Erik Swensson of Eden Prairie, Minn.-based Zinpro Performance Minerals is on the road at least three days a week, covering ground from Texas to Maine, to help his six salespeople grow their business.
Business is indeed growing, and as the year draws to a close Swensson is not only reflecting on great sales figures, but on a year of dramatic improvements in him and consequently the entire East Region sales team, to which he credits his Minnesota Management Institute (MMI) education.
"I've only been a manager for three years, and the other two regional managers have advanced management educations, one went to the Carlson Minnesota Executive Program and the other has an MBA, so I sometimes felt a tad behind," says Swensson, eastern region sales manager for Zinpro, the leading manufacturer of livestock dietary mineral products.
"Going to MMI definitely helped increase my confidence and it helped my sales force because they saw that I was committed to improving."
Since completing the MMI program in Spring 2011, Swensson has been successfully applying his newfound knowledge with a focus on improving his company's strategy as well as his management approach.
Moving forward, strategically
"I didn't have a lot of strategy expertise, and with our company growing I knew that I needed to be able to see the big picture," he says. "I liked the way the MMI instructor approached it: strategy has to constantly be reexamined, it has to be relevant and implemented well. You can't just go through the steps that worked before; you always have to ask what we could do better."
Inspired by the program's strategy session, Swensson took it upon himself to coordinate quarterly meetings with his regional manager peers where all they discuss is Zinpro's challenges and how to strategically overcome them.
"That's been unbelievable for me," he says of the meetings. "What MMI taught me was when you get in a room and talk about things it's amazing what can come out of those conversations. From these meetings we've been able to think of new ideas and move forward with them because we're all on the same page with where we want to go."
Renewed management style
Prior to MMI he admits that he was following his predecessor's management model because that's what he thought his sales team wanted. That has all changed now. Taking cues from the program, Swensson created a more effective improvement process and adopted a management style that he's found to be enlightening and empowering for all involved.
"I really liked the 360 performance review process taught in MMI. Previously, my reviews had been pretty generic. Doing the 360 with my employees was a totally different angle than I've taken before," says Swensson.
"It's not only a review of the employee, but it asks things like, how should I keep on enhancing my leadership effectiveness? I never thought about asking my sales team about my performance. And they had great suggestions, some of which I hadn't thought about. They've seen the changes and my agenda is in a totally different direction than what we've done in the past."
To better guide his sales team, Swensson started coaching rather than outright giving direction. The approach has given his team more freedom to guide themselves.
"That was initially a struggle for me early in this position. I had never coached nor had I been coached, and the impression I had of coaching was, if you're lost at what you're doing, get some coaching," Swensson says. "But what I loved about what I learned in MMI was that coaching is more of letting people just talk about an idea or issue, not telling them what to do, and letting them make the decision. That's a lot more fun. It's much more positive and my sales teams are very receptive to that."
To this day, Swensson keeps his MMI materials by his side for quick reference and is always looking for opportunities to incorporate new techniques he learned from the program. "It's been a gradual approach, but what I have done this year has resulted in positive changes for me, my company, and my sales team," he says. "Like I said, before MMI I always felt a little behind, but this year I got caught up."
To learn more about MMI, visit the Minnesota Management Institute website.