We love to help sales people fulfil their potential, but the key to success is not always what you might at first think. Getting better performance from your sales team will probably involve helping them individually with skills and techniques but it will usually also require better leadership and management.
So what is the difference between leadership and management? This is one of those things where asking a number of people will typically produce a wide range of often contradictory answers.
Perhaps a good place to start is with a view from the great Peter Drucker who after many years of pondering concluded that
“Management is doing things right and leadership is doing the right things”.
If this definition sits well with you then you can start to see why both leadership and management are necessary disciplines and also how they might interface; the leader decides what is to be done and the manager ensures it is done. Put another way the leader decides the strategy and the manager deploys the tactics to implement the strategy.
For many years Drucker had been uncomfortable that people bestowed the term “leader” upon themselves motivated by pride or ego, believing that “leader” in some way made them superior to managers; it is clear from the above quote that he eventually felt comfortable that both roles had their place.
Leadership and Management in Business
Why business? Really just to define the scope of what we will cover as these disciplines can be found in the armed forces, police, education, in fact all public services and in professional sport. To further refine the scope I will use sales and selling as the context for this article.
I have been in leadership and management roles in business for the past 40+ years including the last 14 years when I have had the privilege of working in other people’s companies helping them to make their businesses more successful. While the primary focus of what we do is performance improvement in the areas of sales and selling our starting point is invariably the leadership team and their strategy for the business followed by extensive work with the leaders and managers responsible for implementing the strategy across the sales operation.
A key aspect of good leadership is the ability to clearly articulate the strategy in a form that everyone can understand, can feel motivated by, and above all, can see what part they play in delivering the strategy. If a strategy is high level and is expressed in language e.g. “improve the ROCE” that most people cannot relate to they will simply return to work and continue doing what they have always done in the same way they have always done it. Communicating the strategy must make it clear to each employee how doing their job on a day-to-day basis will contribute to achieving the objectives of the business. Cascading the strategy and the KPIs as in a Balanced Scorecard helps in this respect.
For me a key to good leadership is the recognition and acknowledgment that the leader is there to serve the business not the other way around. In smaller companies where the leader, often the owner, is also the manager of some functions such as sales or production, their primary challenge is to recognise which hat they are wearing on each occasion, and to allow for the effects of their privileged position when judging the corresponding performance of their employees fulfilling the equivalent function.
- If the leader starts to get involved in day-to-day activities they risk usurping their managers and confusing their teams; I refer to this leader as a Meddler.
- If they stand up at a company meeting to present the strategy for the next 12 months it is not the time or place to get into operational details. The company meeting should be followed by specific meetings with each operating unit where they can dive into the detail.
While you can lead people, management is a discipline for creating and maintaining the environment that supports the people succeeding in their work, whilst minimising unnecessary diversions.
When considering a management style, the starting point has to be a definition of the purpose and objectives of the business as a whole as well as the various activities the manager is responsible for. For me a key objective should always be, the creation of staff who can think for themselves, finding new and creative ways to deliver the required results while coping with ‘non standard’ situations.
A poor manager, who doesn’t know how to act through their people as opposed to on their people, will probably resort to ‘micro-managing’; telling them what to do on every occasion and in minute detail. For sales managers this is evidenced when they focus on relatively low level activity, for instance, pushing to make more calls in order to make more appointments, where what is really needed is better quality contacts or conversations to generate meaningful appointments. Invariably the drive for quantity is coupled with a fall in quality and a resultant fall in the very thing the manager was looking for; more customers and more orders.
“work smarter not harder.”
The problem with micro-management is that it amounts to supervision and just one brain doing the thinking; it stifles creativity, adaptability and evolution in the way of doing things. There is rarely only one way to achieve an outcome, so if the framework within which staff are required to operate is too tightly defined they are unlikely to give of their best. Supervision styles such as ‘my way or the highway’ rarely lead to improved performance, and they also eat time, constraining the capacity of the ‘manager’ to focus on their complete role. If, as suggested earlier, your purpose is to help people become independent thinkers resolving most of their issues on their own initiative supervising their every move will not deliver the desired outcome. Supervision may be applicable in support of inexperienced people but even here a coaching style will always deliver a better long lasting outcome.
