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Big hats…

2017 has been an “interesting” year – to say the least! It might be more accurate to say it has been an “extreme” year. Lots of alterations occurring all around us, true? Sometimes transformation is a good thing; sometimes seemingly not.

All change is not growth, as all movement is not forward.

Ellen Glasgow

When displacement occurs in the corporate world, employees spook easily. We want to know what this switch means to us; our role; our department; even the company itself. Leaders prefer we not spook so easy; leaders prefer we accept, rally around the differences. They’d like us to follow John A. Shedd and his big hat:

A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for.

I believe we’re willing – but need a little help – a little, well… leadership.

There has been such significant conversion occurring at my company in 2017 that I was recently invited to participate in a feedback session to help my company’s leaders ascertain what impact all of these modifications are having on employee engagement.

It was fascinating to hear the responses from my fellow employees of their opinions and reactions to the “adjustments” we have gone through (with the promise of yet more “improvements” to come). There were a wide range of views (some positive, some negative) on how assimilation has influenced our jobs; our daily routines; our future; our engagement.

For my part, I’ve been focused on our leadership’s approach to communicating shifts to the rank and file throughout 2017. This year has afforded me a bird’s eye view of who is stepping forward; who is wearing a big hat as all of us go through a time of revolution. Big hats are always in the spotlight during such times.

I pontificate about leadership often. I sometimes put on a big hat, myself. In his book Tribes©, Seth Godin offers these thoughts about leaders and leadership:

My thesaurus says the best synonym for leadership is management. Maybe that word used to fit, but no more…

Leaders have followers. Managers have employees. Managers make widgets. Leaders make change.

Change is frightening, and to many people who would be leaders, it seems more of a threat than a promise. That’s too bad, because the future belongs to our leaders…

And leaders must put on their big hat to lead change.

I believe we all experience significant change throughout our life. Maybe not each and every day; but certainly throughout each year. When we are the ones to stimulate the change, we feel good about what’s now new. We wear our own big hat and lead those around us that this change will be good.

On the other hand, when we are the recipient of unrequested change our reaction to the event can be quite different. In the corporate setting such change albeit inevitable, is still challenging:

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

During times of change followers look to leaders for continuous clarification. Leadership communication separates the true leaders from the imposters, or as it is said in the south;

Big hat; no cattle.

When our companies are going through cycles of uncertainty, I believe employee engagement is tied directly to the frequency, clarity and effectiveness of leadership communications. In absence of continuous word from the top, we look for our own big hats, yes?

GAP

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Force multipliers…

I enjoy coaching sales managers.  IMHO, it’s the toughest role in the business; part super-sales-rep; part leader; part administrator; part trainer.  Lots of parts to being a front-line manager (sales or otherwise), true?

In the sales department, companies like to promote top sales reps.  Despite all the research stating almost universally those top sales reps don’t have the requisite skill set to be effective sales managers; companies promote them anyway, yes?

In, “Critical Ways Managers Motivate and Demotivate Employees”, Dr. Bradberry offers:

Organizations know how important it is to have motivated, engaged employees, but most fail to hold managers accountable for making it happen… When they don’t, the bottom line suffers… Gallop research shows that a mind-boggling 70% of an employee’s motivation is influenced by his or her managers.  It’s no wonder employees don’t leave jobs; the leave managers.

When in doubt – blame it on the manager – but that might actually be accurate.

I get it; I’ve been one.  And like all managers, I enjoyed some success; endured some failure.  Some of my direct reports thrived under my management; some hated me; a few I had to fire.

I too wanted to learn the answer to the question I was recently asked by an Oracle Sales Manager, “Gary, what is my job?”  He continued, “Should it be the super-sales-closer”?

Coming in at the end of a sales process; offering your pen to sign the order; leading the close, the win, the “kill of the hunt”… that’s the glory part of selling.  Do sales managers think their people like them stealing the lime light?  Does the manager understand the damage she is doing to her own credibility?

Damage you say?  How does closing deals damage manager credibility?  After all, the sales rep still gets the commission.  Going back to the question at hand, deal-closing is not the sales manager’s job.

