Tag Archives: work

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’s the Work?

“We have an opening on the team,” Marlena announced.

“And, you would like my help?” I asked.

“Yes, what kind of person should we hire?” she wanted to know.

“What’s the work?” I asked.

“It’s a project manager role, coordinating and organizing all the elements of projects we have in-house,” Marlena replied. “I am thinking we should hire someone who is analytical, good attention to detail, works well under pressure. Oh, and they have to work well with people, because there are people involved in all our projects. I think it is a very specific personality profile.”

I chuckled. “So, this person would only be able to work in the project manager role you have in mind?”

“Not necessarily, there may be other things they could do, but you have to be a special sort of person to be a project manager. There’s a lot of multi-tasking, to make sure none of the balls get dropped.”

“Marlena, the things you describe are character traits for most all jobs. Most every role requires someone who is reasonably analytical, reasonably organized, has reasonable attention to detail and can reasonably pace a project so that it meets internal deadlines. You seem to be focused on things you might describe as character traits. I want you to shift your focus to behaviors. Behaviors is how work gets done. My first question to you was – What’s the work? We often get carried away trying to climb inside the personality heads of candidates without a clear understanding of What’s the work?

Assumptions About Work

“I would assume most companies have real problems to solve, so what do you mean, if you want your team to feel high levels of job satisfaction, you give them a real problem?” I asked.

Pablo thought for a moment. “Sometimes, companies engage in contrived exercises. To build a team, they take a group to a local ropes course, or a game of tug-of-war over a mud pit. Those exercises provide only temporary relief, short-lived when the team returns to work. The work itself has to be satisfying.”

“What leads a company astray?” I wanted to know.

“Oh, that’s not so hard to understand,” Pablo replied. “First, I think we have misconceptions about why people work. And, then we base our managerial systems on those misconceptions. It’s a flywheel that eats itself.”

“Misconceptions?”

“Some companies think people work only because they have to, only in exchange for meager compensation to put food on their table. Or, more substantial compensation so they can buy a boat. They believe employees are simply self-centered and have no inherent need to work. That our labor system exists only as a commodity. It’s a scarcity mentality.”

“As opposed to?” I said.

“People have an inherent need to work. People have an inherent need to contribute, to their own self-independence, and also to the positive social systems in which we live. Look at the number of hours in a work week. It has been coming down over time, but in the US is currently settled at around 40 hours. People need a substantial, material amount of sustained work, where they can contribute their full capability to solving problems and making decisions. Managerial systems based on this understanding are much different than those based on greed.”

State of Mind of the Group

“It’s the difference between work and non-work,” I said. “Both work and non-work are states of mind. Non-work is an unconscious state of mind. Work is a conscious state of mind. Non-work just happens on its own with no particular direction. Work only happens when there is a purpose.”

Nathan and I had been discussing a simple start to a meeting where he asked each team member to contribute a piece of good news to start the meeting.

“So, I am connecting this exercise at the beginning of the meeting with a state of mind?” Nathan asked.

“Absolutely,” I responded. “Thoughts drive behavior. And if your thoughts connect to a purpose, then you are more likely to engage in work. If your thoughts are not connected to a purpose, then your behavior is likely to be unconscious and non-productive. How you think is everything.”

The First Sea Change

The first sea change for every organization is the way we organize work. The startup asks this question of every new team member. “What do you do well, where can you help us?”

“I can do this and I can do that.”

“Great, because we have some of this and some of that for you to do.”

We always start off organizing the work around the people. People with special talents get special work, others not so much.

Is there work left over? There is always work left over. It doesn’t take long for the founder to understand we can no longer organize the work around the people. We have to organize the people around the work. And, that is the first sea change for every organization, the emergence of roles.

Humpty Dumpty Sat on a Wall

All the king’s horses and all the king’s men couldn’t put Humpty together again.

Yesterday, someone asked me, as we move from shelter-in-place to a re-open of the economy, what should a CEO think about? Of course, there is work to be done, and we will bring people back to do that work, but what should the CEO think about?

  • What does my market environment look like in three months time, one year’s time, two years time? This includes market demand, regulations, capital requirements, availability of labor and technology.
  • What should my company look like in three months time, one year’s time, two years time?
  • What are the internal functions necessary to support my product or service in that market demand?
  • Inside each function, what is the level of decision making and problem solving?
  • What roles do I need to make those decisions and solve those problems?
  • Do I have people on my team who can effectively play those roles?

There are two concepts embedded in these questions.
Necessity
Levels of work (levels of decision making, levels of problem solving)

Necessity
If your company considered the purchase of a $100,000 machine, and it was NOT necessary, would you buy it? That same decision has to be made about the roles inside the company. Now, is an opportunity to examine your organizational design and ask, is this necessary?

