I just spent 2 days with a team of Account Managers who reminded me about how challenging it can be to survive in a sales environment. These managers are all intelligent, talented and highly committed to being the best they can be, but their performance is seriously hindered by the culture of their organisation.
They explained with utter sincerity that their usual work day can begin with Blackberry calls, texts and emails at 6 am, and that it is not unusual to be taking calls at 10.30 at night. Their days seem to be filled with activities they consider non-essential sales function, and their leaders apparently bombard them with conflicting messages, lots of negative feedback and very little recognition.
Some of these managers were so stressed they talked of “burn out” and “overwhelm” and their language was richly scattered with metaphors and analogies of “black holes, the abyss, burdens, weight, spreading cancers, dropping balls and carrying huge lumps of lead”. They described “impossible targets” and “meaningless goals”, “confusion, chaos and embarrassment with their customers.” Some were looking for an escape route. Others felt trapped and many said their home lives and health were being seriously impacted.
Their bosses are not intentionally having this negative effect. They are responding to their own concerns and fears about future uncertainties and current realities in the business. Unless they can achieve more with less cost their competitors will surely win the business they are working so hard to achieve and keep.
This is a dilemma facing many businesses in this economic climate, and the perceived urgency to achieve more drives this high pressure way of doing business.
This is not the only choice.
These managers work for an organisation that has chosen to explore change another way. They decided to engage their key people in a process they hope will shift their culture dramatically. The most influential sales and operations managers have been invited to explore their contribution to creating a new direction and a new culture, one they can all be proud of, and one which will enable the business to grow through creative choice, rather than the ‘do more’ strategy they seem to have slipped into.
The process involves individuals exploring their own beliefs, thinking and behaviours to see how they contribute to the highly pressured quality of work life they experience. This is counter-intuitive to the usual reviewing which encourages us to point the finger of blame at everyone else in the company, to the mythical ‘they’ who are never in the same room as the finger pointers.
We have designed a number of structured experiences to help these key people to uncover the direction they want the business to go in, so they can express it, and live it, rather than wait for their leaders to give them consistent direction.
This is a brave and brilliant approach. Some, of course, may realise they have no real vision of their own and this revelation could trigger their departure. But the vast majority will discover that the reason they are still there putting up with this highly stressful life, is because they genuinely care about, and have faith in, their organisation’s future.
Within the space of 2 days, these managers turned their persistent complaining about their managers, other parts of their business and their systems into a sincere and passionate commitment to change.
By the second morning one manager had arranged a meeting with her manager to agree some meaningful targets, another had fixed a meeting with his ops manger to agree some new standards, yet another had interrupted her usual pattern of rescuing a colleague and clearly asked him to step up to his responsibility. I could go on but essentially these managers have taken ownership of their organisation and have plans to transform everyone they can. They are prepared for set backs and have been equipped with some resilience tools. It’s early days but my guess is that this organisation will reach a rewarding tipping point soon!
I wish them well, life is far too short for such stressful working conditions. How about your organisation? Are you contributing to, or putting up with, stressful conditions? Let us know if you want some help creating the mind-set and skill-set for your people to thrive.