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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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The power of “culture”…

Business executives (and sailors, I suppose) know how to use every means at their disposal to fuel company growth, true?  Three examples are “change”; “culture”; and “acquisition”.  There are many others. 

Some of the most successful companies have used “change” as their fuel: 

It is not for nothing that Bill Gates likes to say that at Microsoft they know one thing:  In four years, every product they make will be obsolete.  The only question is whether Microsoft will make it obsolete or one of its competitors will.                       

We would certainly list Microsoft as one of our most successful companies.  Of course, many of us “end-user-types” have disliked their penchant for forcing “change” by architecting product obsolescence (remember Windows Me and Windows Vista?). 

In recent times the “acquisition” tactic has replaced organic growth at many companies.  But when you buy another company, what can you expect from the employees that come with the deal?  And visa versa; what will the new “culture” be?  

During an “acquisition” Leaders employ interesting vocabulary with their employees, true?  Citing our favorite Unknown Sage: 

“EMPOWERMENT”: 

A term meant to give survivors of restructure the illusion they have a role in the company’s future. 

In my professional career, I’ve observed how a company’s “culture” can drive tremendous growth.  What I like best about “culture” is the contribution every employee makes.  “Culture” gives us all a sense of adding value. 

Take ADP for instance.  Led by Josh Weston, ADP grew from a $350 Million payroll service bureau in 1979 to a multi-billion dollar, technology services titan.  Weston, a US Naval veteran, as it turns out, was CEO from 1982 to 1996, and retired as Chairman in 1998. The company had a string of 164 consecutive quarters of double-digit, Earnings-Per-Share growth (41 straight years!) – unbroken during his time at the helm.  

ADP leveraged the “acquisition” tactic, too.  And then they imposed their “culture” on the acquired company.  Sadly, ADP’s recent Leaders have not sustained the same “culture” of success that Josh fostered.  Is it because they weren’t sailors?  I’m not either, but our Unknown Sage was: 

            Don’t panic – Jack was every inch a sailor.  

Speaking of the Navy, another Leader wrote a best-selling book from the powerful “culture” he built at sea, It’s Your Ship: Management Techniques from the Best Damn Ship in the Navy

To find out why people are leaving I assumed that low pay would be the first reason, but in fact it was fifth.  The top reason was not being treated with respect or dignity; second was being prevented from making an impact on the organization; third, not being listened to; and fourth, not being rewarded with more responsibility.  Further research disclosed an unexpected parallel with civilian life. 

D. Michael Abrashoff 

The most powerful business “culture” in civilian life that I ever experienced was at Oracle Corporation.  Oracle’s revenues grew from $26 Million in 1985 to $1 Billion in 1991 – six years.  I was there from 1989 to 1991; what a ride!  

Although Larry Ellison’s CEO-persona was legendary (still is); and as it turns out, he sails, too; it was the power of the Oracle “culture” and the contributions of every employee that fueled this unprecedented growth.  I wonder if Oracle’s “culture” today has waned and their growth morphed to pure “acquisition”? 

Here’s hoping you and your colleagues are excellent sailors; don’t panic; and fuel your company’s growth through a powerful “culture” this year. 

GAP 

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Leadership dues…

Although I often poke fun at our executives, managers, supervisors, and overseers, it is with the most sincere respect that today I suggest we give our leaders their due. 

I know from personal experience that being a successful leader is something special. Permit me to offer you two examples.

First, just finding a true leader is hard:

An army of a thousand is easy to find; but, oh, how difficult to find a general.                                 

Chinese Proverb

We have all known people that wanted a “promotion”.  You know the office; the title; meetings; memos; the works.  In the sales profession I know lots of sales managers who wanted to be a manager just so they didn’t have to cold-call any more.  Careful what you ask for. 

I knew a guy once who quit a company because they would not promote him from a producer to a sales manager.  At the time, he was killing his number and he felt the company didn’t want to sacrifice his production for a promotion.  It never dawned on him that maybe he just wasn’t ready to lead a team yet.  It was a big mistake to quit but he had a huge ego, so he quit anyway. (See what I mean? – some leadership material.)

Literally one week after he quit he realized what he had done.  But his pride prevented him from trying to undo his mistake.  Years later he returned to that same company and after two more years as an individual producer, he was promoted to a sales manager role.  I think it was during the very first week in his new, managerial role that he could be heard saying to himself, “Oh – so this is what managing is all about.”

He invested the next 11 years learning (mostly through trial and error) how to work with followers. Some would even say he became an expert, as defined by Niels Bohn:

An expert is a man who has made all the mistakes which can be made in a very narrow field. 

Now he enjoys poking fun at leaders; after all, he’s an expert. Of course, his humorous barbs towards managers were self-inflicted first!  Except today – today even he pays his due respect to our leaders.

