Achieving mastery

18th December 2018 |   Journal Of Sales Transformation

Participating in a Masters programme is a significant commitment. We asked two leaders about their journey.

“Not all readers are leaders, but all leaders are readers”

Stephen Gaskell is Director E-Commerce, Retail & Distribution at SONY Mobile. A member of SONY’s leadership programme, he has been on a journey of transformation in establishing his business unit within SONY Mobile. He completed his MSc in Sales Transformation at the end 2016.

Stephen Gaskell is Director E-Commerce, Retail & Distribution at SONY Mobile

From The Challenger Sale to Machiavelli, participants in the sales transformation Masters programmes have the opportunity to explore a wide range of reading material specific not only to sales but also honing their broader leadership skills. For Steve Gaskell this fits neatly with the philosophy espoused by US President Harry S Truman: “Not all readers are leaders, but all leaders are readers.”

With experience as a buyer and also in sales leadership – seeing two sides of the same coin -– he has a privileged insight into how deals are struck. “This gives you a real understanding of mindset, I suppose, as to how to approach what the expectations are and what the agenda is likely to be. And clearly, people have got different agendas, depending on which role you’re in, so you become very trusted in understanding that you know people’s pressure points and how to work with that and how to provide added value.”

What then can the Masters programme add to this favoured position? “I undertook this programme with great consideration. It’s very demanding but extremely rewarding, so you’re seeing the results in a greater depth and breadth of strategic thinking, business problems, sales, customers – all of which have surpassed my expectations.”

Take the leap

Gaskell’s recommendation is to take the leap understanding that there will be a heavy workload, but as soon you embrace the Masters, there is a built-in support network, with face-to-face meetings as a group, every two to three months. Then there’s the distance learning, following up with telephone conversations. Importantly, the progression of the modules starts to settle you into the work stream as the tempo picks up. “It’s a nice rhythm to get you used to the workload and build you to the crescendo of a dissertation and a project.”

Moreover, the actual course content provides coping mechanism for participants along the way. Gaskell highlights The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey. “This is about ruthless prioritisation. And when you’re reading about ruthless prioritisation, it’s obviously refining your own time and critical path management in how you deliver. So, all the books are very informative of how to manage your personal toolkit as well as develop your strategic toolkit.”

Top tip: Handling the workload

“I was very ruthless in knowing that, if there is this big workload, I’m going to create a project that’s going to be the basis of my personal development – it’s going to be part of my job role. So my Masters project was called ‘Navigating leadership within Sony Mobile to create a global distribution and retail business unit’. That is my team, that is my vision, that is, effectively, my personal development internally within Sony Mobile for the next 18 months to two years. The Masters, therefore, becomes a document to support that, so a) it gives me a qualification, but b) supports my personal development within Sony and supports me getting to the next level.”

Prioritising time for thinking and reflection

So you need to prioritise time for thinking and reflection? “Yes, and it’s the quality of the time. When you read books like this, you figure, actually, we’re all very busy – I’ve got ten projects in my in-tray. You know what? I need to drop nine of them if I’m really going to make something impactful to this business, I need to be much more focused and what does that mean? That means I’ve got to say no to a lot more projects than I currently am.”

Opportunities for employers and participants

What are the opportunities for employers? Gaskell stresses the importance of the Masters qualification as a recognition and development scheme for employers – “to understand that if you want the world’s best sales team, getting the accreditation for it, you clearly have that opportunity now which you didn’t have before.” So you would be looking for some kind of formal accreditation for salespeople these days? “Yes, 100%.”

Gaskell positions the Masters as being suitable for senior managers, heads of departments, directors, and senior commercial roles looking for the next step. Importantly, the programme carries the same academic weight as an MBA. “I would argue that both are as important as each other; it depends on the individual,” he concludes.

Masters provides validation and enhances career choices

Simon Dale is Head of Sales at MapR, a pre-IPO fast-growth software company in the big data space, running the APAC region and a sales team in seven countries. He completed his Masters in January 2016 while at SAP, where he spent 16 years setting up multiple new businesses in the APAC region as part of the regional management team.

Simon Dale is Head of Sales at MapR

For Simon Dale, the decision to accept the challenge of completing a Masters degree with Middlesex University and Consalia has had a significant impact on his life and career but “all very positive outcomes”.

A major benefit has been the validation that the degree has provided.

“Overall, it was totally positive, beneficial – I’m very glad I did it,” he enthuses. Nevertheless, there were choices to be made including how to fit the course into the busy schedule of a senior exec. He found the balance by putting family and career first. “Myself, my hobbies, my friendships, and other distractions came secondary to all of that. So I designed my timing and my schedule around that as an anchor point. And I negotiated with my family to say, ‘Look, some weekends, I’m going to have to study or work, as there’ll be deadlines to meet.’”

It sounds tough, so why did he do it? “I was actually looking for a higher level of education, because when I started the Masters it had been 25 years since I graduated with my Bachelor’s degree – so I thought it was about time I did something. So I was engaged with learning and I was just looking for the right thing.”

And what has the balance been in the end? “I would say definitely it’s positive return.” A major benefit has been the validation that the degree has provided for all the experience and expertise he has accumulated down the years. “It certainly gave me a lot more confidence in my ability to know that some of the knowledge or practice that I had was actually good.

“Then, of course, there’s the new knowledge that I acquired which complemented that and then gave me more confidence to express an opinion, or apply things knowing that they should have the right kind of impact. So I think what it did overall was to lift my game.

Top tips: How to manage your time

  1. Budget for at least a full day spread across a week in terms of reading, studying, writing and reflection.
  2. Also make sure you absolutely schedule and participate in the action-learning sets and not just log on and do your email.
  3. You need to be able to create those quiet zones
    away from work, away from family, where you can spend two or three hours consolidating desk-bound research, writing about it, and getting ahead of the deadlines.

“Because I studied stakeholder engagement on my Masters, and particularly in my final project, that’s had a big impact on the way that I engaged upwards in my business. It taught me the importance of an upwards dimension whereas I’d been concentrating on making sure that I was managing things well and not disturbing management, which meant that I had a blind spot when it came to people recognising the impact of what I did. So I learned that on that stakeholder and engagement area, I should improve in that and I did, and then it made a big impact on the future career prospects.”

In conclusion, Dale summarises: The whole transformation element of the core content on the Masters is very relevant in the kind of role I have now, because most businesses are being disrupted and change is being imposed, so you have to be able to manage transformation.”