Summer is for Managers (Part II)

Enjoy the second in our series of manager focused posts. Because nothing says summer like management theory!

Everybody wants to talk about great leaders these days. But this management stuff is pretty hard work!  Many business-people don’t seriously distinguish between leadership and management, but they should. As Marcus Buckingham says in The One Thing You Need to Know, “Leaders play checkers; managers play chess.” In checkers, every piece moves exactly the same; there’s one leadership message that applies to everyone in the company. In chess, every piece has its own quirky individual moves; management is about how you move and plan for the individual.

Over the past weeks I’ve conducted sales workshops for a dozen digital sales organizations, working closely with leaders and managers to “make it all stick” for their teams. It always comes down to what the managers do; what they commit to and how they hold their sellers accountable. So  let’s look at what managers do.

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Managers Break It All Down: When leaders and companies inspire with soaring missions and motivational gems it can actually have an adverse effect on some sellers. “I see where the company is going, but I just don’t see how I can get there.” The good manager sees the delta between grand vision and troubled reality and helps the seller navigate it, piece by piece. Which accounts have the best odds? Where will you spend your time? Who are the right people? The good manager understands that talented sellers often need help building a plan.

Managers Keep Track of Actions: In The Heart of the Game, Thomas Boswell points out that great baseball managers never obsess about the final score, which is after all just an outcome. Instead, they obsess about the interim actions and decisions that would have subtly changed the course of the game:  the base-running error in the second inning; the missed cutoff man in the sixth; swinging at the first pitch against a tiring starter. They focus on how the game was played, which is ultimately controllable. It’s the same with sales managers. Watch, discuss, correct and reward the behaviors that will lead to sales. If you don’t, you might be cluelessly celebrating hollow victories, lucky breaks.

Managers Remember:  It’s not sexy, but truly great managers are the institutional memories of their organizations. They remember what they’ve asked their team members to do and when; they remember the narrative of key deals; they remember the behavioral promises of those they manage. It’s one of the reasons great managers commit to CRM systems and consistent reporting; and it’s the reason why so many instinctive, “lone wolf” sales superstars end up making lousy managers. If you’re a great manager, your organization and process management are what frees your sellers to play a much bigger game for their customers, and for your company.

Once you’ve looked this over, share it with the people on your team. It might be the key to unlocking a productive new relationship with those you manage.

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.

If you’re a qualified digital sales leader or manager and would like to be supported in your own growth or that of your team, come to the Seller Forum on Thursday February 9th in New York. Seller Forum is the industry’s only peer-to-peer gathering of people just like you.  You’ll hear from clients and market experts, get insights on the shape of Q1 spending and share best practices and tips.  Request a spot for yourself and another key manager on your team. Seating will be strictly limited.

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.