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Problem statements…

I’ve written recently about the large amount of change we are going through at my company.  And even though sales professionals are in the business of selling change, we tend to be quite change adverse ourselves.

During times of change, followers often make “problem statements” (aka protests, complaints, bitches) to our leaders, yes?  And during our period of change I’ve observed one of my colleagues consistently making such problem statements to the boss.  In turn, the boss has been quite consistent – he puts the problem back in my colleague’s court and asks him to come up with a solution.

It’s not that the boss is above input (or criticism) on his game plan for the team; just the opposite in my opinion.  You see, my boss is stellar at setting our strategic course based on the company’s priorities; hiring skilled, experienced people for his team; and empowering us to get the job done.  We are nicely compensated for our contributions, too – just like those that implemented dramatic changes in the United States steel industry:

“We have the hardest working steel workers in the world”, said one Nucor executive.  “We hire five, work them like ten, and pay them like eight.” 

Jim Collins

However, “getting the job done” at our company isn’t easy – I bet that holds true at your company too.  And on more than a few occasions, my colleague will make a “problem statement” seeking to throw the issue over the fence into my boss’ yard.  He doesn’t like the boomeranged result.

The reality is solving these problems (aka issues, concerns, difficulties) is the reason he hired us to begin with.  He’s very skilled at anticipating our problem statements:

The boss always scheduled the weekly staff meeting for 4:30 on Fridays.  When one of the employees finally got up the nerve to ask why, she explained; “I’ll tell you why – I’ve learned that’s the only time when none of you seem to want to argue with me.” 

Unknown Sage

So I get it – don’t expect to throw the problems of getting my job done over the fence and expect my boss to handle them.  Those problems (aka challenges, complexities, trials and tribulations) are the reason why he hired me in the first place.

And I’ve been around the block enough to understand the realities of team member complaints (aka grievances, grumbles, moans):

Zimmerman’s Law of Complaints

Nobody notices when things go right.

I may have an advantage as compared to my colleague (to be fair though, I’m not totally knowledgeable about his background before joining our team).  But I’ve been the boss before. During that time, I attempted to follow the teachings of great business leaders such as Alfred P. Sloan who led General Motors to the powerhouse of his industry during his time:

The job of a professional manager is not to like people.  And whether one approves of people or of the way they do their work, their performance is the only thing that counts and indeed the only thing that the professional manager is permitted to pay attention to.

I know my colleague doesn’t like it when he hits the boss with problem statements and doesn’t get whatever burden lifted off of his shoulders.  It’s not a “like” thing to begin with.  The boss is simply demonstrating faith in my colleague’s ability to perform.

The good news (aka happiness, silver lining, positive side)?  Like Nucor, we are all quite capable of the meeting the high performance he expects.

GAP

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Assessed to the max…

I know there is one, popular narrative in the workforce today, “My manager/company doesn’t care about me.”  It’s one of those mind sets that typically feeds bad attitudes, bad performances, and ultimately employee turnover.

In my case… under the banner, “careful what you ask for”… I have recently experienced the opposite end of the spectrum.  Before going into the details, permit me to say it has been a very positive experience (I think?).

Starting with our Human Resources Department, my Manager completed my quarterly performance review.  It was a mix of “Exceeds Expectations” coupled with “Outstandingly Awesome” ratings.  Nice start!

Next, the leader of our functional area is making a big commitment to the professional development her staff.  And she is an active participant:

If you’re in a leadership position, how you spend your time has enormous symbolic value.  It will communicate what’s important or what isn’t far more powerfully than all the speeches you can give.  Strategic change doesn’t just start at the top.  It starts with your calendar.

Andy Grove

Her calendar started with launching an internal book club, and the first book we read was The Challenger Sale ©.  On a team call, each person was asked what profile detailed in the book we aligned with.  I stated I aligned with the “Lone Wolf” – and noticed no one on my team disagreed.  I wasn’t sure if that was good or bad.

We moved on to reading and discussing The Challenger Customer ©.  Again, there was an opportunity to align with the buyer personas described in the book; I aligned with the Skeptic.  Hmmm, is there a pattern developing here?

