Traditional ideas about sustainment are often incomplete. They miss the crucial idea that true sustainment means constant improvement. Without regular improvement, sales professionals stand still while the competition moves forward.

Once established, sustainment incites growth within the individual and the organization by emphasizing the long game and boosting the resolve to perform and, ultimately, win.

Fostering an Emphasis on the Long Game

Long-term growth is too burdensome to be supported by the leadership alone. Everyone must participate. Employees must have a sense of responsibility for their achievements, and creating this responsibility starts with forming individual identity. Identity emerges when employees see themselves as valued. They no longer see themselves as a person responsible for executing instructions; instead, they see themselves as in control of their success. This ownership encourages them to develop alongside the company rather than being a replaceable part.

Leaders can incite ownership by expressing trust in employees. In fact, research from the Journal of Business Ethics shows that simple acts like being receptive to advice, delegating important tasks, offering public support and encouraging creativity yield respect — and respect leads to growth.

Boosting Employee Resolve

Success is the ultimate motivator. A sustainment strategy provides that success, which, in turn, drives sales professionals to reach further. As each team member learns to retain skills, he or she develops a repeatable performance that yields incremental gains.

Building a work environment around this concept is a competitive advantage for organizations. Research from Gallup indicates that only 30% of employees “strongly agree that their manager involves them in goal setting.” Moreover, just 19% of respondents “strongly agree that they talked to their manager about steps to reach their goals.” Simply put, “only one in two employees clearly know what is expected of them when they go to work every day.”

Sustainment is valuable because it provides a routine in which these critical but often ignored conversations can unfold. The result is a more purposeful environment where employees believe their work has meaning. As employees become more achievement-oriented, they become more receptive to continued skill adoption, because they know that each new skill they learn brings them closer to an outcome that rewards them emotionally and financially.

Sustainment is elusive. Shifting priorities and everyday challenges distract salespeople from the constant attention required to sustain new skills. Consistency is difficult in an evolving business environment where seemingly urgent, unexpected needs surface daily. Leaders need to think about sustainment differently, because true sustainment is not just about maintaining skills — it’s about sustaining continuous improvement. If you’re thinking about sustainment as protecting the status quo, you’re thinking about it wrong.

Sustained improvement offers considerable benefits. A study published in the Harvard Business Review found that employees who exhibit a combination of vitality and learning (who sustain skills) demonstrate a 16% increase in overall performance as reported by their managers and report 125% less burnout than their peers. What makes sustainment so powerful is that it serves as a basis for what the researchers behind the study identify as “thriving.”

They explain, “We think of a thriving workforce as one in which employees are not just satisfied and productive but also engaged in creating the future — the company’s and their own.” The researchers also discovered that a primary component of thriving is learning, because “people who are developing their abilities are likely to believe in their potential for further growth.”

This growth is a characteristic result of a sustainment strategy.