A successful sales manager was feeling demoralized and out of sorts. When we met for coffee, she sat knee to knee, radiating intensity.
“Of course, motivating the team is one of my biggest responsibilities,” she told me. “But when the powers-that-be say, ‘Motivate the team,’ what they really mean is, ‘Get the results.’ My boss is under the gun for numbers, so it’s push, push, push all the time.
“It’s true that not all my guys are meeting their targets. With the ones who want to do better, I try to give them tips and attaboys. But with the ones who are just going through the motions, it’s not enough for me to say, ‘You have to do better.’ If I push, push, push, some of them actually lay back! It would help if we could give them more skills and reduce the paperwork and run-arounds. But they have to feel it’s worth more effort.
“How can I motivate them if I can’t give them anything real? And how can my boss expect me to be able to motivate my guys if this is all he does to motivate me?”
Do What You Can with What You’ve Got
The sales manager’s concerns were perfectly reasonable: Some of the responsibility for her team’s performance belonged to her people, and some belonged to her. Unfortunately, she did not have the authority to staff her team only with people with the right skills and attitude; instead, most of her team members were incumbents she’d inherited. Nor could she create inspiration by setting tough but reasonable goals, or provide a supportive operating structure. And she had no control over company policy, high-level goals, or reward systems.
Motivation can’t simply be applied to people like paint, so I encouraged her to show her team that she truly wants them to succeed, and is working hard to clear any roadblocks in front of them where she has authority.
Aspects of Maximum Impact
We discussed her responsibility to focus on her people’s needs and opportunities, and to craft individual plans to support the necessary conditions for their success. I recommended that she conduct interviews with her team members to verify that:
- Goals: They know what’s expected of them. She should be explaining and reinforcing their goals and purposes in an upbeat and encouraging way.
- Skills: They have the full skillset necessary to do the job successfully. Otherwise, she needs to design a personalized training and coaching plan. Without competence, there is no exhortation, rule, or promised incentive that will make them do better.
- Drive: They’re committed to applying themselves. Within the parameters of her authority, and with support from HR and her boss, she can emphasize that she only accepts folks who want to make it work, and who are willing to give the extra effort.
- Structural supports: The structural underpinnings of the work group are supporting, not hindering, performance. Examples include the assignment of territories; IT support and software responsiveness; the offer terms reps are allowed to give to customers; compensation and incentive programs, etc.
After seeing which of her team members would benefit from support or training, and identifying the real problems in their way, the sales manager may develop a new sense of how to present issues to her boss to motivate him to help her get what she needs to support her team.
This thoughtful approach may also encourage the sales manager’s boss to care about her needs in the same way that she cares about her people’s needs.
Onward and upward,