She then scheduled each of us to complete a DISC© assessment (which I’m sure we will discuss in an upcoming team gathering).  And wouldn’t you know that the Lone Wolf, Skeptic performing at an Exceeding Expectations/Outstandingly Awesome level profiled out as a “C” – Conscientious?

Our next assignment was reading Networking on UBER Steroids: How to master a more powerful way to network © with an emphasis on how we can better leverage our personal brand.  Ahh – the personal brand thing.  How others perceive us and all that.  Quite a challenging “ask” for this Lone Wolf, Skeptic, Conscientious, socially shy type.  Like others, I don’t always “play nice” in my company’s sand box:

Stanley Gault CEO of Rubbermaid:

He responds to the accusation of being a tyrant with the statement, “Yes, but I’m a sincere tyrant.”

However, my Conscientious profile pressed me to improve my “Elevator Pitch” for better networking.

We were then assigned the book Emotional Intelligence 2.0® which begins by having the reader take an emotional IQ assessment – what a surprise!  My score of 74 meant… well, I could use a little work.  Actually, I was strong in the Self-Awareness and Self-Management quadrants.  Hooray for the Conscientious, Skeptic!  But in the Social Awareness and Relationship Management quadrants?  Do those apply to Lone Wolves?

Then I read the detailed report.  It occurred to me that since I took this assessment so close to the DISC© assessment, I may have been overly conscientious in answering some of the questions resulting in a weaker score than I probably deserve.  Skeptically speaking that is.  Leading me to ponder whether I should even care – Lone Wolves rock!

Well, I certainly can’t say my Manager/Company has been ignoring me.  With the book club combined with a battery of assessments, and social/team interactions, I think I’m going to schedule a colonoscopy and finish the job.

GAP

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Historical leadership…

One of my favorite hobbies is reading about the leadership displayed by historical leaders during times of crisis as documented in the writings of American history.  It is amazing to learn about the stress that those events, coupled with the expectations followers, had on leaders.

How did those leaders do it?  Could you (or me) rise to the occasion the way they did?  What does one do, when there is no “opt out” option?  What does it take to be that type of leader?  Is it some sort of innate ability; learned; trained for?

Of course, there are many examples where leadership has been summarized in a simple synopsis.  Take the Civil War – a heightened time of crisis in American history.  On the bloodiest of battlefields in American history, great generals rose to the occasion and in so doing are remembered, albeit for what in retrospect seems to have just been good judgment:

Grant knew from Sherman’s telegram that a crucial lesson had been learned at Collierville, that an army commander should know just where he was going, long before he actually arrived there. 

Jeff Shaara

Know where you are going – seems so simple today.  But during times of crisis leadership can become anything but simple.  In Civil War times, navigating terrain was a huge obstacle.  No GPS; a few crude, hand-drawn maps; directions only available from local civilians – and we all know what hazards that can bring:

Winfield’s Dictum of Direction-Giving:

The possibility of getting lost is directly proportional to the number of times the direction-giver says, “You can’t miss it.”  

Unknown Sage

In today’s world, Google Earth enables anyone with an Internet connection to view the landscape with ultimate clarity.  Navigating business circumstances?  There’s no Google app for that.

Take my company.  We’re in the process of being acquired – maybe.  I say maybe, because surprisingly our leaders have vanished.  When the initial announcement was made public, there was a company-wide web meeting and the leaders informed the followers it was merely business as usual.  That was it then; and that has been it ever since.  No updates; no further employee communications; no status; nothing.  Not very comforting.

It could be that they really don’t have any updated information that can be disclosed yet.  As a publicly traded company, there are SEC rules and regulations that apply when a company is “in play”.  However, in absence of leadership communications followers will dream up their own narratives.  And in a vacuum, such narratives tend to drift towards worst case scenarios, true?

Speaking for myself only (as if there was another option), this event could be good news or it could be bad news for my continued employment at my (new) company.  But if my leaders asked, I would tell them I can handle it (as if there was a choice):

One can either face reality at the outset or one can disseminate the bad news on the installment plan. 

Norman Augustine

So when I read and reflect on historical leaders and how they led their followers, one common theme emerges – they kept their people informed:

The key to being a successful skipper is to see the ship through the eyes of the crew. 

