Episode 195: Crystal Thompson on Leading Transformation Across People, Process, and Tools

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Shawnna Sumaoang: Hi and welcome to the Sales Enablement PRO podcast, I’m 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 Crystal Thompson from AmerisourceBergen join us. Crystal, I would love for you to introduce yourself, your role, and your organization to our audience.

Crystal Thompson: Hi, Shawnna, thank you for having me. I’m very excited to be here and have this discussion. As you said, I’m Crystal Thompson. I’m Senior Vice President of Business Enablement for AmerisourceBergen. AB is a leading global health care company with a foundation and pharmaceutical distribution and solutions for manufacturers, pharmacies and providers, and we have over 42,000 team members around the globe.

In my role as SVP of Business Enablement, the functions have varied since I have been in the role in 2018 to include sales operations and enablement, fleet management, commercial learning and development, which includes the training of sales teams along with distribution center team members, customer operations and enterprise data and analytics. The team also supports Salesforce knowledge management. Lastly, we provide project management support for various initiatives, and right now, we’re having an increased emphasis on supporting strategic transformation programs. Personally, I’m a native of Kansas City, Missouri, and I currently live in Philadelphia with my fiancé.

SS: Well, Crystal, we are excited to have you here, and you certainly cover a breadth of responsibilities at AB. You lead the team that really drives the go-to-market transformation initiatives as you concluded in your intro. From your perspective, I’d love to understand, how is enablement uniquely positioned to lead transformation efforts for the business?

CT: Sure. One of the things I talk to my team about all the time is what is our superpower? Our superpower is that we are that connection point between the various business functions. AmerisourceBergen is a complex, large matrix organization, and because we sit in the center of sales, distribution, customer service, and others, we can see that intersection or potential collisions that others might not see. To take advantage of that superpower, what makes us special, we have to eliminate silos within our own team, creating opportunities to share information with the teams we support. Ultimately, that’s what enablement is, it’s making the teams we support successful.

SS: I love that you think about it in terms of superpowers. It really does take quite a tremendous effort. What are some of the key elements of a successful transformation strategy?

CT: Sure, Shawnna. I can think of three elements that really stand out to me. Of course, there are a lot more, but the three that come top of mind. One is alignment of the vision, two, solid decision making, and three, an inclusive environment, and I’ll explain a little bit about what I mean by each of those.

First, having alignment on the vision, we need everyone to be on the same page with the desired outcomes. The details and the how will be unclear initially, and that is some of the ambiguity that needs to be resolved with any transformation. However, everyone needs to be aligned on that same North Star and understand the vision. When I say solid decision-making, I think of that also in threes, that it’s fact-based, swift, and defined decision rights. Striking that balance between having the right amount of information to make an informed decision, but not finding yourself in analysis paralysis. It also means you are delegating decisions where appropriate. If you have senior leaders that don’t allow the people closest to the work to have input and make decisions where appropriate, you find that decisions are made without a full understanding of all the downstream implications and that can be tragic.

Then when I say creating and fostering an inclusive culture, a culture where everyone is allowed to speak, a culture where dissenting voices are not only allowed but encouraged. If we’re in the midst of a real transformation and everyone around the table always agrees and nods their head, yes, you should look out. You have trouble. That means there are voices that aren’t being heard, and if you’re not hearing those voices, you’re not getting all of the value from your team members.

SS: I think those are really phenomenal points. What are some of the biggest challenges that you’ve experienced leading transformation projects and how have you worked to overcome some of those challenges?

CT: It’s interesting. I think of it in the context of the three areas that I mentioned. There wasn’t alignment on the vision, decision-making took literally years, and it wasn’t clear who could make decisions. I’ve been in projects where I was personally afraid to speak up because I knew those in leadership positions weren’t opening to listening. When you ask, how do you overcome, you really don’t. When we talk about projects that are late, over budget, people are drained, that’s a recipe for disaster. It’s really about making sure that you have a solid foundation to lead a successful transformation. Without that foundation, you’re really setting yourself up and really putting yourself in a hole that you can’t recover from.

SS: You had mentioned you have expertise in implementing solutions across people, process, and technology. What role do each of these play in driving transformation projects and how do you balance each as you build your strategy?

CT: As I think about the balance, I think about some of those hard lessons that I’ve learned throughout my career. An example was I was involved in a transformation initiative that was viewed as a technology project. This technology project was bringing multiple sales teams into the same CRM. OK, technology is a large component of it, but because it was seen as a technology program, we didn’t map the converging business processes, we didn’t validate the readiness of the sales teams, we didn’t validate the readiness of the supporting operational teams, we didn’t train on business process, and it was a failure. The bottom line is a true transformation has both people process and technology that all have to work together. They all have to be blended to make sure that we have careful consideration of all three.

SS: Now, transformation initiatives rely very heavily on behavior change as well. How do you gain buy-in across the teams that you support to really motivate them to change?

CT: There’s no single answer to motivating teams around change. I would say the first step is listening and understanding the dynamics of the environment and the people you’re working with. Meeting people where they are is such an important component when you’re asking people to change. For some teams, they’re experiencing pain points from older technology or inefficient processes, so they might be motivated by understanding how this change will streamline their day-to-day activity. Some teams are customer-facing and in the field, so they might be driven by real-time access to information or how a change will provide them with customer insights. Other teams might be driven by innovation and the ability to be next-minded. I think it’s really understanding where a team is, then you can develop tactics to help support them through change. I would say this is another area where I will highlight inclusion. Involving change agents from the impacted teams is critical. The more people feel heard and engaged, the more likely they are to accept the change.

SS: I agree completely. Now, a closing question for you, Crystal. How can practitioners measure behavior change and then really correlate that back to the impact of their programs?

CT: Now, this is one of the more challenging areas that I’ve seen in terms of measurement around behavior change because there tend to be so many factors involved. If we say we’re implementing an initiative to increase revenue, how do we tie that initiative or project to revenue when there are so many factors that might impact that? What I would say that I’ve seen be successful is breaking measurement down into behaviors that are truly measurable. If we believe implementing a CRM will drive increased revenue, then measure CRM usage and we should start to see that increase over time and then be able to tie that to revenue. Measuring where knowledge management articles are being used pre and post-learning intervention. We should see after a learning intervention that people don’t need to rely on knowledge management as much. Measuring days until a new sales team member meets the criteria to go out into the field. For me, it’s really about breaking down those actual behaviors into tactics that can be measured, but it’s definitely a challenge.

SS: Absolutely. Well, Crystal, I really appreciate your time today and all of the amazing advice that you provided on transformation initiatives here during this podcast session.

CT: My pleasure. Happy to be here.

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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