’re expecting as a sponsor of this initiative that we should all know?

I’m amazed at how often those three questions get, well, I won’t say blank stares, but you will get senior leaders and senior executives going, that’s a great question, I haven’t thought that through.

So it cleans up dramatically, not only your alignment with your executive sponsor, but all of a sudden when that is stated and then shared, everybody starts moving in the same direction without even telling people they need to make better decisions, they’re going to.

SS: I love that and I think that leads into the next question. I’d love some advice for our audience. What are some things that leaders, from your perspective, can do to make better, more impactful decisions?

TO: Well, that whole definition of success conversation is critical, I start there. Actually, I’ll start with who’s the sponsor and what’s their definition of success?

People often say it’s got to be better and I go, well, so that’s not very specific, walk me through the outcome that they’re really looking for and how we’re going to measure it. If people have that answer, fantastic, we aligned very quickly. If they don’t, then it becomes a door opener. Should we go talk to that person now and ask them directly? Or can you do that?

It’s always better, of course, to go there with that person, but it’s not always possible. But when you get that clarity, one of the things I’ll ask is, especially if I’m talking to the leader directly, I’ll ask him or her I’ll say, “Hey, are you saying that if we achieve this outcome, we measure it this way, and we meet the requirements that you just stated, and I’ll list them out, you promise you won’t complain about anything else?”

That last question it’s incredibly crystallizing because if a leader is spot-on then they go, “Nope,” and that’s exactly what I want. Fantastic, we’re ready to run. But if they have that intake of air, they go, “Oh let me think for a second,” it completely changes the entire dialogue and goes one click deeper and you really make sure you’re getting those spoken and unspoken things figured out.

But the key here is that you’re having that leader say something that they may have only said in their head. If you can really master that conversation, all the other things that are in your toolkit open up. If you take away that conversation, all the other tools in your toolkit become an extra weight to carry.

SS: Now you alluded to data earlier in your response and you also wrote an article on how to make data meaningful. I’d love to learn from you, how can sales enablement leverage data to make better decisions and what is the impact of doing so?

TO: Sure. So in that article, I talked about how a lot of times we over-rotate into our pipeline data and my experience, actually what we do at Workday and what we teach our leaders as an expectation, even we’re changing how we run our QBRs, lead with the people data first. Your people data are driving what you’re seeing on your pipeline data.

So if you have great results, or you have horrible results, or you have in-between results, at least 80% of the time, that’s going to be driven by people’s gaps or people’s strengths. So when I talk about people data, I’m looking at the classic stuff like, do we even have people enrolled? So in some places, especially right now with a great resignation, there is a lot of open headcounts and at the same time, we’re calling it the great swap, because there are some people leaving, but there are people coming in.

We have this nether space to fill, but at the same time, it’s going deeper. So people data for us is around the capabilities of the individual players, not just AEs, but also the sales leaders themselves. So we have two different frameworks and that people data tells us that if people struggle, for example with account planning, we have correlational data from our analysis that says, “Hey, that’s going to affect your win rate.” Or we have a gap in deal size, or we see some groups are doing better than others. We can go into the people data and see which capabilities are driving win rate and which capabilities are driving deal size and get very specific by market.

We can then tie into how we do things with other leaders, like around recruiting or even promotion and saying, “You want to copy your best performers? Then use this people data to drive those sales results.

From this, we’re literally seeing regions around the globe turn around their performance by leveraging people data before their pipe data and that’s the game-changer. Unfortunately, if you only focus on pipe first and maybe people data comes later, or if people data comes at all, you want to play whack-a-mole. How do we increase our win rate? How do we get deals? How do we get better velocity? How do we get all of those different things, better presentation rates, et cetera? It’s just whack-a-mole and you’re going to constantly be chasing after KPI busting instead of actually driving a true revenue engine.

SS: Absolutely. I love the whack-a-mole analogy. I was playing that with my son yesterday.

TO: Hey folks, if you’re laughing at whack-a-mole or more important, or you’re living in whack-a-mole, trust me, we all are.

SS: No, I love that. Now you mentioned this earlier and you also actually wrote an article on this, which we’ll share with our audience later, that when functions within an organization compete with each other, that time and resources are just completely wasted. So how can sales enablement gain internal alignment to kind of help increase that efficiency and maximize business impact across the organization by creating a sense of collaboration?

TO: So that’s a huge topic, right? So let’s back up. We open with, how do we really drive a great business? With decision-making and one of the most important decisions you can make is how you prioritize. I go so far as to say, prioritization is the Achilles’ heel of strategy. You can have a great strategy, I mean, a phenomenal strategy, and you can have really smart people, really highly collaborative inputs, but when it comes to execution if you don’t prioritize appropriately, what’s going to happen is either, A, everything is a priority therefore for nothing is, and or, B, resources will be used in the wrong way.

