Category Archives: Accountability

Best Position for Mentoring

“I am still having difficulty with this,” Brendon pushed back. “It’s all up-front, the manager knows the MOR is having career-ladder discussions with individual team members, but why is the manager-once-removed (MOR) the best person to have these discussions?”

“I know you still think the manager, being closest to the team member, would be the most likely person to have these discussions,” I replied, “but the manager is largely focused on productivity, workplace safety and output. It is the manager-once-removed who has accountability for creating and maintaining an effective talent pool.

“It is the manager-once-removed whose scope covers more than the immediate team, who sees opportunity in other areas of the organization. Simultaneously, the MOR has an accurate judgement from the immediate manager on each team member’s current capability and potential capability gleaned from 1-1 meetings with the team’s immediate manager.

“It is the MOR who is the perfect position to conduct these mentoring conversations.”

In the Open

“But won’t James feel uncomfortable, maybe distressed if he knows I am talking directly with his team members,” Brendon shifted in his chair.

“You and James are part of a team. As the manager-once-removed to James’ team, you expect James to talk to you about each team member and their career progress. James will notice things about his team that you won’t see. By the same token, James and the team have work to get done, so James, by design will focus on shorter term issues, while you focus on longer term issues. And, just as James is the coach for his team in their current roles, you are James’ coach for his current role. No one is talking behind anybody’s back. It’s all out in the open.”

“Shouldn’t HR do this instead?”

“Some companies think that,” I replied. “The problem is that HR is not in the accountability loop. As James is accountable for the output of his team, you, as James’ manager are accountable for James’ output. This chain of accountability puts you in the best position to have individual mentoring discussions with James’ team, and individual coaching discussions with James.”

Fulfillment or Frustration

“But, if I have discussions about career path with James’ team members, wouldn’t that undercut James’ authority with his team. Won’t it appear that I am going around his back?” Brendon was concerned.

“You might think that,” I replied. “On the other hand, if you set the context properly for the conversation, it is a reasonable explanation, that you are curious, and interested in them, as a person. While there is a well defined working relationship between the team member and James, there is an appropriate conversation, an appropriate relationship between the team member and you, as the manager-once-removed. It is not your purpose to coach them on productivity in their current role, but you want to talk about the future, their aspirations, their interests, their curiosities, their future role in the company. It’s a perfectly legitimate discussion that demonstrates the care of the company in the career paths of their team members. People feel fulfilled when they can see their future and opportunities to pursue it, and, they feel frustrated when they do not.”

Who Has the Larger Picture?

“I think we may have a problem with James,” Brendon started. “Turnover in his department.”

“And?” I asked.

“And, he says team members are quitting the company because of pay. We’ve had a competitive pay program that has worked for several years, with reasonable increases, but some of the numbers James is claiming don’t seem reasonable for the people he is losing.”

“So, you think the problem is with James?”

“It’s his department,” Brendon shrugged.

“Does James have the authority to offer pay increases beyond the thresholds in your comp program?”

“Well, no. But, whenever I hear it’s about the money, money is only part of it. I think it’s that some of our project managers just don’t see the longer term picture here that they are promised somewhere else. Pay may be part of it, but it’s their longer term career path.”

“And, you think James should be talking to his team about their longer term career path?” I prodded.

“Look, I know James has a lot on his plate. He’s in charge of all of our projects, they’re complicated with lots of moving parts, but he also has to pay attention to his team,” Brendon shook his head.

“So, James is in charge of complicated projects, coaching his team for faster throughput, maintaining quality standards, AND you want him to be a mentor?” I smiled. “What if you went to James’ team members, occasionally, and you talked to them about their career, challenge in the work, and what their professional life might look like in the future? With James’ full knowledge about that conversation?”

“Isn’t that James’ job?” Brendon questioned.

“Sounds like James has plenty on his plate dealing with what’s going on today, this week and this month. Besides you have a better perspective on the larger picture of the company, the larger picture of role opportunities, where lateral moves make sense, where promotion makes sense. On these longer timespan issues, I think you are in a better position to have that discussion. In a very real sense, as James’ manager, for James’ team, you are the manager-once-removed.”

The Decisions of a Salesperson

“You’ve described the work of a salesperson as probing and connecting. Probing for the customer’s pain and connecting it to our product or service?” I asked, not waiting for an answer. “So, a sale that requires more than order taking likely requires a higher level of complexity?”

Marlena nodded. “We used to think we could hire anyone, give them a list of features and benefits to recite to the customer and that would be sufficient.”

“And?” I asked.

“And, sometimes they would get lucky, but our hit ratio was less than stellar,” Marlena explained. “We finally stumbled on a salesperson that was closing ninety percent. Her process was simple. In a screening phone call, she identified the customer’s pain.”

“Let me stop you there,” I interrupted. “At that point, what was the decision?”

Marlena paused. “More than one decision. Was the customer’s pain something we could solve? Was the pain strong enough to prompt the customer to take action? Would the customer see enough value in our solution to pay the price we needed to make it a win-win?”

“So, when I ask you the question, what’s the work of a salesperson, what are the problems to be solved and what are the decisions to be made, you now have a much clearer idea?”

The Work of a Salesperson

Marlena was a bit puzzled. “If most of what a salesperson does, can be better done by someone else, then what do we need salespeople for?”

“There is still one small sliver of specialized work that is best done by a person in a sales role,” I replied. “Prior to the customer signing a contract, what does a salesperson do that marketing does not do?”

