Motivation is a funny thing. Some managers forget that it’s a tool to an end, not an end in itself. As well as motivation your people need skills. Without a good motivation-skills balance then managers can be responsible for some pretty weird scenarios.
For instance, in my first ever team manager role, having taken over from the legendary Big Al, I knew I had to ensure my team was motivated. They had skills coming out their ears but also a capacity for laziness that would make a sloth look like Mo Farah.
This was all fine until we recruited a new member for the door to door sales team, Wee Alex, a highly intelligent guy. He was 19, had zero confidence and was what we’d now fashionably call 'a nerd'. Brilliantly funny when he allowed himself to be, it was he who coined the expression a Regional Manager’s ransom in blue tack (blue tack being a commodity in our team as it keep your sales call sheet attached to your folder). He had almost everything that would help him fit in, and then succeed. But he had no sales skills at all.
Sure, I did the training with him and he came up to a basic level, but I’d been used to working with the best salespeople in the country, as our motley crew had somehow become. So the fact that Alex was performing just ok was a disappointment.
We’d drop him off first sometimes (we called this being 'lead pilot', a silly phrase that made being put out the car first onto territory seem like less of an ordeal). And we’d Mini-Hype him. We’d tell him he was amazing. We really did like him. We told him the Book Club offer he was selling was the deal of a lifetime. It really was an excellent offer. We told him he was privileged to be part of the nation’s best squad, which he really was. He’d be frothing at the gums to get out the car with a lemme at ‘em! attitude that would have impressed any motivational speaker. He’d sweep his geek-greasy, straight black hair off his face and like a greyhound out the traps simple charge at whatever town we’d dropped him in.
Fast forward to two hours later, and we’d spot his crestfallen, sad face from a mile off. Sure, he’d hit them with everything he had. But it wasn’t enough. He had the will and the courage – and the motivation. Everything, in fact, apart from the weaponry. He’d charged gloriously into battle with a hyper-enthusiasm which must have terrified prospective buyers as they opened the door to this wee mite, bawling with the furious joy at being alive on their doorsteps.
One day he didn’t turn up to work. His results were not disastrous. Just ordinary. So we needed his score to keep up the team’s end. We were expected to win every competition and being a man down wasn’t going to help. We turned up at his door. This was before the days of mobile phones. His family was not on the phone either. He answered, looking sheepish, defeated even.
''I cannae do it Bob. I’m not like you guys. I just don’t know what to do if the prospect doesn’t say yes right away."
That was a wee Eureka moment for me. Of course he didn’t know what to do. I’d forgotten to tell him what to do, having assumed everyone born knew precisely what to do.
I came from Big Al’s school of man management. We were Colonel Kurtz’s boys from Up River. The Oxbridge types who put their man management fantasies into print for the company training manual were busy running head office into the ground with their utter ignorance of all that mattered in sales - while we were busy single-handedly saving the day, every day. So, if some HQ manual somewhere contained the words put your arm around that wee soul Alex they were redundant words.
I just looked at him and said,
“Get in the f*****g car.”
This he did.
I dropped the team off on territory and then took Alex around with me like a shadow for a week. Show, don’t tell is the best management technique. People forget even wise words quicker than they forget a simple, living breathing example of what to do.
I was teaching Alex. And I was teaching myself too.
By Bob Smith who has worked in sales for more than 30 years, works as an experienced recruiter, trainer & motivator and is also a published author of both children’s and adult titles.