A second reason why a successful leader is something special is that we followers are a little picky about our leaders:

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

Casey Stengel 

Yes, it is high time we give our leaders their due.  Followers can wait to get the memo; attend a meeting to review the changes; ask questions to clarify the facts; second guess when things go wrong.  

Leaders?  They have to make a decision – often without the benefit of reading the memo, attending the meeting, or confirming all of the facts first.  Leaders have to have the brains, and the balls, to decide and then trust their gut (and their followers) to make their decisions turn out for the best. 

And leaders have to have an excellent manner to get the most from their followers: 

You know what makes leadership?  It is the ability to get men to do what they don’t want to do, and like it.

Harry S. Truman           

I know we need to get back to work now.  But before the day is done, give your manager a few words of encouragement.  They’ve earned it! 

GAP 

Did you like this little ditty?  You might enjoy my book, too:  The Peace & Power of a Positive Perspective©  Please check it out Subscribe.

Leading from the rear…

Memo To:       All employees 

From:               Mr. Big Cheese – The Overseer of the Year 

RE:                    Untethered Initiative and Productivity 

It has come to my attention that there has been a dramatic increase in the number of incidents of employees taking the initiative to address customer requests, improve internal teamwork, and solve key business issues without management oversight. 

The Executive Team has put specific business systems and procedures in place that must be followed.  Individual initiative and deviation from internal processes should be kept to a minimum.  Remember; always check with your manager first.  

Let me re-emphasize the business system processes we have adopted at our company based on the writing of Arthur Black: 

      The Stages of Systems Development:

1. Wild enthusiasm

2. Disillusionment

3. Total confusion

4. Search for the guilty

5. Punishment of the innocent

6. Promotion of the non-participants 

I expect everyone to continue to follow this protocol. 

                                                                  BC 

Ever feel like this memo was distributed at your company?  What stage is your department operating in?  Have you ever “taken the bull by the horns” and solved a problem on your own without first “running it by” your manager?  And if you did, what happened?  If your initiative succeeded, did it go unrecognized?  And if you made a mistake, were you told, “Gary, that’s just not how we do things around here.”? 

If this has happened to you, then CONGRATULATIONS! You have just been transferred to the Department of Unintended Consequences.  We are the doers; we see a need and address it; and we do so because of our ability and our personal pride in a job well done.  Interestingly enough, we are typically the “followers” in our company, too. There is great honor (and great responsibility) in being a follower. 

I’ve commented often about the perils of waiting for Executives to lead us.  Yes, our managers, supervisors, and overseers mean well.  But by the time they get around to overseeing the efforts of their followers, we can have the work completed, true?    As a follower, we know what needs to be done; how to do it; and many times we just take the initiative and do it, no matter the consequences that sometimes back fire on us, don’t we.  We take pride in our work – and we take action, regardless of what Harrison says: 

            Harrison’s Postulate:

For every action, there is an equal and opposite criticism.

                             Unknown Sage 

It’s the followers who are on the front line – dealing with the customer; operating the machinery; posting the transactions.  Yes, we need the knowledge, experience and support of our leaders, but they see the business results through our eyes and our efforts, true?   Good leaders are usually boosted up by great followers. 

If you are a great follower then you see the end results first.  You are leading from the rear.  And, if in today’s business setting followers are actually leading from the rear, then what, you might ask, are our leaders up front doing? 

“Is there any reason you could not serve as a juror on this case?” the judge asked the junior executive called for jury duty.  “I don’t want to be away from my job that long”, answered the prospective juror.  “Can’t they do without you?” the judge probed.  “Sure”, said the up-and-comer.  “But I don’t want them to know that.

                                  Unknown Sage 

OK, let’s get back to work now.  Our company is counting on us. 

GAP 

Did you like this little ditty?  You might enjoy my book, too:  The Peace & Power of a Positive Perspective©  Please check it out Subscribe.

“Commit”

“Sales Forecasting” – an oxymoron at some companies, true?  

“Gary, I know we went through your forecast yesterday, but I need an update for a forecast meeting this morning.”  How many times have you received that call from your manager?  Seriously, do our forecasts really change that much overnight?  And when our managers make this urgent request, what are they looking for? 

My Lord, is it a true answer you would like, or merely an agreeable one?

Bruce Thorton 

Is it the review of the numbers that bothers us; or the fire drills?  We might ask, “How does the frequency of talking about a deal improve the chances of closing it?”  Well, … that depends. 

I attended a briefing recently by Steve McGill, a partner in an investment banking firm.  His firm specializes in helping to qualify small companies for investment consideration from private equity firms and other sources of capital.  One of the key business fundamentals his firm looks at is sales performance, including the “believability of future revenue growth forecasts”. 

Of course, after pouring through all of the numbers (current and historical), he said that the final analysis is weighted very heavily on the management team; their abilities; and their level of motivation. 