Each time the sales manager steps in and “takes control” she delivers the message to the sales rep, “You’re not capable.”  Oh yes, I’ve heard the justifications…  “Gary, I’m just helping my reps until they become self-sufficient.”   Really?  IMHO – it doesn’t work that way:

Call it a universal law… You are exactly as credible (as a sales manager) as (your sales rep) is with you… Recognize him for what he is – a mirror of you. 

Barry Trailer

No, I don’t believe the front-line sales manager should be the “super-sales-closer” and in so doing damage their own credibility.  Jump in on one deal, and managers tend to jump in on all deals.  The lime light is addicting.  The sales manager role must scale to much greater heights above just deals.

Managers must focus on getting the job done through their team; they must build-up their team’s credibility.  And that takes great skill when dealing with rep diversity.  For example:

Treating everyone equally shows your top performers that no matter how high they perform… they will be treated the same as the bozo who does nothing more than punch the clock.

Dr. Bradberry

OK, OK, let’s lighten up on Bozo – it’s not easy being a clown.

But managers must encourage each person to believe he is the super-sales-closer.  Managers must get the most from each person on their team – regardless of diverse experience and skills.  Each sales rep must believe she will kill her quota; is unstoppable; is totally credible:

Perpetual optimism is a force multiplier. 

Colin Powell

Yep – the sales manager has so much more to accomplish than merely closing deals.  Don’t you think?

GAP

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What do they do when…

I am assisting one of my clients recruit and on-board an Inside Sales Rep.  As an engineer by background my client has expressed disappointment on how difficult it has been to find a Sales Rep capable of meeting his expectations.

He has been following the usual path; looking for someone with prior experience; assuming that experience will readily transfer to his company; find a “hunter” he can plug-in; should be a snap.  After enough trial and error, he called.

Always preferring to start at the beginning, we chatted about the oversight of his previous reps; the structure of their daily routine; their on-boarding; etc.  We agreed – no specific processes were in place.  Just expectations – get someone to set a bunch of appointments – inexpensively.

My client agreed to join me at the beginning to start his search and on-boarding of his next new sales rep.  He created a written job description for bi-directional candidate screening; a compensation plan both affordable as well as offering incentive income for over-performers; and an initial 13-week, ramp-up plan.  (Actually, he simply borrowed a copy of my 13-week plan.)

While putting his program in place he was surprised at the amount of effort, detail and documentation I advocate.  Although it appealed to his engineering background, he didn’t expect such necessities for sales; leading to my reaction on his reaction:

What do most sales people do when they don’t know what to do? 

Unknown Sage

Confessing he hadn’t given it much thought, we went on to discuss that selling is a skilled process requiring clarity of expectations, structured methodology, and continuous coaching.  Further, in the technology industry, sales is a team sport not an individual endeavor:

Kevin Joyce, a sales and marketing leader in the technology industry, shared the following on effective collaboration. “When there is not a crisp definition of what people should do, they will gravitate to what they want to do. As a metaphor, I refer to this as ‘swarm ball.’ If you ever have any children that play soccer under the age of 10, you know what I am talking about. The entire organization basically swarms around the ball and the ball is whatever the issue is at that moment.”

As my client prepared to welcome his next new recruit, I cited advice from another Subject Matter Expert, Townsend Wardlaw, on what his next new sales rep’s first day, first impression should be:

That wasn’t how my client did it in the past.

We have continued our preparation to on-board his next new sales rep.  We’ve included weekly training and practice sessions.  When my client expressed surprise at the amount of commitment I emphasized for continuous training – even for an “experienced” sales rep, I offered:

Think training is hard? Try losing. 

Davee Jones

As his engineering tendencies came to the forefront, there was more than a bit of worry about adding up all of the time he and his team would be devoting to the new sales rep.  “Was this really going to be affordable?” he wondered.  This brought to mind the thought process of the Founder of my company:

“Someone once asked me if it’s worth $100 million to win the America’s Cup,” Ellison says in the recent documentary The Wind Gods. “It’s certainly not worth $100 million to lose the America’s Cup.”

What’s your company’s approach?  Do you rely on your structured processes for sales performance?  Or do you seek that mythical character known to some as a “hunter”?

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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