“… teach a man to fish …”
The risk of becoming a ‘micro-manager’ is at its height for newly promoted managers especially when they take up a post running the team they inhabited. It is common in sales that the best sales person is made the manager but this is often done without a proper process of selection that would look at the suitability of the person for the role of manager; the result is typically diminished sales results and a demotivated team. The other common issue is that newly promoted managers rarely receive adequate training or support for their new role leaving them to find their own way; which may be out of the business and back to doing what they’re good at – selling.
When working with sales managers who struggle with the idea of ‘managing’ their people, the conversation quickly turns to coaching. This is a very powerful tool that sales managers should use to help their people avoid or solve their own problems and issues that impact on their performance.
I mentioned earlier that this article was focused on business as opposed to, amongst other disciplines, sport. However, sport provides an excellent example where coaching is used extensively to enhance and improve performance. Professional sports people who are at the top of their game have to look for small marginal gains to get that edge over a competitor.
The role of the coach is interesting in that the person they coach will invariably be better than they are at the discipline which begs the question “how can the coach help them?” Put simply; it is hard for any of us to see in ourselves small blemishes that are clearly visible to others. Even if we can see those blemishes it may be hard to admit them or perhaps as they have become a part of us we cannot see how to deal with them. The coach is able to stand back and focus on specific points that need to be improved looking both at the practical and emotional aspects of dealing with the issue.
Everyone who is responsible for the performance of others needs to consider coaching as a key weapon in their armoury.
Considerations for leaders and managers
- Style. People will look at their leaders and managers as role models and conclude; if they do it that way, think that way, have those beliefs; then it is OK for me as well. A business needs a culture of shared beliefs and values that everyone can subscribe to when doing their job.
- Beware creating a cult of personality. Strong charismatic leaders and managers tend to recruit and promote in their own image which comes with a number of risks. People will mimic to be accepted but may not be able to deliver within the acquired persona. Those who do not feel comfortable with what they see may feel excluded and above all the team will suffer due to a lack of diversity and variety in its make-up.
- Communication must be two-way. There are points when leaders and managers need to “tell” but there are far more occasions when they need to listen. Most answers to everyday business issues can be found within the team and involving them will also aid morale, motivation and commitment.
- Lead, manage, coach, but don’t supervise. Lead and coach the people and only manage the environment such as the sales and selling processes. If you are supervising you will not get the optimum result from your team.
- Accountability. Leaders and managers often talk about being responsible but of greater importance they must be accountable – the buck really does stop with you!
- Micro-managing – don’t do it! Recruit properly then train and coach your people so they can use their own creativity, initiative and other personal resources to do a really good job day in and day out.
- Don’t allow the urgent to overrun the important. It’s simple; if you leave the important things as you are focused on the urgent everything becomes urgent and is dealt with reactively which leads to short-term fixes that will see the same problem come round again and again. So be wary of rewarding the firefighters if you truly wish to cure problems, as this will often reinforce the practice.
- Deal with poor performers. Having tried all you can to help someone improve there are occasions when you have to acknowledge that for whatever reason they are not going to respond and once that point is reached you need act decisively and fairly. But first ensure that the organisation itself is providing the necessary support.
- Change is a constant. Successful leaders and managers accept change as an inevitability and design their organisation to accommodate changes imposed from outside while also continually looking for internally driven changes that will benefit the business.
- Be a learning organisation. Make a key part of the culture the assumption that you can never know everything so learning should be part of the regular routine across the business. Consider creating a Learning & Development function, or a Knowledge Base to facilitate information sharing and process evolution.
In many of our customers the CEO/MD, who may also be the business owner, also functions as the head of sales; they wear multiple hats and sales can never be their 100% focus. If it is impractical to have a dedicated sales leader it is even more important to be mindful of the need to lead and coach rather than manage and supervise the sales people. Initially it may seem that leading and coaching requires a larger time commitment but quite quickly the approach will require less time from the leader as the sales people will have gained confidence from being trusted and will have learnt to function independently. Ensuring that there is a defined framework in place to specify the aims, essential outputs, quality criteria and control gates will make it easier for the sales leader to monitor performance and decide when proactive intervention might be required; but remember don’t waste time measuring low level activity.