Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Fruit from a poisoned tree; a look at employee turnover and how leadership contributes.

"There are seven things that will destroy us: Wealth without work; Pleasure without conscience; Knowledge without character; Religion without sacrifice; Politics without principle; Science without humanity; Business without ethics." - Gandhi

Once thing that I have learned is that what is bad at one company is good at another. By the same token once you get to the new company you find out that they have issues that were worse than the previous company just in different areas. This is often found out after the fact. Business technology companies often have tremendous turnover, I can attest that I have seen many heads come through the doors to do nothing but turn around and go home. A sales team of 5 will see 3 new faces by the end of the year and those may change out every 8 to 18 months. There is no loyalty from either employers or employees; what we have is an ever intensifying battle to pressure people to produce more for less or be replaced.

When I was at Minolta I felt like I was part of a local team and that team was part of the greater group that was part of the greater good. We were shunned to own anything but a Minolta camera, and at events no one would ever dare be seen with a Canon or Nikon. We were loyal to the products that our company produced even if they were in different divisions than we personally worked in. I worked in the office equipment division, and was part of the equipment sales group. This feeling of belonging allowed us to bare the intense pressure and competitiveness that is found in office equipment sales. When Konica and Minolta merged there was still this feeling albeit not as strong. The leader at the time Jun Haraguchi was very dynamic and was a leader among the men. After the merge he went to each branch office and made himself available. This type of exposure brought a lot of loyalty in tough times.

In contrast I have been at IKON for almost 2 years now and very few leaders inside the organization know me other than the ones that I have been bold enough to force myself on. I have watched top leaders show up, walk across the sales pit to the corner office, stay 45 minutes and leave just as quickly as they came. Most never knew that one of their greatest leaders had come and gone. In fact what you find in many organizations this size is a fear to reach up or to open up communication to those that we report to. In fear we do not want anyone with a relationship with anyone higher than ourselves. And when new information is presented we want to be the one to present it. One of the sad things that I have seen over the last 6 years is the great talent that has come and gone due to the lack of care from management.

Everyone is replaceable. That is the code by which we all live by. And from what I have seen this is a fallacy. This is what desperate leadership says when they have no other way to issue control to an unruly crowd. The fact is that not everyone is replaceable and in fact you do not want to have to replace people they are the lifeblood or currency of the business. People own the relationships that bring the business; what IKON has proven is that companies buy from people not brands. What IKON doesn't understand is that it is much more costly to pay someone to recreate the relationship than it is to just treat people with dignity and respect the first time. I guess they figure to do that might be taken as weakness rather than as strength. The cost to hire someone can be amazing both from a hard cost; ads, recruiters etc and from soft costs; personnel time during interviews and the on boarding process, not the mention the loss of productivity during the vacancy and during the ramp up period. So why does the leadership of companies not take a closer look at their turn over and seek to find out why employees leave their company? Do they just figure if you left then they didn't want you anyway?

10 Ways to Send Them Off!

  1. Salespeople don't leave companies they leave their management – The pressure on top salespeople is tremendous and they must feel that they are in a stable environment. Sales people leave companies when they cannot trust their leadership. Salespeople must be able to identify with the vision of the company and the cadence of the leadership that is in front of them. Good local leadership determines the longevity of the employee.
  2. Work/Life balance is nonexistent – When people are out of balance they burn out and become overloaded. People do not stick with a job that constantly pressures them over the edge.
  3. Compensation / Assignments Change frequently – 2 cardinal sins for any employer is to make changes to compensation or territory assignments. No one wants to feel like they will not get the benefit of their hard work. Long term people work harder if they feel that they will be in the assigned areas and that they will be compensated as they were expecting. There is nothing worse than having to fight for your commissions. Companies should avoid the pitfalls of saving a few dollars by creating complicated compensation plans and focus on what will it take to be successful by helping employees "sell through tough times."
  4. No emotional connection points – People do not work for a "concept." People work for people and work harder if they have a connection or feeling of commitment or obligation. Emotional ties can get top sales people through tough times. Without a solid connection salespeople will look for "greener pastures."
  5. Lack of development – No one wants to feel like they have nowhere to go. And we all want to feel like we are progressing and will "get to the promised land" eventually.
  6. The feeling of insignificance – Lack of recognition for a "deal well done" is another sure fire way to run off your best employees. Recognition is very important in the world of sales, and typically sales people love to be recognized by their superiors and peers.
  7. Being unable to get along with co-workers – Having someone that is unbearable or that doesn't fit into the team's culture is a deal killer for sure. No one is so good that they should be allowed to take down their peers.
  8. Being unable to get along with their boss – This is an age old problem and speaks to poor leadership. A good leadership should set a positive culture and maintain the office integrity.
  9. Politics overtakes the office – Especially during the increasing pressure of our economic times we find that everyone feels insecure. Offices start allowing "self propaganda," either to stave off would be job takers or to ensure our position within the organization. Most people do want to have to perfect being "fake," so providing a "politick free zone" will help your employees focus on what is important!
  10. Lack of respect and integrity – Everyone wants to be respected both for their individuality and for their contribution to the organization. An individual, office or organization cannot prosper long term without a strong sense of integrity.