“They talk to the customer. I mean, marketing talks to the customer through websites, literature and other marketing messages, but it is generally one-way,” Marlena observed.

“So, it is the two-way talking that the salesperson does,” I picked up. “And what does that two-way talk sound like?”

“The salesperson, our salesperson, asks questions,” she answered.

“Asks questions for the purpose of what?” I prodded.

“To find out where the pain is. Like a needs assessment. Where does it hurt?”

“But, marketing could ask that same question?”

“But, our salesperson takes that data, that pain, and connects it to our product or service. If that connection is meaningful, there is high likelihood of a contract.”

“So, what is the work of a salesperson?” I asked again. “What are the problems to be solved and the decisions to be made?”

“It’s the probing and connecting,” Marlena replied.

“Does it matter if the salesperson is an extrovert or an introvert,” I smiled.

“Well, they have to be able to carry a reasonable conversation, but our customers really don’t want a new friend, they have a problem and they want us to solve it.”

What is the Work?

Marlena thought for a moment, changed her mind to protest some more. “But, what about a salesperson who doesn’t like to do expense reports, or doesn’t like to update our CRM program? Don’t we have to look at those things in a person’s profile, attention to administrative detail? I will tell you, when we hire a salesperson, if they can’t, or won’t pay attention to the administrative part of the job, then we won’t hire them.”

“If that is the behavior you need from a salesperson,” I shrugged. “However, I think you need to think this through a bit more carefully. What is the work of a salesperson?”

“Well, first, they have to research their market, compile a list of likely customers,” Marlena started. “Then, set appointments to see those people, do a presentation, secure a contract, follow-up to make sure the contract is delivered to the customer’s satisfaction, then make sure we get paid.” She stopped. “That’s about it. If I can get them to do that, I’m happy.”

“So, let’s think through this,” I replied.

  • Could the market research better be done by the marketing department?
  • Could appointments better be done by an administrative scheduler?
  • Could the follow-up better be done by customer service?
  • Could securing payment better be done by accounts receivable?

I would submit to you that your salesperson is doing all kinds of non-sales work, which I am sure keeps them busy from making sales. It all gets down to – What’s the work of a salesperson?

Required Behaviors

“But, what if a person doesn’t like the work in the role? What if they have a behavioral tendency against that type of work? Wouldn’t we want to know that in advance of hiring?” Marlena asked.

“Marlena, you are a manager?” I replied with a question. “Do you really like administrative work, you know, the paperwork behind the real work?”

“You mean like approving productivity reports, writing expense reports, reviewing time sheets?” Marlena chuckled. “No, I am more interested in improving productivity, reducing expenses and making sure the time we spend working together is meaningful.”

“So, if you showed me your personality profile, it might show that you are not particularly interested in paperwork?”

“I suppose not,” Marlena responded. “But, that’s just a small part of what I do. Administrative work comes with the territory.”

“Yet, the paperwork is detailed, even tedious at times. Why don’t you just stop doing it?” I asked.

“You can’t just NOT do the paperwork,” she said. “If you don’t look at the productivity reports, how do you know you are improving productivity? If you don’t review expense budgets, how do you know you are reducing expenses? I have to do those things.”

“Are you telling me there is a set of required behaviors associated with your role, that you may not like, that you may not show a behavioral tendency toward, nevertheless, you have to do them to be effective in your role?”

Marlena was silent, but her head nodded up and down.

Given the Circumstance

“You used the word reasonably several times, reasonably analytical, reasonably organized. In hiring, what do you mean reasonably?” Marlena asked.

“Most people have a reasonable range of behaviors,” I replied. “Most roles require a reasonable range of behaviors.”

“But, don’t we all have behavioral tendencies, where we would likely behave more one way than another?”

“Behavioral tendencies compared to what?” I prodded.

“Given a circumstance. Given a circumstance, we would likely behave more one way than another?” she asked again.

“You are absolutely correct, given a circumstance. Often our behavior or our behavioral tendencies depend on the circumstance.” I stopped to describe a series of questions. “Tell me about a time when you worked on a project that required attention to detail? What was the project? How long was the project? What was your role on the project? What was special about that project that required attention to detail? What were the details that required your attention? How did you track (pay attention) to those details? How many details? What was unusual about the details that required your attention?”

“So, don’t we want someone who is detail oriented, who has a general behavioral tendency toward details?” Marlena wanted to know.

“No, I want someone who specifically pays attention to detail when the circumstance (context) requires it. That’s why I always want to know – What’s the work? It’s all about the work.”

Project Work

“Who is Marie? And why is she managing only one person?” I asked.

Esmerelda was silent, then spoke. “Marie has been selected to be a manager, but needs some experience, so we gave her a person to manage.”

“And, the impact on your organization is that you added an unnecessary managerial layer. Did you give her a raise as well, did you give her the corner office?”

“Yes, we gave her a raise, and she didn’t get the corner office, but, she did get an office.”

“Like eating an hors d’oeuvre rack of soft cheese, then drinking a glass of ice water. Not good for the digestion,” I said.

“But Marie needs to learn how to be a manager,” Esmerelda protested.

“If she needs to learn, send her to training. Give her project work.”

“Like what?” Esmerelda pushed back.

“Like making a schedule, leading a small project. Give her something of short duration. If your promotion fails, what do you have on your hands, imagine chocolate dripping through my fingers. But, if you give her a project and she fails, you only have a failed project, and you, as her manager, can manage the risk in the project.”