Managers say they want to build a sales organization that has the qualities of speed, agility and skill. One that is sophisticated, responsive, high performing and above all successful. But is that what they are getting?
managers don’t just want to keep up with the competitors – they want to overtake them.
But while managers say they want a F1 sales organization, their management approach suggests something else. The management techniques often being applied are (quite literally) designed to build something a lot less sophisticated – a Model T Ford comes to mind.
The dominant management principles devised by Henry Ford and used to manufacture the Model T Ford on the world’s earliest production lines can be seen in many sales functions. It is a shocking realization, but sales organizations are employing techniques that are a century old and long out-of-date.
The way most sales organizations are managed is very similar to the way the first production lines were managed the only problem is that the management principles and methods that built the Model T Ford are detrimental to building a high performing sales organization.
Henry Fords way isn’t good enough. Ask Mr Honda, Mr Toyota, or Mr Deming (the man who inspired them and spurred Total Quality Management). For that matter ask anybody who has written on the subject of leadership or management in the past 50 years.
It can be of little surprise that century old management techniques are inadequate for today’s dramatically changed world. Just compare the job requirements of today’s salesperson versus one of Henry Ford’s factory workers.
Although it lives on in the management practices of so many sales organizations, the approach was designed for a time of significantly less complexity. The work was routine, standardized and predictable – all that was required was to conform to a basic set of standards, or targets. There was little or no thinking involved – that was the manager’s job.
The requirement was for watchful managers and supervisors with clipboards to measure the output. There were tight controls and clearly defined or engineered tasks that allowed for little divergence. The worker was a ‘cog in the wheel’ or to be more precise a cog in a hierarchical organizational structure.
Today’s sales roles are very different to what Henry Ford had in mind. There is complexity and unpredictability with lots of thinking, problem solving and creativity required to advance a sale.
Diligently following the steps of the sales process is not enough. The salesperson’s passion, commitment and enthusiasm are an essential ingredient in winning the sale.
The problem emerges when salespeople are managed in a fashion similar to Henry Ford’s production line operatives. To understand why, we need to shed some light on the underlying management philosophy that is involved.
What is your management philosophy? That may sound like a silly question. You may not even have realized that you have one. But you have, so to does your organization and it matters if you want to improve sales performance!
Every organization has a dominant management philosophy – it is a cornerstone of your organization’s culture and goes to the very core of how the organization manages people, structures itself and even lays out its offices.
The reality is that, as Managers, we unknowingly hold an underlying philosophy regarding how people are to be managed. It can be best understood by reference to what is called ‘Theory X and Y’.
The traditional approach to management has its roots in a more fundamental underlying philosophy of management, called Theory X (as described by McGregor in the 1960s). Don’t worry we are not going to get all theoretical, Theory x & Theory Y is really quite a clever way of explaining the dominant styles of management.
Theory X and Y are fundamentally opposing beliefs about people and how to manage them – it is a powerful way of exploring how your organization operates. We like to think of Theory X as the Model T way and Theory Y as the F1 way.
Put bluntly Theory X believes that most people are lazy or ignorant and are lacking in loyalty or commitment. Therefore managing them is all about CONTROL. Managers need to control and supervise – otherwise little will get done or done right.
Theory X also holds that people are relatively straight-forward. They are motivated by money – so financial incentives are what matter the most.
These beliefs are very much self-perpetuating – in that people have a habit of acting in the way that they are expected to behave!
In Theory X the manager is most important person. His, or her job is to plan, organize and control in respect of everybody else. He, or she works people to the corporate will through a measure of ‘carrot and stick’.
There tends to be a ‘command and control’ mindset with a ‘them and us’ divide between management and staff.
The organization has a hierarchical and authoritarian structure, often with rigid functional lines.
Is any of the above familiar? Is Control, Money and Hierarchy at the center of how your organization manages its sales team? If ‘yes’, then Theory X is likely to be the underlying philosophy and that maybe a cause for concern (unless you are building the Model T that is!).
Theory Y believes in people – they want to perform – to learn – to grow – to succeed. Managers who ascribe to Theory Y believe that people are inherently trust-worthy and want to do their best.
People have lots of potential, but it is not just about money, or the ‘carrot and stick’ – people are complex and self motivated. Self esteem and self actualization are important, so belonging, making a contribution, purpose and meaning are all important.
The manager’s role is to empower and engage, to listen, encourage, develop and support. It is to lead. The approach is bottom-up rather than top-down, with the focus on greater autonomy, innovation and learning. That of course is learning not in the book sense, but in terms of ongoing capability development with the organization. The absence of a ‘blame culture’ and the willingness to try new ideas and engage with outside perspectives is welcomed.
Organizations that build great cars, or just about anything else, embrace the Theory Y philosophies to underpin their success, as shown in the diagram below:
The list on the left hand side is indeed a demanding list that would challenge any manager or indeed organization. However, we would enourage you to reflect on this list. This list is key to building high-performing sales organizations in an increasingly competitive and fast-changing marketplace.
If you would like to read more on this subject we recommend:
The Dance of Change, or The Fifth Discipline by Peter Senge
The Fractal Organization: Creating sustainable organizations By Patrick Hoverstadt