D. Michael Abrashoff

I wonder if our leaders today invest any time learning from historical leadership.  Perhaps they believe their view of the ship is the only view of the ship and the right view of the ship and their followers on the ship should just get over it.

GAP

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It’s a duck…

Managing people can be a challenging; rewarding; and sometimes messy business, true?  For all the talk about employee engagement, front line “supervision” seems to remain a consistent phenomenon in our business world.  Are employees just incorrigible?

As one IT Professional put it; “We’ve been reorganized, restructured, re-engineered, right-sized, down-sized, up-sized, TQM’ed, and MBO’ed, and if I hear the word empowered once more, I swear I’m gonna scream!” 

Geoffrey James

What happens to us when we get promoted to a manager?

Man-a-ger (man-i-gir) n 1. Coach, Teacher, instructor, Leader 2. Mr. Know-It-All, Ego with Legs 3. One who has or will have an ulcer 4. One who apologizes to subordinates for the stupid actions of superiors 5. One who apologizes to superiors for the actions of subordinates.

What’s the key to being a successful manager?  Hall of Fame baseball manager Casey Stengel had this philosophy:

The secret of managing is to keep the guys who hate you away from the guys who are undecided.

With all the animosity and bad jokes about management, many of us still seek that big promotion, don’t we?  In some companies (mine included) a sort of artificial environment is created where employees adopt the feeling:

If I’m not moving up; I must be moving down.

My friend and former colleague, Adam, had this affliction.  Truth be told, I’ve suffered from it myself.

Experienced; skilled; articulate; professional; I can’t say enough about Adam’s talents.  And I think I know the cause of his “moving down” affliction.  We were observing other, less talented colleagues at our company get promoted into front line sales manager roles.

We see it all the time, don’t we?  Those that can do; while those that can’t perfect the internal politic of wooing their boss to promote them.  I was so afflicted early in my career that when two of my best friends were promoted, I could not share the joy of their success.  Nope, in my mind I was “moving down”.  I needlessly quit a great job because of it.

So when Adam caught that bug, I knew the early warning signs.  I tried to offer a little “elderly wisdom” to no avail.  He was going to take a promotion into a bad job come hell or high water.  Which would it be you ask?  Hell or high water?  Well, if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck…

Sure enough, within 10 months of total emersion into his managerial assignment; facing  innumerable obstacles; receiving little support from his superiors; the man who promoted him to begin with called one day.  When needing to deliver bad news, managers often “tip their hand”, hoping to soften the blow I suspect.

Ten months into his role, the discussion was about returning to a front line sales rep role (aka a demotion).  That’s not exactly how his superior said it.  The conversation was less direct; more vague.  Adam called me to relate the exchange and ask for a little “elderly wisdom”.  “Were they really demoting me?”  he asked.  I suggested it might be a good move; a better fit for him.

A new area manager was flying in to meet with him the following week.  To me, all of the signs indicated he was being demoted.  I said to Adam, “If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck…”  I asked him to let me know how the meeting went.

Adam called me that following week – he left a voice mail, “It’s a duck”.

GAP

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Recharged?

By the middle of December each year, we can get pretty run down, yes?  Business stress often peaks at the December 31st year end; holiday stress – shopping; traffic; multiple gatherings with friends, family, and colleagues; winter weather; the Denver Broncos!  Yep, we can get pretty run down by mid-December.

How about you?  Did you extend your business hours and increase your stress levels?  If you felt this intensity, what did you do to recharge?

One of the “decompression”, holiday traditions my wife and I enjoy every year is going to the movies.  Our very first date was a movie.  “Catch 21” which we saw at Chicago’s Oriental Theater in 1970.  This past December, my wife and I continued our tradition.   Because 2015 was particularly hectic, we “decompressed” six times!  (You’re welcome Hollywood.)

To me, there’s no better form of entertainment (and recharging one’s “batteries”) than going to the show.  I can unplug from the Internet; turn off my cell phone; relax in a darkened theater; and escape from the realities of our daily grind into the surreal world of cinema for a couple of hours.  Invigorating!

