If you remember the problem I described in the #ProfessionalGrowthTip No 28, a group of recalcitrant sales reps were essentially holding hostage their company’s customer accounts and were engaged in an implicit power struggle with the management.
Without a doubt, it was the management’s fault that this situation was allowed to arise in the first place. Good management is always a subtle balancing act between allowing people creative freedom but at the same time maintaining boundaries and ensuring discipline.
Clearly, this company relented on the discipline aspect of this equation long enough that it escalated into a serious problem. Personally, I don’t believe that the solution lay in discussions, trying to reason or negotiate with the sales people. Not that they are unreasonable or malicious people. It’s just that behavioural dynamics, once set, are very hard to change by conversation alone.
The fastest and the best way to change a behavioural dynamic is by changing the environment in which it arose. And the conversation accompanying this change must be aimed at promoting the new environment as opposed to critiquing the old one. As Einstein said, a problem cannot be solved from the level it was created at.
So, the solution I ended up proposing was this: the company should hire six apprentices and attach them to the sales people as trainees. The apprentices will accompany the sales people on all sales calls, learn everything about the customer and establish their own relationships with the key people.
Having another person along on the sales calls will keep the sales people in check and prevent them from engaging in dysfunctional behaviours. At the same time, should a sales person decide to quit or abscond, the company will still have a working relationship with the client.
To prevent the trainees from being corrupted, a three months rotation schedule is to be implemented.
This approach is favourable because the sales people will not see it as an encroachment on their autonomy but as a teaching exercise and helping the company to prepare for the future. They’ll believe that the apprentices, once properly groomed, will take on the company’s expansion plans and leave them to do what they’ve always been doing before.
Whether or not it plays out that way we don’t know, but at least this way the company will have some options and, most importantly, it will get back the control of their customer accounts.
This is a strategic, long-term solution, that, in my opinion, addresses several key issues all at once. And best of all – no confrontation of any kind is needed! Just by changing the environment, we change the power dynamic in positive and functional ways. And that was the point of these couple of #ProfessionalGrowthTips. Well, that and a little bit of bragging too :-).