Gary Kennedy led Oracle’s sales force in 1989.  Now there was a capable sales leader with an unbelievable level of motivation.   Oracle was a $26 Million company in 1985; we reached $1 Billion in 1991 – 6 years – what a ride! 

A lot has been written about Oracle’s high profile founder, Larry Ellison.  Gary Kennedy’s name is not as prominent.  But he implemented an amazing sales-forecasting process during that period of Oracle’s explosive growth that I believe significantly improved the chances of closing deals. 

Gary introduced me to the forecasting concepts of “above the line” and “commit”.  And he took the concept of “commit” especially serious.  For instance, if a sales rep committed a deal to close this month and it didn’t close – that rep could easily lose his job.  That made forecasting quite personal, yes?  And if you didn’t have at least as much business categorized as “above the line” as your monthly quota (meaning it could close, but you’re not ready to “commit” the deals), you could also lose your job.  Sand bagging was for sissies! 

Those experiences at Oracle remind me of one view from an Unknown Sage: 

Duty is a matter of the mind.  Commitment is a matter of the heart.                                 

Gary Kennedy also oversaw the implementation of Oracle’s “Top Ten” sales-forecasting.  This was both a system and a process.  On the system side, the Top Ten ranked every deal in the company at every level; each Sales Rep had a Top Ten; each Sales Manager; each Sales VP; all the way up to Larry Ellison, CEO.  His Top Ten were the ten largest deals in the entire company. 

On the process side, the Top Ten was an intensified requirement of touching each of your ten, largest prospects every day with the intent to advance towards closing the deals.  Every day.  Larry Ellison said, “We will keep our prospects so busy talking to someone from Oracle, they won’t have time for our competitors.” 

Not our style, today?  Perhaps.  But in those 6 years, Oracle grew from $26 Million to $1 Billion in annual revenue.  I think Steve McGill’s firm would have given that management team high marks for their levels of ability and motivation, don’t you? 

GAP 

Did you like this little ditty?  You might enjoy my book, too:  The Peace & Power of a Positive Perspective©  Please check it out Subscribe.

Leadership Communications

To me, Leaders are fascinating people.  Some Leaders have been the giants of our history; other Leaders have simply been the business person I reported to at the time; and a few have been my coaches in sports and mentors in life.  Wherever they fall on the spectrum of fame, they definitely stand out as Leaders and don’t just blend in as Managers.   I bet you know the difference, too.  If you pause for a moment I bet you can remember that special person, a Leader, who impacted your life, yes?

One of my favorite hobbies is reading about leaders – current leaders; historical leaders – leaders from business; politics; sports; the military.  I like working for business leaders who seek my contributions toward the improvement of their team; their department; or their company.   I like to observe how leaders operate – how they think; what they value; how they act; the frequency and tone of their communications.  Not just any kind of communications – Leadership Communications. 

There are many dimensions to effective leadership (and corresponding leadership communications) and many examples of what not to do.  For instance, there is the delta between someone’s words and their actions.  Many of us have been exposed to that person in a leadership role whose words and actions don’t align, true?  Such as a CEO who proclaims the need for world-class customer service or temporary, financial frugality during some web-meeting or conference call; but then proceeds to off-shore the company’s customer call center to the cheapest bidder, while jetting around the country on a company plane.   Words vs. actions!

For every true leader there are followers, don’t you agree?  Followers have certain common characteristics, too.  For example, followers like continuous reinforcement from their leaders.  I believe followers want continuous Leadership Communication stating, “Here’s where we’re at; here’s where we’re going.  Here’s where we’re at; here’s where we’re going”.  Although this cadence can be annoying if it’s coming from your Tom-Tom while driving in a car, such repetitive assurance is often welcomed in the workplace, especially during times of change.  Leaders provide us such ongoing reassurance; managers say it once and “check it off” their list.  They want to move on and simply assume that their followers got it.  (I guess they’re in a hurry to catch a plane.)

And of course, the Leader is not necessarily the one with the highest title in an organization, are they?  John C. Maxwell relates one example:

During the final seconds of an especially tense game, Boston Celtics coach K.C. Jones called a time-out.  As he gathered the players together at courtside, he diagrammed a play, only to have Larry Bird say, “Get the ball out to me and get everyone out of my way.”  Jones responded, “I’m the coach, and I’ll call the plays!”  Then he said, “Get the ball to Larry and get out of his way.”  It just shows that when the real leader speaks, people listen.

You’re right, leadership communication during a time-out at the end of a basketball game is not quite the same as during a company’s new, go-to-market strategy, but you get the point.  Larry got the ball; everyone got out of his way; and the team took its chances on their best odds of winning.  And win or lose, followers can give their all to their leaders if they just have the clarity and the confidence of knowing, “Where we’re at; and where we’re going”.                                        

                                                                           GAP

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