In this Blog I have refered to several management books as good reference material on how to conduct both sales and your business. Despite our best efforts we invariably will find ourselves in a position that can only be described as comical. Someone will ask you a question, or senior management will give you an order that will cause you to stop, and look for the hidden camera that must be around to capture your response. It is times like these that make me glad that I have read some of the very good satires of management books.
Stanley Bing has two great satires out on books that I have recommended. “What Would Machiavelli Do?” and, “Sun Tzu Was a Sissy” are great examples of what really good management content can become in the wrong hands. I would be very surprised if you have not run into a manager as described in these books. It also gives you an idea of what can happen when fundamental principles are practiced (or twisted) to the extreme.
That also brings us to Scott Adams and the quintessential “Dilbert”. Despite its skewed view of business and management, I have learned many things and seen many truisms in Dilbert. I have also caught myself in more than one instance where I was going to act or say something that could have been featured there.
A broad sense of humor is essential for leadership. Without it we run the risk of becoming a characterization of what a good manager should be. Characterizations and satires help us to understand what the extremes of a good thing can look like. They also help us laugh, and sometimes the best thing to laugh at is ourselves.
In his book “The Prince”Machiavelli states that leaders “must assume that all men are wicked and will act wickedly whenever they have the chance to do so.” To tell you the truth, I have not found this to be the case. In fact I have normally found the exact opposite to be the case. In most of the organizations that I have been in, I have found the team members to be ready and willing to do the correct and proper activities when they are given the chance.
The key here is to enable the team to do the right things. Make sure your sales team has the product training and competitive knowledge to successfully compete in the marketplace. If they don’t know what their product can do or what their competition is capable of, then the chance of their misstating your product or corporate capabilities increases. They will take some of the blame for not having the information, but you should take some of the blame for not making sure it was provided.
The sales team has the unenviable job of trying to please two masters; the customer who buys their product, and the management of the team that supplies the product. The sales team wants to tell the customer the truth and set expectations appropriately (as well as get the order) so that the customer will not have issues regarding the product performance and the perceived value it brings. The sales team also wants to meet the goals and expectations of their management in order to receive their rewards and maintain their positions.
In business and sales there will always be issues. By providing the right information, capabilities and incentives to the business and sales team, they will be enabled to do those activities that they need to do right, and to continue to prove Machiavelli wrong
There will always be tough times in business. It is the cycle of things. As leaders we should be working to minimize and avoid them, but sometimes they can’t be avoided. When things get tough, our natural tendency is to keep quiet, keep our head down and work harder. That is not the right response for the business leader facing tough times.
When times get tough the business leader needs to go on the communications offensive. You must communicate your issues and your plans to improve the situation, and the progress against those plans to the senior leadership team. It is best not to wait for them to ask. If there are issues and you wait for management to ask you, or worse yet tell you what to do, it will compromise your ability to lead your team.
On the other side of things, your team will also recognize when there are issues with the business. You will need to communicate openly and often with them to make sure that they are aware of all aspects of the situation and what their respective roles in it will be going forward. If your team is left with a blank page (no information) the story that they will write will not be the one you want.
While open and significant communication may not correct the issues that are driving the hard times, it will significantly contribute to making sure that they do not get worse. People can and will understand that tough times occur. Knowing what is happening and what their roles in it going forward are key aspects of creating and implementing the solution to tough times.
Every time I have been taken a new assignment in a new organization, the first question that was asked of me was “What are you going to do first?” My answer was invariably the same one. I would reply “I am first going to learn”. I would give this answer to both the people I reported to, as well as the people that reported to me.
It is good to come into a new role with a rough idea about what may or may not need to be done. This helps you create the first action plan. What normally happens then is that both your preconceived ideas and your plan rarely survive the first encounter with the actual business realities of the assignment intact. It is then that you learn why the situation is in the state it is in.
Machiavelli noted that the two principle ways to govern a new organization were to either go live amidst the existing leadership structure, or to destroy the existing structure and replace it with your own. I have been in corporate cultures where both approaches have been the norm. The team replacement culture usually breeds a business culture of fear, whereas the more inclusive approach will create a more constructive environment for the business.
I have found that my personal preference is to go and locate amidst the existing structure. In this way you can facilitate and speed up your learning process regarding the business. The existing team will always have some stake hold in the existing structures and processes of the business, but in general they will also know that a leadership change has been made for a reason. That reason is to usually change the direction of the business. This is usually easier to do with a team that is familiar with you instead of one that is afraid.