Levels of Work
Most CEOs do not think about the work necessary to make the product or provide the service. Understanding the level of decision making and the level of problem solving are specific clues to the talent you need. Now, is an opportunity to examine the levels of work and ask, do I have the people on my team who can effectively make those decisions and solve those problems.

How Culture Touches the Work

Culture is that unwritten set of rules that defines and enforces the required behaviors in the work that we do together. Many things we do are written down and comprise our standard operating procedures. But most things are unwritten. And, when we think of culture, here are some things that are often missed.

  • Who can belong to our team? (Membership)
  • Who has the authority to make decisions, in what situations?
  • How are team members given work assignments?
  • How often are team members given work assignments?
  • Do team members depend on work product from other team members?
  • How do team members hand off work to other team members? (Integration)
  • When a team member completes a work assignment, how does their supervisor know?
  • When a team member completes a work assignment, how do they know what to work on next?
  • Does anyone review or inspect their work?
  • How often is their work reviewed or inspected?
  • Are they permitted to continue on additional work before their current work has been reviewed?
  • Do they work on multiple assignments simultaneously?

The people system is the most important system you work on. This is just the start.

Two Armed Octopus

Chase left our conversation abruptly. Across the plant floor, he had spotted a problem and rushed to make a correction. He was apologetic on his return. “Sorry, but that is why I called you today. I feel like a two armed octopus. There are eight things that need to happen, but I can only work on two problems at a time. Things get out of control about fifteen minutes into the day. And they never stop. At the end of the day, I look at my boss’ list of projects and the important things never seem to get worked on. There is always a crisis.”

“Not really,” I said. “To me, your system is working exactly the way it was designed to work.”

Chase was puzzled. “What do you mean? It’s not working at all.”

“No, it is working exactly the way it is designed to work. The design of your day’s work is to drink coffee for the first fifteen minutes, then run around the floor solving urgent problems. At the end of each day, you check the list to make sure you didn’t do anything important.”

I paused. “Not a bad design. How’s that working for you?” Chase didn’t like what he was hearing.

“If you want to change your day, you have to change your design for the day. I see about four major design changes you might want to consider, but let’s start with just one. Don’t let anyone work during the first fifteen minutes of the day. Instead have a huddle meeting around the boss’ list of important projects. That one design change will be a good start.”

How is your day designed?

Legacy Thinking

The landscape is littered with technology initiatives that died. Some wimpered, some imploded, collecting significant collateral damage.

We know what happened and why it happened. The question – how to create technology initiatives that deliver on the promise?

What got you here, won’t get you there. – Marshall Goldsmith

The solution to a problem will not be found by the same thinking that created the problem in the first place. – Albert Einstein

Many technology initiatives fail in an attempt to preserve existing methods and processes. Adopting a piece of software supplants existing work. Technology changes the decision making and problem solving of humans. Human work changes.

It Was Never About the Schedule

Deana had my curiousity. “The ops manager said he was afraid to show everyone what he was doing. But, now that the cat was out of the bag, he explained. He understood the sandbagging. He said each person on the team, and he called them by name, thought they were being sneaky by adding extra days to the project schedule, when, in fact, sometimes things go wrong and those extra days might be necessary. He called those extra days, buffers.

“He showed us his secret project schedule where he took all the buffers away from each segment of the project and put them at the end. He was afraid that if people saw their buffers disappear, they would get mad at him, so he kept it a secret.

“The schedule still had the buffer days, but they were all at the end. As the project went along, some of the buffer days were needed, so he would move only the necessary buffer days back to the segment. So, if a project segment went long, they still had buffer days.

“When the last segment was completed, there were still eleven unused buffer days. Guess what that meant?” Deana teased.

I just stared. Waiting for her discovery.

“That means the project came in eleven days ahead of schedule. In all my time here, we never brought a project in ahead of schedule.”

“What was the most important lesson in all this?” I asked.

“You were right in the beginning,” Deana replied. “The issue had nothing to do with the schedule. It was all about the team.”

This series has been an illustration of Basic Assumption Mental State, affectionately known as BAMs. The mental state of a group can shift in seconds. Teams can go into BAMs in a heartbeat, moving from Work into Non-work. It takes courage, and some skill to shift back into work mode. BAMs is most clearly defined in the book Experiences in Groups, by Wilfred Bion, brilliantly captured by Pat Murray and now by Eric Coryell in the stories they tell.

Project buffers is a concept illustrated by Eli Goldratt in his book Critical Chain.