Leadership Challenge: Finding an Employee's Groove
Subject: Success, Sales, Leadership, motivation,
by Victor Gonzalez
Here’s an easy question, if you really like what you’re doing, can you really call it work? No.
Here’s another, if you could choose your job, would you be more inclined to excel at it? Yes.
Final question, how many times in your career have you really taken the time to move people around until they found their right job? Hardly any!
Here’s the thing. We know people are more productive when they are doing what they really enjoy doing. Yet, too often we put them in positions, not to succeed, but to fail.
But you can argue, “Well we just can’t let people do what they want! What if everyone wants the same position?” Point taken.
But lets be honest with ourselves for second, how many times have we really tried to understand the motivation behind an employee? I know, many of us ask our employees; well what is it that you want to do? But here’s a secret, sometimes, if not the majority of the times, they don’t even know. They think they do because they look over the fence and the grass certainly looks greener.
An engineer may see how well sales are doing and all the fringe benefits and perquisites and convince himself overtime that he would be ideal for that job. I’ve seen people who were motivated by jealousy, delusions of grandeur or simply the potential income that comes with the job and went after it only to fail.
As managers, one of the most difficult tasks you have is to first, work with what you got. Second, fill the positions with maybe incomplete or incompatible employees. This reminds me of the visual-spatial game where you have to put the geometric pieces into the appropriate shaped grooves. But sometimes, you have too many squares and not enough triangle grooves and that is a problem.
Here’s the first step; determine if you have good clay or bad clay. If you have good clay you have a person who is moldable and is willing to take guidance in finding him a position. If you have bad clay, either clay already hardened with no plasticity, and then you either find the person an open groove or make an inevitable decision. Now no one likes to talk termination but let me give you my take and my experience for a moment.
When I worked for a sales company as vice president, I adopted a sales force that hadn’t been able to get out of their rut for 5 years running. There numbers remain virtually flat during that time period at around 14 million.
When I took over as vice president the first thing I did was to meet with the salespeople and took some time to travel with. Why? I first wanted to see how they were presenting themselves and our company to potential customers. During this time I went to meetings and presentation with them to see how they worked. I looked at the content presented, the manner in which it was presented and who the people in the room where.
After my whirlwind trip with last about 3 months, I knew exactly what the problems were. About 50% of my sales force was essentially worthless. By this I mean, their product knowledge was abysmal; they were catalog salespeople who simply opened up product listing and asked the customer, “Do ya see anything ya like?”
Second, about 70% had the selling skills of a rock. Their presentation skills were horrible. I believe in part because they didn’t know their products as well as they should of and their insecurity in front of tough question customers made that evident. In the face of touch questions, the majority danced and the customers picked up on it.
And finally, about 90% of them didn’t set up the meetings with the right decision makers. Many of the meetings being setup were with people whose decision-making ability was minimal.
So after 3 months of reviewing and speaking with the salesman, enticing them to take some more courses, which some outright fought against, I terminated 70% of the sales force. Top management screamed, “He’s bloody nuts? In my first year our sales stay flat at $14 but with 30% of the sales force. By the next year we were back to 100% in personnel and revenues stood at $37M. By the third year the sales force had grown 300 from when I first took over and sales were at $98M.
The lesson, sometimes you have to dismantle to rebuild because you get tired of patching up holes. And for those of you who have homes, you know what I’m talking about. Patching up holes makes a structure look weak and its value is perceived as low.
During this 3-year time period, many of the salesmen who stayed expressed interested in learning new product, which I accommodated them in exploring new territories or market channels. But I also made sure salespeople knew that others, without mentioning names, were interested in their territory. Competition is good, but integrity has to be maintained. And I always assured the incumbent that as long as a strong sales effort is maintained that would never happen.
When you have good clay, your only enemy is the time needed for training and nurturing. But again, it’s better to build slowly and surely and not force piece into grooves.
Moving people around intimidates many managers because they have a tendency to want things to be nice and neat on an organization chart. And this is where one of the logjams of human improvement lies. When people focus more on managing the neatness of their organization chart, they have disconnected with reality. Human beings are transient, ever changing in terms of needs and desires. What drives a person today, will not necessarily work tomorrow. Maybe they’re bored the second year and now have a ‘been there, done that’ attitude. Manage people’s desires, not their position.
To give you a visual, a man has been crawling across the desert dying of thirst for many days. He finally comes across a water stand where the vendor is selling a glass of water for $1000. The rich, wealthy man, too tired to put up a fuss at the ridiculous price, with some reservation he pays the vendor and then continues on his journey. A few hours later, another vendor tries to sell the man a glass of water at the same ridiculous price of a $1000. Does he buy the glass of water? If you guessed no, you’re right. The rich man countered the offer with $100. What changed? Why did he pay $1000 the first time after days in the desert and not more than $100 for the second glass? Because his perceived value and his needs changed after he got his thirst quenched by the first glass. Now the second glass didn’t seem to promise the same value and hence his low bid. Because now, he was no longer thirsty, he was now hungry.
For management, what makes this task difficult as I mentioned, is that many people think they know what they want, but they are motivated to change for the wrong reasons. Responsibility is laid at management’s feet for decipher the human enigma of changing wants. But, that’s why they get paid the big buck. Manage people, not the chart.
I once heard a story about the Japanese who in times when an employee is not working out, management apologizes to them for putting them in a position to fail and then move the worker to another position. The lesson to be learned here is twofold: Management should not be afraid to admit to themselves and the employee when they are not meeting the company’s expectations.
Lastly, management bears the ultimate responsibility of finding an employee’s groove so they won’t fail. True managers facilitate the process of creating an environment for motivating unproductive workers to become productive members of the company.
Please feel free to forward this article to a friend or colleague.
Copyright © 2005 by Victor Gonzalez All rights reserved. This article MAY be reproduced in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, as long as the author’s name, website and email address are included as part of the article’s body. All inquiries, including information on electronic licensing, should be directed to Victor Gonzalez, firstname.lastname@example.org www.thelogicofsuccess.com
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