This year however, I noticed a pattern of movie themes that reflected more closely to our real world than the usual fantasies we find during our holiday tradition.  Coincidence?  I’m not sure.

We saw “The Big Short”, which is a theatrical interpretation of the real-world disintegration of our financial markets in 2008.  We saw “Spotlight”, based on the real-world disintegration of the Catholic priesthood.  Of course, “Concussion”, is a creative piece based on the presumed deception (and predicted disintegration) prevalent in our American sports institution known as the National Football League.

In the movie “The Martian” we saw the fictional contentions of leadership at our NASA of the future struggling with the choice between public admission of mission mistakes and acceptance of personal/professional responsibility; vs. placing trust in the team and relying on the power of problem-solving skills to overcome adversity.

“The Heart of the Sea” is based on recorded events that reportedly preceded Herman Melville’s writing of the great novel Moby Dick.  To me, this movie highlighted man’s struggle between the ego-driven forces of pride and greed; vs. the kinder forces of leadership, responsibility and personal humility.

Speaking of forces, the fictional movie, “Star Wars, The Force Awakened” continues the saga of good vs. evil; “the Force” vs. the “Dark Side”.

Although our December tradition was physically enjoyable; on the psychological side I left the theaters wondering how our society came to the point of finding the real-world disintegration of leadership-morality into greedy, conscious-less, irresponsible culprits preying on the innocent; the unknowing; and the powerless, “entertainment”?  Not exactly the recharging, year-end experience I was looking for.

So I say all of that to get to this – what will each of us do in 2016 to restore one’s faith in the morality and underlying good in modern mankind?  What leaders will arise that stand-up for the common man?  How can each of us, individually, make a positive difference at work; at home; and in our communities?

The job of leadership today is not just to make money.   It is to make meaning. 

John Seely Brown

Looks like we will all need a bit more energy than usual to make 2016 a year we can all be proud of twelve months from now, true?

We might just have to start the traditional December, recharging, movie rituals in July to make it all the way to year-end.  Pass the popcorn please.

GAP

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What not…

Much has been said and much has been written about what makes great leaders and effective sales managers.  One of my readers John McCall, offers us stellar coaching from another perspective – what not to do.

It’s a rare person who wants to hear what he doesn’t want to hear.

Dick Cavett

I trust leaders and sales managers will benefit from this synopsis of John’s coaching points:

10 Sales Management Sins that Kill Sales Morale and Performance

  1. Ignoring what’s been working… 

Sales organizations can benefit from an infusion of new ideas and even new management. However, a common misstep is to discount the institutional memory and the very people that helped to build the organization’s revenue stream in the first place. 

  2. Cancelling meetings last minute… 

Every time a call or a meeting is cancelled at the last minute, the sales manager’s ignorance about the value of his salespeople’s schedule shows. This act sends two other signals:

      • Coaching time with my reps is not a priority.
      • As your sales manager I am overwhelmed and can’t manage my own schedule. 

  3. Treating salespeople like an expense…

Tinkering with commission plans; arbitrarily raising quotas; limiting incentives and you’re now speeding down a slippery slope.  So is your chance of hitting the company’s sales objectives; all to “save” a little. 

  4. Unfair comparisons 

All salespeople are different. While they undoubtedly share key sales-athlete traits like determination, self-motivation, and persuasiveness, they act and sell differently.  If sales management strips them of their uniqueness’s by categorizing them unfairly against their peers, resentment in the sales ranks accumulates faster than snow in Buffalo. 

  5. Playing favorites 

For a variety of reasons sales managers will sometimes favor certain salespeople and extend them privileges in multiple forms (i.e. leads, praise, promotions).  Never going unnoticed, other salespeople speculate about the motivations and the extent of the favoritism – and they despise it.

  6. Compensating unfairly for comparable roles 

The minute two peer salespeople learn one is compensated much better than the other for an equivalent job level you have a problem that jeopardizes retention – of both.

  7. Siphoning deals 

“Unassigned” Accounts (aka “ghost” or “house” accounts) can be a sales management sin. Trust is broken and your reps stop fighting for you.   After all, why would they when you aren’t fighting for them? 