So because you didn’t prioritize accordingly, you don’t have the resources you need when you’re in the middle of execution. That is what I’m talking about when I see functions competing with each other, whether it’s marketing and sales, or business development, or enablement, and field sales ops, and corporate sales ops and all these other groups because everybody is trying to help.

Let’s just pause and recognize that nobody’s trying to break this thing. Everybody’s trying to help, but if we don’t prioritize together and really create a unified roadmap then we’re going to struggle to execute. That is when you start getting into how to get a much tighter, shorter list of focused objectives? Then we put everything we have behind the shorter, tighter list. That’s really the key here.

SS: Absolutely. Now I want to close on a question, because from my perspective and I’d be willing to bet you agree with me Tim, I do believe that sales enablement is a significantly strategic arm of the business within any organization and in particular, I think that they are uniquely positioned to help the executive team set the strategy within the business.

I want to kind of tie that back into the topic at hand. How, from your perspective, is enablement uniquely positioned to help executive leaders in their decision-making? As an enablement leader, what are some of your best practices for bringing insights to the leadership team to help inform their strategy?

TO: Wow. So this could be its own podcast by itself. It’s really big. It’s a big thing because if you don’t position yourself as a true business partner with your business leaders, you’re going to lose your credibility and credibility is our currency. It’s true in sales and it’s very true in enablement.

If you don’t have credibility, you’ve got no resources, so to speak, to be able to leverage when it comes to making a difference in the business. I want to be very clear on what I say, so I’ve got three points for this question.

The first one is, start with understanding is the request from the business or the need for the business to transform or optimize? Because if you’re putting a lot of your time and energy behind optimizing things, when the real need is to transform, you’re going to lose your credibility. Then you’ll be given what I’ll call the tactical projects and everybody’s got onboarding, we all get that, but you may be just onboarding. That may be all you get to do because just make it better, just fix it, just to keep it going.

If you really need to understand how to position yourself differently, that is a whole other discussion. But, start with understanding is the need to transform or is the need to optimize? Transformation, I always challenge or I press and lean in on the conversation, so I’ll go, “So how much disruption are you asking me to generate? Because if you’re not going to give me permission to disrupt, I cannot transform. Or if you want me to optimize, then I get the goal of optimization is to minimize or reduce disruption,” and have that discussion as well.

That’s first and foremost because that sets your strategy and unfortunately, sometimes you get in a case where you get transformation overload. Everything has changed and you just need to stop and pause and say, “Look, leaders, stakeholders, everyone. Let’s calm down for a minute. Let’s pull the firehose back. Can we go spend some time, maybe a quarter, maybe a year on just reinforcing what we’ve already transformed and just optimize it? One of our leaders talks about extra coats of paint. Can we just get extra coats of paints on this thing and even just give it time to dry? If you do that, just by that alone, you’re going to position yourself as a huge business advisor to the leaders that you’re serving.

Secondly then, is to focus on manager enablement. The number one enablement you can give any AE is a great manager and that is beyond salespeople. Invest in leadership development and invest in manager enablement. The way I kind of test how we’re doing overall as an industry is, how many individual seller podcasts are out there versus how many sales leader podcasts are out there?

There are a few really good ones. One of my favorites I’ll give a shout-out to is Mike Weinberg, just as a person, he gets this, but generally speaking, there is a constant appetite for leaders to find stuff and they have to often go outside of sales leadership and get into generic leadership, where there is a gap in how we provide manager enablement.

But, if you can be that gap, if you could bring in your own leaders, do your own internal podcasts, that’d be huge. But it’s beyond podcasts, it’s really about getting involved and helping people grow and develop into the best version of themselves as a senior leader and not as an individual contributor.

Lastly, that gets right into this third point of are you trying to fix the system, or are you trying to fix the function? Not everybody has this mandate though, so I want to be careful here with this last one because this is a little bit of playing with fire. But, our reality is that our customers need us to show up in the most coordinated way possible and that means we need to think like systems thinkers, not just function thinkers. It’s not just about helping sales, it’s about helping the sales experience and more importantly, that customer experience and designing backward.

I love the way that we’re starting to talk now about the customer journey and that broader, bigger perspective of how do we design backward from that customer’s experience, from the very beginning and all the way through to renewal?

We need to be thinking around that whole system because it’s the content, it’s the technology and tools, it’s the behaviors, and it’s the coordination of all those things that come together. If you really, really, really want to change your game as an enablement pro, go there.

SS: I love that, Tim. Thank you so much for taking the time out to join our podcast and provide this advice to our audience. I really appreciate the time, Tim. Thank you.

TO: My genuine pleasure.

SS: To our audience, thanks for listening. For more insights, tips, and expertise from sales enablement leaders, visit salesenablement.pro. If there’s something you’d like to share or a topic you’d like to learn more about, please let us know. We’d love to hear from you.

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