Living Sales Excellence - Dennis Connelly's Blog

Rugby and the Executive Role in Sales Manager Accountability

Posted by Dennis Connelly on Mon, Apr 16, 2018 @ 07:04 AM

When a sales manager says, "This guy isn't cutting it, but I can't let him go," it's an "uh-oh" moment, the "a-ha" moment's evil cousin. When she says, "I have him on an improvement program but it's not working," adding, "Every time I give him something to do, he has an excuse for why it can't be done, shouldn't be done, doesn't work in this market, etc." And then she says, "I think he thinks I don't have the authority to do anything about it. I have no leverage." That's when I say, "uh oh, what's behind this?" Having no leverage is like a rugby scrum. No one has any leverage and the line of scrimmage at the center of it barely moves at all. But there's always a way to get the ball out.

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What's going on here? Why did she say, "I can't let him go." The answer, it turns out, is that he's been with the company for 22 years and the CEO says  he stays, period. "We're a family," I heard one CEO say recently. The same CEO complained that the numbers weren't improving as expected. I have seen enough close involvement of CEOs with their sales managers lately that it's worth taking a closer look at what can happen with that approach and offering a way through it that's so simple it will surprise you.

I'm not talking about CEOs who directly manage sales managers and who are therefore coaching them. I'm referring to the examples where higher-level executives and/or CEOs specifically limit the authority needed by managers to perform their required responsibilities. Before I get into what I see is at the core of this issue, let's dispense with some of the other possibilities that could be happening independently of any meddling:

  1. The manager might have a need to be liked by her reps. This is an issue for some managers. It could be the reason why she is still getting resistance from this rep. If she's worried about what he thinks of her, she might be holding back a bit. There might be much she could do to make improvements if she weren't worried about the consequences to their relationship. 
  2. It could be an issue of Shaping the Environment of the team. What is her relationship like with this person? Is there mutual trust and respect? Does he ask her for help? Does she offer it? Does she coach him effectively? Does she hold him accountable? Does she know what motivates him? Has she created an environment for him and the other team members that supports constant improvement and learning and does everyone know where they stand with respect to their goals, behaviors, and activities.
  3. It could be that the CEO believes this rep has a lot of desire for success and that the right management style will bring out the best in him. However, "desire" is often confused with "commitment." In this case, the desire might be there, but perhaps commitment is low. Commitment is defined as the level of discomfort one is willing to endure to reach what they desire. Desire is the height of the bar. Commitment is what you are willing to do, ethically, to get over it. The CEO might not see this and might be stepping in for a personal reason and/or a genuine sense that this person wants to be there and wants to be successful. That's why measuring commitment is so important. People tend not to improve without some degree of change and discomfort.

What is often overlooked as a root cause for lack of results is the way that hierarchies are structured within the organization. With so much time and effort going into ensuring salespeople are properly trained and that managers are coaching and performing other key duties properly, it's frustrating when the organization structure is the block, not the people, nor their ability.

So let's take a page from a master of organizational leadership drawing from a tremendous body of research done in the 50s by Elliott Jaques (pronounced, "Jacks"). Managers will be relieved to see in such starkly obvious terms what they intuitively know. Executives could use this to free their organizations from the shackles of misalignment and organizational blockage. It's a simple way to get ball quickly out the back of the scrum and off to the fly half to make something happen.

Managerial leaders, Jaques writes, must have three critical accountabilities and four critical authorities as follows:

The Three Critical Accountabilities of a Sales Manager

  1. For the output of their salespeople
  2. For maintaining a team of salespeople capable of producing the outputs required (e.g., meeting quota)
  3. For the leadership of that team so that they collaborate with competence and full commitment with them and with each other in pursuing the goals set.

When you hire a manager, this is what you are expecting, particularly if they are not also acting in a sales role. The sales manager role, by definition, demands that these three responsibilities rest on their shoulders. However, these accountabilities are unattainable without the proper authority. So what does that look like?

The Four Critical Authorities of a Sales Manager

  1. Hiring manager - who's going to be on my team
  2. What do I want them to do? What tasks should be assigned so that we attain the required outputs?
  3. Judging their effectiveness and deciding any merit awards as appropriate. This is not a group activity, nor is it something that a CEO or owner should step in and do. It only would undermine the sales manager's authority.
  4. Initiating removal from the his or her team. Not necessarily firing. The CEO can keep their long-time friend at the company, but the sales manager must decide who is on his or her team.  
I have seen situations where the manager has taken a large hit to their compensation due to the organizational inability to exercise this vital authority. Hire the right person and then get out of their way. If you don't like the job they are doing, fix that - develop their skills are move them to a different role. If you believe they are doing a good job in the role, then get out of their way.
 
Let's take a look at rugby again for another management parallel. In the book, Legacy, which was written in part about the All Blacks rugby team in New Zealand, author James Kerr writes, quoting head coach, Graham Henry, "The manager's first responsibility was to find a captain for their team - to pass the ball to them. And the Captain's first responsibility? To pick a team. And the team's responsibility? To turn up for every game on time." Quoting further, Kerr writes, "The leader sets objectives and parameters, then ‘passes the ball’ to the team, handing over responsibility for implementation and detail. Leading by creating leaders."
 
One can see the empowerment inherent in this approach, but make no mistake. There is tremendous responsibility placed on those captains. As a college rugby player, I witnessed something similar (not similar rugby ability). Our team was a club sport and we played several other colleges in our league with similar club status. We had no official coach, so our back captain and scrum captain were the leaders. They had both a responsibility to the team and the authority to decide who played, in what position, and how often. There was an A team and a B team and they chose those players as well.
 
On the surface, it might appear rather egalitarian. We voted them into those positions. But the managing of the team wasn't a flat organization, and necessarily could not have been. We might have elected our leaders, but once on the job, we expected them to perform. They were accountable for the performance of the team. And they had the authority to decide who was in what position and who sat out.
 
Back to our example with the CEO insisting that a rep cannot be let go. Without vested authority, a sales manager cannot do the job she or he believes is necessary to achieve the required outcome. Thus impeded, a good manager feels held back and eventually finds a new job where they will be allowed to succeed. The CEO might be thinking that his or her feelings that we're all a family are useful and meaningful to the organization. That's the "uh-oh" part. The sentiment is nice, but the effect on the organization can be devastating. By denying the the manager the proper vested authority of the position, they cannot reasonably be held accountable for their outcome. As the CEO, I'd be worried about the manager who stays.
 
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Photo Credit:  Alison Bowden

 

Topics: Sales Accountability, sales managerment, rugby, 21 sales core competencies, all blacks, managerial leadership, liberational hierarchy



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