  8. Hijacking a meeting 

New sales managers are hired to take control and run things better. The dividing line is the well earned relationship the salesperson has built up with his clients.  Overzealous sales managers often swoop in and control meetings where the conversation and the established relationship get hijacked. 

  9. Punishing in public 

Don’t do it – ‘nough said.

10. Labeling a sales rep with legitimate concerns as a whiner 

Dave the sales guy contemplates for months his idea of approaching sales management about things that could be improved to drive the company’s sales performance. He talks to his peers. He weighs the pros and cons. Then he schedules time with the Sales VP and tactfully but unashamedly points out ways things could be done better.  The Sales VP acknowledges his concerns, expresses appreciation for the candid feedback then does exactly nothing and labels Dave a problem to be dealt with. 

We can all do better by not doing what we shouldn’t be doing while leading our teams, yes?  Thanks for the coaching John!  He also offered What to do, which I will post next.

GAP

 

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Worth it?

I love sports, how about you?  I think I watch a pro, college, or high school game every evening.  I watch more than I participate these days.  You know the old adage:  “I used to be an athlete but now I’m just an athletic supporter.”  And this week is Masters Week in golf – yeah! 

But there is also a dark side to sports; not what the Greeks had in mind when the Olympics were established. 

Golfer Tommy Bolt is known for his sweet swing and foul temper.  While giving a clinic to a group of amateurs, Bolt tried to show his softer side by involving his 14-year old son in the lesson.  “Show the nice folks what I taught you”, said Bolt.  His son obediently took a 9-iron, cursed, and hurled it into the sky.

Thomas Roswell 

Unfortunately, this type of bad reputation seems to be increasingly more common in sports these days.  So bad that it is starting to beg the question, “Is it worth it?” 

From www.definitions.net: 

Worth (prep.)

1. good or important enough to justify (what is specified):

advice worth taking; a place worth visiting.

2. having a value of, or equal in value to, as in money:

This vase is worth 20 dollars.

3. having property to the value or amount of:

They are worth millions.

4. (n.)excellence of character or quality as commanding esteem:

people of worth.

5. usefulness or importance, as to the world, to a person, or for a purpose:

Your worth to the team is unquestionable.

6. value, as in money. 

“Important enough to justify; excellence in character; usefulness as to the world.”  Do these attributes come to mind when you think of sports?  Or does, “value, as in money” dominate sports today? 

Think back on our sporting headlines: Rutgers University’s abusive basketball coaching videos; accusations of payola and grade fixing in Auburn University’s football program; the National Baseball League’s 50 game suspensions for performance enhancing drug abuse; Lance Armstrong; Tiger Woods.  There seems to be no end to lightning rod images in college and professional sports. 

Even at the parental level, sports can morph into bad situations.  It used to be that kids played sports for the fun of it.  Is back-to-back, competitive baseball, soccer, volleyball, basketball, 365 days a year, year-in and year-out worth it?  It’s not unusual to hear the story of teenagers dropping out of their sport because they’re “burned out”; as a teenager!  Really – was it worth it? 

Thankfully for many of us, there still is a positive place for sports.  And thankfully, there are still sports men and women who believe in the precepts of teamwork, fair play, and character building through competitive lessons, true?  It’s still worth it. 

And for those of us whose playing days are over, there remains great entertainment value in watching, reading and debating the highlights of the day’s teams (whether today, yesterday, or yester-year is our paradigm).  Here’s an example – Who is the greatest basketball player of all time?  LeBron James (today’s paradigm)?  Michael Jordon (yesterday’s paradigm)?  Wilt Chamberlain (yester-year’s paradigm)?

Recently, one of my college basketball teammates shared this 2 minute and 42 second YouTube video.  It’s a clip from a high school basketball game and reinforces the positive power of sports:

            http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sTaB-hPg0P4

In our world of me-first; trash-talking; win-at-any-cost; if-you-ain’t-cheating-you-ain’t-trying; athletics – the perspective of these high school kids in this game is what I would call worth it! 

