Sales Management

Summer is for Managers. (Part III)

In this third of our summertime management posts, we take a second look at leadership and how it defines the organizations we all struggle to manage.

I’ve been thinking a lot about leadership within and across the dozens of companies I’ve worked with over the past several years.  A single disruptive idea keeps coming back to me:

Leadership isn’t a set of actions by the leader.  It’s a state of being for the organization.

In this age of strong-man leaders and celebrity CEOs, we tend to individualize leadership and celebrate the speeches and the big “leadership moves” of the individual leader.  But from all I can tell, those victories are pyrrhic and their effects ephemeral.  The truly great leaders know that leadership isn’t about what you do or fix; it’s about what you tend and sustain.  It’s not the next hill to be taken, but the ecosystem to be developed and supported.

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In my opinion, great organizational leaders (whether they are leading an entire company or a sales organization) should be focused on the questions behind three overlapping and interdependent ecosystems:  Talent, Incubation and Culture.

How might we attract, filter and secure the talent we need and deserve?

How might we better incubate and assimilate that talent into our organization during the critical first two years after hiring?

How might we foster and maintain an attractive, supportive culture based on employee engagement?

Great leaders keep asking their managers these questions and weigh each big decision or program against the scrutiny these questions create.  And they force their managers and teams to examine the overlap and co-dependence of these concerns.  Without an attractive culture, how can a company attract great talent?  Without a focus on incubating new talent, what is the point of securing those hires in the first place?  Unless we engage our employees, new and experienced, in caring for and teaching each other, how would we ever hope to create an attractive culture?

Great leadership isn’t about you.  It’s about your organizational focus and values. But you need to start that conversation.

Your Double Life.

Individual contributors become managers every day, and when they do the event is usually quite clear and visible to everyone in the organization. But the transition from manager to leader can be another story entirely.

I just read a terrific post by Butterfly co-founder Simon Rakosi called “Why Transforming Managers into Leaders Shouldn’t be Left to Chance.” He points out some great distinctions between management and leadership, including Managers educate around skills and tasks; leaders inspire around a vision and Managers view their employees in silos; leaders focus on team dynamics.

The challenge in our dynamic, hyper-kinetic industry is that there’s rarely a clean breaking point between one job and the next: it’s rare that someone ever says “I’m done being a manager now: time to start leading!” Most senior digital sales executives will pivot between these two roles a thousand times – often within the same day.

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On paper, the chief revenue officer is a leadership job, while the regional director is pretty clearly a manager. But the CRO must instantly snap back into manager mode when working with her direct reports, while the regional director must step up and lead when in the presence of his full team. A couple of thoughts and ideas to make your head stop spinning:

  • Leaders play checkers, managers play chess. So says Marcus Buckingham in “The One Thing You Need to Know.” When you’re in leader mode, all the pieces move the same, so the message or policy is for everyone.  When managing, each piece moves differently:  focus on what’s right for the individual in front of you right now.
  • Lead in public, manage in private. Managing is an individual sport. Shut the door.
  • Every group deserves a culture. If you’re manager of a team of individual contributors and others – even if that group is just two or three people – start answering the question “What does it mean to be part of our team?” Better yet, answer it together.
  • You can never understand enough about how people work together. Process, process, process. Leaders rightly obsess about it, and their teams get more out of it than you might imagine. Beware of any discussion that ends with “We’ll figure that out…”

To all of you out there who are living double lives, make sure you live in the moment and be the best manager and leader you can be. Just be sure you know which is appropriate and called for at the time.

Is it Your Employee? Or is it You?

is-it-the-employee-or-is-it-youI spent yesterday with a team of great young managers.  During our workshop I was reminded of the three-part test I’d encouraged managers to use last April…a test to determine what to do with employee performance problems.  It’s worth a second look.

Thousands of books have been written on managing employee performance, each volume offering theories and tactics more complicated than the one that preceded it.  But like most things in life, simpler is better.

Recently I was discussing a thorny employee issue with a client, and as we mapped things out a simple ‘test’ presented itself.   The three factors to be explored – in order – are clarity, capacity and will.

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When you’re questioning a performance problem, you shouldn’t simply call the employee in for a free form conversation or give him a list of complaints.  Both approaches will lead to a bunch of random reactions and you’ll get lost in the details very quickly.  Instead, take things in order.

Clarity. Is the employee really – really – clear about what is expected? This is on you.  Have you communicated effectively about the full expectations of the job or task?  Have you put it in writing?  You may have a clear picture of what needs to be done in your head, and right now it’s probably fighting for space with all those frustrations you’ve developed. But you must take the time to carefully externalize the picture with your employee.  Once that’s done, you can move on to question number two…

Capacity. Is the employee capable of doing what is expected?  You must ask hard questions about whether the employee’s experience, skills and training fully enable to do what is needed.  Many of us never ask this because it calls into question our own hiring practices.  If you suspect a lack of training or adequate supervision is the issue, you may choose to apply time and resources.  But don’t forget to ask the hard question:  can this employee do this job?  When you’ve checked the boxes on clarity and capacity, you move on to the third and final issue…

Will. Is the employee willing to do what is required?  This is the hardest but most important part of the test…and often we don’t even consider it.  Sometimes people don’t do things simply because they don’t want to.  They will likely call out a lot of other issues and rationalizations. But if you look closely, a lack of will is not that hard to spot.  And it’s the issue that probably matters more than any other.  This one is fully on the employee and you must act decisively when you see it.  Say goodbye.

Don’t just keep this test to yourself.  Share it with other managers.  Better yet, share it with the employee.  Walk through the three questions and make the test the framework for your next performance discussion.  It just might be the simple means of solving your toughest issues.