Is Your Sales Manager Worthless?

In a recent study, Gallup published a statistic that literally jarred me. According to their 2015 State of the American Manager, only 10% of all managers are what you could call “great.” Okay, fair enough. A truly great manager is rare. Makes sense – even if it seems kinda cynical.

But here is where I got stunned. Only 20% of the remaining managers have the potential of being decent.


That’s right. 70% of all American managers are literally wasting their time. And yours.

I still don’t know what to say about that.

I mean, I have huge respect for Gallup. They have consistently done excellent work over the years (most recently, the whole StrengthFinder thing – which I love – and the solid work they have done showing the lack of employee engagement in the workplace).

But forget whether it is as high as 70% for a moment. Is it reallyIn Over Head possible that the vast majority of American managers are simply in over their heads?

Well, according to their research – yes. Yes, they absolutely are.

Gallup defines great managers as having five key talents:
1) They motivate every single employee to take action and engage employees with a compelling mission and vision.
2) They have the assertiveness to drive outcomes and the ability to overcome adversity and resistance.
3) They create a culture of clear accountability.
4) They build relationships that create trust, open dialogue and full transparency.
5) They make decisions based on productivity, not politics.

These five talents are, according to Gallup, the lynchpin to great business results. And apparently these talents are missing by the bucketful.

Okay, if this really interests you, go download the report here. But let’s put that research to the side for a bit.

I want to talk to those of you who are actually stuck with a worthless manager. Specifically, a worthless sales manager. Because there are all kinds of issues that you need to navigate.

If you are overseeing a worthless sales manager, what do you do?

If you are reporting to a worthless sales manager, what do you do?

If you are a teammate with a worthless sales manager, what do you do?

YOU HAVE TO KNOW THIS: They will never change. They will never figure it out. Here’s why.

They were not promoted because they were a great manager. They were promoted because Dinosaurthey achieved great sales results. At some other time. In some other economy. Perhaps in some other era (hello, Industrial Age dinosaur).

It’s the cold truth. And it’s a tale that is as old as time. The business world believes that is hasn’t fully figured out a reliable way to identify and promote the right people, so it goes back to what it believes to be true – promote your best performers and pray tell yourself that it works. Well, if Gallup is right, that is literally the dumbest idea out there. There are all kinds of implications with this approach to sourcing sales managers, but let’s stay focused on you.

You have two options.

Technically, you have way more than that, but let’s stick with being healthy about it (because ranting/whining/complaining/getting political/giving up are all options that are NOT going to help you).

You can (A) influence the situation or (B) adapt to the situation.

If you are able to influence the situation, you need to focus on three things.
1) Change the criteria for selecting sales managers. Make sure that the FIRST thing people look for in a potential manager is his/her ability to make others special – not just be special. Get your organization out of the destructive loop of promoting the “special ones” because the definition of “special” is already skewed. If you have someone who has never made other people special (their teammates, their supporting cast in Op/Customer Service/etc., and so forth), they are NOT ready to be a manager yet. Period.
2) Create opportunities for people, both current managers and people who are not managers yet, to make other people special (and I hope you are noticing the pattern here). The most frustrating thing you can do to your people is tell them that they must develop other people and then not give them the opportunity to do so. This may mean you have to restructure teams and redefine roles. But if you have the ability to influence the situation, you have to link the new definition of success with a new definition of role – and the environment to execute that role.
3) Measure the crap out of the results of these changes. And publish these metrics. But again, make sure you include metrics associated with making other people special. Measure things like employee engagement, coaching activity, unplanned employee turnover, and overall team growth. If you only measure performance outputs, you are only validating the old way of thinking. You need to get people thinking differently. And when you have these metrics, you can then build accountability around them. You can help people see what they need to do to not be worthless – or recognize that they need a different role.

(Note: I am not saying that performance outputs are unnecessary. They are vital to understand as an overall indicator of business health. I am simply saying that they don’t tell you that you have different/better manager candidates. In fact, on their own, these
metrics have been proven to produce the wrong kinds of managers.)First Things First

And, obviously, there is more involved than just focusing on making other people special. But you can probably guess that if you only source and assess sales managers who can deliver against this requirement first, you can easily figure out how to prioritize who does all of the other stuff.

If you are able to adapt to the situation, you need to focus on three things.
1) Don’t turn their problem into your problem. In other words, never accept the outcomes (or lack thereof) as your fault. Even when your worthless sales manager wants to put all of the blame on you. Taking responsibility for their dysfunction will only make the problem worse.
2) Focus on the positives. Identify what is working and what has the potential to work – even with a worthless sales manager. If your sales processes are strong, maximize them. If you have an awesome value proposition to sell, sell it with pride. If your teammates are equally committed to excellence, support them. Share best practices. Collaborate. Don’t get distracted by the negatives. They will only make you become negative – and eventually a contributor to the negativity. But focusing on the positives will help you build and maintain the inner strength you need to face a situation you can’t influence. Yet.
3) Invest in the positives. This is critical. But don’t just chase after any shiny positive thing you see. Only invest in the positives that you know will make the biggest impact with the least amount of effort/time/risk. Seriously, this is critical. If you invest in the positives that will require massive amounts of effort, time, and risk, the likelihood that you will not actually make a genuine impact is incredibly high. Go after the low hanging fruit, even when it doesn’t seem sexy. UPS famously saved millions of dollars by just eliminating left-hand turns on their delivery routes. Not sexy (especially when wearing brown shorts), but – wow – what an impact. Instead of building an über solution to a problem that has existed for years (and will likely remain for years to come), invest in a simple improvement that will make a genuine, sustainable difference in your reality. For example, don’t try to reengineer that stupid CRM that your manager keeps shoving in your face urging you to use. Perhaps creating your own sales process with our own definitions may be a better use of time. Or maybe creating some simple sales materials that you can use to increase your relevance in prospecting may be the ticket. But once you have actually built some positive momentum with your small investments of effort, you should embed the positivity. Champion it. Celebrate it. Allow it to become the kind of inspiration that other people get infected with. Because then your adaptation will transform into influence. And you can then go to work on making the problem go away, instead of simply navigating around it. Or him. Or her.

And that’s how you deal with a worthless sales manager.

I mua. Onward and upward.

By Tim Ohai

This entry was posted in Sales Leadership and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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