An executive VP of sales, during a recent coaching session, told me he thinks he has a morale problem in his office. Several of the salespeople, he said, have been complaining. He wasn’t sure if it was mere grumbling or if there really were some things seriously wrong at the company.
I told him he was being an effective manager by working to determine if their complaints were valid or just random griping. Since he and I had both studied the book Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin we talked about the idea that “a leader should take good advice and accept constructive criticism.”
As he related the complaints he’d been hearing, I asked him this: “How many of these complaining salespeople are underperforming and not reaching their goals?” He replied that 100% of the complaints were coming from the underperformers, and he’s had no complaints at all from the overachieving salespeople.
He wondered why I asked that question, and I told him: “When salespeople, professionals or executives are underperforming, they usually complain about others first.” They might say they don’t know what’s going on at the company because there’s a lack of communication. They might complain that the company is not changing enough or that it’s changing too much or prices are too high or deliveries are too slow or the company’s social media strategy is off. The list could go on and on. You’ll notice that no blame is placed on what they are doing or not doing.
We often deflect our own lack of success by identifying what others are not doing well.
When an executive team is underperforming, they usually pick on each other. The operations and manufacturing team complains about inaccurate sales forecasting. Sales blames manufacturing on poor quality or lack of inventory. Accounting can’t get the financials out in a timely fashion because salespeople turn in their expense reports late. And the CEO is frustrated with everyone because sales and profits are lagging.
I know at times in my own career, I’ve blamed my lack of results or success on other people or circumstances. I looked for excuses to justify my poor performance. Even more detrimental: I didn’t own my problems.
The Extreme Ownership book also advises, “A leader must own everything in his or her world. There is no one else to blame. The leader must acknowledge mistakes and admit failures, take ownership of them and develop a plan to win.”
Looking at the example above with that mindset, an underperforming executive team would do better to redirect their energy and come up with ways to work together. The sales force, with feet on the ground, could work with operations and manufacturing to better forecast sales probabilities. Manufacturing might work with sales and customers to solve quality issues and determine the right level of inventory needed to fulfill customer orders. Managers might explain to salespeople that turning their expense reports in on time is important to the overall company, and that’s now a priority.
As I told the executive VP of sales in our coaching session, first you need to determine if real problems exist or not. Valid issues should be addressed immediately, and those involved should take ownership and develop strategies to correct problems and move toward their potential. If there is not a valid issue, then the executive should take ownership of the situation and work with the complainers to redirect their energy and efforts.
Don’t play the blame game to explain a lack of success. Don’t battle internally either. Remember that everyone in the office is on the same team, no matter what their job title or responsibilities. Keep that in mind, and you’ll do what you do better.