GAP 

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Don’t take my word for it…

Funny how things work.  Lately, I’ve been helping several clients recruit and onboard new sales reps.  As you already know, finding good sales people is hard work.  I’ve been blessed in my career to have recruited, managed and promoted stellar performers.  It was “Lesson #1” I learned from Tom McSweeney: 

Recruit good people; enjoy them while you can; promote them; and go find some more. 

I think it was Tom’s way of teaching me not to take good people for granted. 

At the same time Lew and Shayne, my friends and former teammates, recently changed jobs.  The companies they’re going to are getting two stellar performers – in this case, take my word for it!  Not surprisingly, both implied their frustration with their now former companies (and former managers).  I suspect they felt they were being taken for granted. 

“Gary”, you might ask, “how do you know they were stellar performers?”  Fair question.  It suggests you won’t just take my word for it.  BTW – a key perspective when you’re recruiting sales people – don’t simply take their word for it.  

When recruiting, I look for people who do all of the little things – little things don’t lie.  Are they prompt; prepared; did they do their homework before every meeting; did they professionally follow up after every meeting; have they worked hard for their accomplishments – like Lew and Shayne.  An Unknown Sage once said: 

How you do one thing is how you do everything – don’t kid yourself. 

“But Gary”, you might continue, “what about talent; experience; a track record of success in our industry?”  Another fair question.  Unfortunately, it sometimes reflects looking for the wrong things:  

  • Just because someone was successful in one role with one company at one point in time, does not mean they will be successful in their new role, with your company, at this point in time.  In fact, if they have had prior success we should wonder – why are they interviewing now?  Unless we can uncover justified frustration with their soon-to-be-previous manager, or some other legitimate reason for their departure, beware.  Don’t take their word for their prior performance.
  • I prefer to look for evidence of hard work vs. recruiting “talent”;  

Hard work without talent is a shame, but talent without hard work is a tragedy.

Chinese fortune cookie

And what does “hard work” look like?  It starts with a certain attitude – like Lew and Shayne’s attitude.  Permit me to offer an example from the email Lew sent me: 

I thought I would let you know that after 20 years I decided to leave… I had a great year last year and went to Presidents Club in Rome. I then resigned when I got back… After 20 years I needed a change. I have wanted to leave for a couple of years but I did not want to leave under plan. After 20 years I wanted to leave after having a great Presidents Club year… 

That’s an example of what a stellar attitude looks like, yes? 

Lew went on to thank me for the sales coaching I provided him during the years he was on my team.  Funny how hard working people make their boss look good – especially if you don’t take them for granted: 

            The teacher and the taught create the teaching.

Eastern Proverb 

I’ll share some of Shayne’s teachings in an upcoming post.  It is stellar, too – but don’t take my word for it. 

GAP 

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Business Fun…

A sales rep, an administration clerk, and their manager are walking to lunch when they find an antique oil lamp.  They rub it and a Genie comes out.  The Genie says, “I’ll give each of you just one wish.”   

“Me first!  Me first!” says the administration clerk.  “I want to be in the Bahamas, driving a speedboat, without a care in the world.”  Puff!  She’s gone.   

“Me next!  Me next!” says the sale rep.  “I want to be in Hawaii, relaxing on the beach with my personal masseuse, an endless supply of Peña Coladas and the love of my life.”  Puff! He’s gone. 

“OK, you’re up,” the Genie says to the manager.  The manager says, “I want those two back in the office after lunch.” 

Brenda Morris 

Sound like your Manager?  Sound like you?  Question:  How much fun are you to work with or work for? 

I’ve often felt that a primary role of our business leaders is to keep their followers appropriately entertained so the followers will solve the big, business challenges the company has for our leaders.  In short, I expect my manager to incorporate “Business Fun” into our day. 

“Business Fun”; what’s that you ask?  Look, if we have to work for a living + put in the extra hours + bring our work home from the office + be available seemingly 7×24 via cell phone; then at the very least we should be able to have a little fun doing it, don’t you think?  

I’m not implying the, “whistle while you work” kind of cartoon fantasy fun.  I mean, it’s nice when our Manager surprises us when she offers to make a Starbucks run at 10:00 am; or tells us, “take the afternoon off and go see your kids”; or simply has something nice to say to us each day. 