Executive sales positions are very demanding and the local leadership of an organization has a responsibility to make their employees feel secure. Security comes from having ones needs met. Abraham Maslow was one of the first to look at these phenomena. "Maslow was an American psychologist; he has been most recognized for his concept of a hierarchy of human needs. He was really the leader of humanistic psychology, he was one of the first to look at what constituted positive mental health. Most of his predecessors were focused on the abnormal or ill." 1

Within the layers of the pyramid we find areas of need. A person's job can touch many of these areas and can be a part of someone's life that brings great rewards or can be what brings you to your destruction. The leadership team of an organization is what sets the pace for a great work environment or a total disaster. A great leader with only marginally talented people can always greatly out perform a poor leader with great talent. A good leadership team is what makes a group, whether it is a local sales team, an area branch or an entire group. Each level has leaders that are responsible for the culture and the success of the group is dependent on them. Far too often companies allow leadership to just "push out" employees thinking that "if we had the right people" instead of identifying what the root causes are for the group's lack of performance. Very rarely do leaders look at themselves as the reason for their group's failures. And from an organizational standpoint executive leadership all too often allows managers and local leaders to "blur the lines" between what is good business and what is bad.

This blurring is the death of any group. Especially in sales; the short term successes from this blurring does nothing but make salespeople lose respect for their managers, teammates and company. The deals that are won by this short changing of the process and the "blurring of lines" are what make companies appear sleazy and what earns the public's distrust. Mid level and executive managers and leadership sometimes fall into the trap of not promoting the altruistic vision of an organization and enforcing the rules so that the employees can feel secure that they are not going to get caught in this blurring. Sales people know that if they will blur the lines to win a deal they have no problem doing the same to dislodge you. You are only valuable when you are producing and any deviation could cause your loss of employment. Managers offer up their wins and star performers to leadership as proof of their success when really all they are offering is fruit from a poisoned tree.

This poison if left unaided is what can kill the team, branch or organization. The problem is all too often a leader will offer up these false offerings of success to move forward knowing that what he/she is leaving will be a mess for the next leader that replaces him/her. Many have tried to disprove Maslow's theory but only because it was presented as an absolute, no one would disagree that there is a hierarchy of needs and that we all share many of those needs although it would also be true that our needs may vary from person to person and that one level may be higher on one person's list than another. I would propose that there is also a hierarchy of needs within a sales organization by salespeople and that those needs are all very similar.

Fruit of the poisonous tree is a legal metaphor and I think it is fair to use in reference to a company's leadership. If the leaders are poisonous then any of the fruit of their work should be considered poisoned as well. What seems to be accepted in today's troubled times is that companies are willing to compromise themselves by hiring "snake oil salesman" in an attempt to attain short term success. I do not believe that anything good can come from a company that is willing to compromise their integrity just to gain some sales in the short term. Customers gathered from the orders of such poisonous leaders cannot be maintained long term nor can the salespeople that are brought up under such leadership be successful long term.

Companies that ignore the salesperson's hierarchy of needs are going to not see stability in their workforce because ultimately what you compromise to keep you lose! Just some opinions from a pirate that is getting older and wiser…

Pirate Mike…


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