By Bob Williams
"How'd it go while I was on vacation, Dick?", Jane asked.
Dick hesitated, then mumbled "Something's up, but I've not been able to put my finger on it..."
"Something? Like what?" Jane was clearly curious.
"It's almost as if the sales team has put it on cruise control. New accounts are way down, and even growth from existing customers seems to be suffering", Dick lamented... "It started even before you left", Dick continued, "but I think it's gotten worse, and I can't quite isolate the cause. It's like a stubbornness, or resistance to sell some of the new strategy".
Jane had her own suspicions, and had already heard from some hints from colleagues, and said, "A guy named George Orwell once said, ' In a time of universal deceit, the truth becomes an act of rebellion', so what has anyone said to you about it?"
At this point, Dick realized he'd dismissed rule number one of steward leadership, and even though he thought his drive and dynamic leadership skills could push the new ideas from upper management right through to success, he forgot to LISTEN.
Stewardship and building communities of strength in corporate leadership require regular and active solicitation of "contrary" views and perspectives. If there's any suspicion of repercussions for robust discussions, you will end up with the "yes" guys running the company into the red, or into oblivion. A consistent theme in the works of Patrick Lencioni is the idea that "robust" (aka, honest, customer focused, innovative, imaginative, etc...) discussions during any meetings are imperative for real growth and improvement in any organization. Listening?
It is far too common that when a normal, somewhat ambitious and apparently successful sales rep gets (mistakenly) zapped into a management position with no training or eduction, no profile credentials, no mentor and no clearly defined set of expectations - all common today - then there are some predictable results:
A) they learn immediately to protect their turf at any cost
B) customer focus wanes
C) because they know no better, they must respond "yes" to upper management requests
D) their ability to lead honestly is cut off early
E) they learn to say things "pleasing" to upper management, and they learn to look for the same from their reports.
F) success becomes convenient, while Failing becomes poison rather than useful lessons
G) supporting your team and colleagues becomes less and less important
H) Honesty becomes relative...
Can't blame anyone for taking that promotion, though, right? So how do we make sure to cultivate the right kind of education, training and support for the inevitable tide of upcoming stars so that they are not destined for their twinkling to be sucked into the black whole of "The way we've always done it"? Listening?
Unfortunately you cannot order a solution from HR or the supply room, and because education is often a slow process that involves study, experience and yes, listening to the guidance of wise and experienced counsel, the costs are incurred by the company as well as the candidates. It's a time honored tradition that has largely been forgone because we all want it now.
The sales person who doesn't learn how to listen to their customers will never get the best, if anything, from them. The management who doesn't learn to listen to their front lines will never get the best, if anything, from their staff. In order to help develop your customers or your staff into a team, you have to know where your support is most critical, and where their costs run too high!
Dick was quick, and the Orwellian quote hit him as he canvassed his team differently and discovered some serious operational issues nobody wanted to address for "political" reasons!
Jane simply dove into her catching up challenges, and stuck a sticky note on her portfolio on which she had printed in bold black marker, LISTENING???