First Class Coach

I run a closely knit sales team, and recently recruited a highly capable senior manager who consistently refuses to have anything to do with the rest of the team.

by Miranda Kennett
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

I really don't want to let him go, as he's great at bringing in new business, but his behaviour is really affecting his colleagues. What should I do?

A: At the risk of stating the blindingly obvious, the job of managers is to manage. Yet it is surprising how many people promoted to the role enjoy the increased pay, power and perks that manager status bestows but behave as if all that is required of them on this next step of the career ladder is to do their old job, only slightly better.

Often, the failure to manage is not addressed and the issue persists well beyond the normal transition period - sometimes until targets are consistently missed and staff start to leave.

Sales departments are, of course, competitive places, where advancement is sometimes gained by the use of sharp elbows. Your new sales manager is used to being rewarded on his individual efforts and proved himself by being a better salesman than his peers. And if that's what the organisation seems to value you for, there's every reason to keep on behaving in the same way. It requires a significant shift in mindset to move from competing with other salespeople to encouraging them to better performance.

I suggest you use your sales manager's self-interest as the lever to change his behaviour.

Before you start, though, check that his job description is clear and his responsibilities for developing his team are spelled out in writing.

Check that his salary and bonuses include an element of being seen to make a difference to the success of the whole team. Often, performance-related pay is focused solely on individual efforts in achieving turnover and profit targets, not on building bench strength for the team.

Book a review session with him in a neutral place away from the disgruntled sales team. Ask him to review what he feels is going particularly well in his new role and add your own positive comments. It will pay to make him understand you value his new business-winning abilities - he will be much more receptive to the rest of what you have to say. Then consider together the other areas of his job description and focus on the new areas of responsibility where he will need to increase his skills. Point out that his income will be affected by his performance in these areas and that you'd like to support him to make sure he makes maximum progress.

Ask him how he plans to grow into the new areas of responsibility. Engage him in agreeing tangible targets for staff development, by which you will both know he is making positive strides. These could include some feedback from the team. Offer practical support in the form of training and development, if this is appropriate.

If he is still resistant, try asking him what job he hopes to be doing in five years' time. If his aspirations tend towards a senior general management job, suggest that this role will require skills in leading and managing others. He'll need to gain experience in this so that he can match his reputation for doing great deals with a track record for achieving results through others.

A client of mine, a senior manager in a PR agency, had a similar problem.

A newly appointed account director was doing well at establishing client relationships but made no effort to develop his agency team. His arrogant attitude to his staff, based on his client-handling prowess, was demotivating his support team. The net result was that his people performed at an average level, which caused him to be critical and dismissive of them - and so the sorry cycle continued. Things improved when his boss told this ambitious man that his pay and promotion prospects were predicated equally on his client work and his management behaviour. If he didn't attend to the internal issues, he'd never rise beyond his current level, and if he hadn't groomed a suitable successor, even his progress towards bigger and more prestigious accounts would be blighted.

Enlightened self-interest did the rest; his manager provided development support and encouragement, and acknowledged his progress.

If you can encourage your sales manager, who has reason to be proud of his skills in persuasion and negotiation, to share his expertise with the team, you may just succeed in getting him to do the job he was appointed to do in the first place.

- Miranda Kennett is an independent coach. If you have an issue you'd like her to cover, e-mail: miranda@firstclasscoach.co.uk.

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