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Sunday, November 29, 2015


     “Every person in this room is in sales,” he said.
     This charismatic guy stood in front, facing a dozen-plus of us middle managers in a smallish organization, a daily newspaper operation.
     He came and stood behind me. He put his hands on my shoulders.
     “Jim, here, shows a lot of promise for sales leadership. He should work at it.”
     What? I tell myself. Hey, man – I’m an editor. I don’t do sales. I do news.
     This sales leadership thing was an alien concept. To all of us.
     Still, the presenter kept at it for two or three 11-hour days. There was no noticeable effect on me – or the guys from production, accounting and other functions who weren’t out there selling ads, subscriptions or news dealerships.
     Not then.
     Not until years later, when the concept somehow seeped through to my mental operating system. Once it did, it forever changed my idea of the managerial job description, in all the roles I have played in the many years since that crucial event.

     Now I know.        
     Say there is a person desperate to do something, and you are the person with the power to say, “Go ahead.”
     And say there is another person ferociously opposed to doing something, and you are the person whose job it is to say, “Do it anyway.”
     Those are the two extremes on the arc of persuasion: One is the easiest sales job there is, the other the most difficult. It’s not at all hard to get people to do what they want to do; results are tough at the other end of the spectrum – hard in the management effort it takes and puny in how much success you actually squeeze out.
     We managers bump around in that continuum. We yearn to live in the “Yeah-yeah!” neighborhood, while we find ourselves spending perhaps too much of our time at the hard-work/low-profit end.
     So let’s be managerial about this. It is the essence of management to respond creatively when an arrangement becomes more laborious than productive.

     It’s bad management to just work harder. It’s really bad management to just lay the whip on your people more ferociously.
     This is why they invented the dictum “Work smarter, not harder.”
     In this situation, the good manager (project or other) works smarter. He/she steps back and inspects the reality with a critical eye.
     This particular circumstance requires X number of people in Y roles doing Z work, defined as specific collaborative mixes of careful attention and creative autonomy. There is an over-all expectation of loyal devotion to an agreed common commitment. Certain people are not fulfilling those obligations because they have chosen not to.
     You, as the responsible manager, are tasked with conducting an effective, efficient group effort to meet the commitment. That is not happening. What do you do?
     You work smarter, that’s what you do. Unfortunately, as you begin working really smarter, you realize it’s late. You should have worked a lot smarter at the beginning. Probably the pre-beginning, when the seeds were being sown.

     So you work with the nonperformers, helping them see personal reasons to buy in. If that doesn’t work, you make a clean break – you replace them.
     Either way, here are the questions you now must ask yourself:
    Why are you dependent upon people who do not intend to do their part? How did they become part of this project? Where were you when the fate of your effort was determined, and what were you doing?
     Your answers to yourself will essentially tell you that you weren’t really there as the manager while those folks were being designated as part of your effort. You now must confront – respectfully but a firmly as necessary – the performance and intentions of each poor performer. And act appropriately.
     You also must revisit what should take place next time such an enterprise is about to be mounted. NFL Coach Bill Parcells said, "If I'm going to be asked to cook the meal, I'd like to be able to pick the groceries."
     If you’re not invited in, get yourself invited . . . or get to influence the decisions. A heavy lift in persuasion, perhaps, but vitally necessary.

     If you do neither, you enter as a process technician and proceed to becoming a frustrated and exhausted loser. A blamed one.
     It’s better, much better, to be in sales.
     At the moment of appointment to the responsibility for this effort, you convince the owners of resources why their proper investment will assure their goals. They need to invest authority in you, and they must invest quality in the staffing.
     As your team members join the effort, you convince them that their investment, that of energetic effort, will enrich their days and advance their careers.

     Sales. You can do management without it, but not well.
Getting People to Do Stuff

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