Yes, yes, I know – we get paid for our work.  Some say that should be good ‘nough.  Sports fanatics and media state that case often when complaining about some star athlete who is not starring.  “So and so should be dominating the league – after all, he’s being paid $20 Million a year!”  Yea well, how’s that working for you?  When you’re having, “one of those days”, do you merely think about your coming paycheck, and that makes it all better?  Me either. 

That’s not how comp plans work in the first place: 

The purpose of a compensation system should not be to get the right behaviors from the wrong people, but to get the right people on the bus in the first place, and to keep them there. 

Jim Collins 

I would offer, once you get the right people on your bus, a little “Business Fun” helps to keep them there.  For leaders – like it or not – talented people can get a job anywhere.  So even in a down economy, if you think your people should be thankful you gave them a job, beware.  That theory only applies to the untalented!  Just ask our favorite, Unknown Sage: 

Among the chief worries of today’s business executives is the large number of unemployed still on the payrolls. 

So come on, business leaders; lighten up!  We’ll get the job done.  Believe me; it will be easier on you if you think about ways to lift our spirits.  Otherwise, we can always entertain ourselves by making you the brunt of our amusement (while spending company time looking for another job, that is).  

GAP 

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A salute to our Sales Managers…

A thankless job indeed!  Every front-line management role is equally difficult, I suppose.  But I have never been an Accounting Supervisor; a Production Foreman; a Circus Ringmaster; or any other line manager.  So permit me to speak from experience. 

Like the circus, there are many reasons why Sales Managers can be overly-criticized and under-appreciated.  Here are a few examples; plus a little baseball wisdom. 

First, are the expectations of frustration Sales Reps have toward their Sales Managers.  Recently, two of my friends changed positions within their companies.  Lateral moves more than promotions perhaps, but definitely well-earned opportunities to take on more responsibility.  As I asked about the reasons for the moves, frustration with their former Sales Manager topped the list.  

It is often said that when people are recruited to a company or a new position they are attracted by the company or the position.  But when they leave their previous company or previous position, they usually leave – their manager. 

After a few weeks in their new roles, I checked back in.   Both were excited about their new pursuits.  Their feelings toward their new Sales Managers?  “Frustrated”.   My friend Robyn Nicholson would probably say (speaking from her experience I might add): 

            Same circus – different clowns. 

I probed a little deeper.  A second, Sales Manager fault surfaced next – “My Manager never keeps me informed.”  

One Sales Rep went on to say that she rarely interacts with her Manager; he only responds at her request; and she feels she is not informed.  She is one of her company’s top producers.  One thing we know about top producers:  They don’t want to be “managed”; they don’t want to be “trained”; but they don’t want to be left alone and uninformed, either.  

My second colleague offered this third, Sales Manager fault – “My Manager over-commits and under-delivers.”  He speaks with his Sales Manager every day. As he described these interactions further, it seemed to me that his Sales Manager is actually over-informing.  

I remember having a senior sales rep on my team once who I considered a peer as much as a subordinate.  I respected his knowledge and experience so much that I would share with him things I was contemplating.  Unfortunately, he misunderstood – I wasn’t previewing pending changes; just brainstorming.  He left my team unhappy with his perception of an over-committing, under-delivering Sales Manager (aka Clown). 

Preconceptions; under-informing; over-informing – lots of rings in a Sales Manager’s circus.  Here is a fourth – “My Manager is unfair.”  

Sales Managers are often accused of being unfair, true?  I certainly was when I led sales teams – proud of it actually.  You see, the concept of fairness is a Sales Manager trap.  I believe it is impossible to have all the reps on your team feel that they are being treated fairly.   

To avoid this trap I applied the Principle of Equal Unfairness.  I was content if they were all equally unhappy.  Then, when one of my reps came in to my office; closed the door; and proceeded to cry about thus and so being unfair – I simply agreed and welcomed her to the circus. 

Turning from the circus of sales to the game of baseball, perhaps we can benefit from the management wisdom of Casey Stengel: 

The secret of managing is to keep the guys who hate you away from the guys who are undecided. 

And as a Hall of Fame Manager – he was no clown. 

                               GAP 

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