Note: In light of Bobby’s recent troubles, I thought I would reprint this article the I wrote in 2000.
The recent dismissal of Bobby Knight as the head coach of Indiana University should mark as big a change for sales management as it did for coaching. For years it was popular for sales managers to abuse their staffs with tirades and threats. I remember one manager I worked for who prided himself in publicly humiliating at least one person in every weekly meeting. While this approach may have achieved results, it was still wrong. Beating a person might get them to behave, but it doesn’t make it right.
I almost thought these Neanderthals had become extinct until I was sitting in the Red Carpet Room at O’Hare Airport last week. Behind me was the loudest, most obnoxious representative of this breed. He was cursing a blue streak at full volume, so I had no choice but to listen in. It seems that a particular sales rep must have missed his quota last month and, in the words of my loud friend, it was because he was just plain lazy. And furthermore, if he didn’t get on the stick he’d fire his sorry %?#. With that he slammed down the phone and I realized that he had been talking to this poor reps voice mail! The coward didn’t even have the courtesy to be rude in person.
What follows, I swear, is true. Moments later, our Neanderthal took a call on his cell phone and the tone of his voice changed remarkably. He was calm and collected and even nice. As I listened in, he was telling a friend about a meeting with his boss who had apparently recommended that he get immediate counseling for anger management. (Imagine that!) He said the boss let him know that it could affect his career. He told his friend that the boss just didn’t understand ‘these guys’ and if he did he’d be screaming, too. Then he confided in his friend that he had already started the counseling and that he was going to try ‘real hard’ to make it work.
I noted that he never said his boss yelled at him or threatened him, although I believe his boss had cause. He actually spoke very nicely about the man who had just made it clear that his job was on the line if he didn’t change immediately. And he referred to the fact that he was taking action based on the advice he had received. It was clear to me that Mr. Loud and his boss had very different styles.
I wonder who gets the best results: the screamer or his calm boss? I wonder which one builds a loyal team that will give their all to make goal in the tough months? I wonder which one has employees who recommend friends to join their company? I think the old style of management was a result of poor skills. Managers who lacked the knowledge to handle people properly resorted to the techniques they learned in high school football. I don’t know about you, but my high school football coach retired with a winning record and a small paycheck.
Let’s bury phrases like, “Winning isn’t the most important thing, it’s the only thing”. It’s that attitude that caused one parent to shoot another at a hockey rink near here recently. What’s more, today’s workers don’t have to put up with that abuse. They are too smart and have too many options. Let’s use effective goal setting, coaching, mentoring, training and motivating. Let’s spend the time to hire the best and then invest in them to make them better. Let’s identify those who are not right for the job and move them to other positions or ‘free them up for other opportunities’ by helping them find jobs elsewhere and discharging them with their dignity intact.
This is not just the right way to treat people; ironically, it’s the only way that works. If you have Bobby Knights in your company, pull them aside. Tell them that they are a liability not an asset and that you are sorry you let it go this long. Give them the training, the tools and an opportunity to change, but make sure they do. Then make sure you lead by example and build an organization where smart people can feel good about trying their best and where achievement is recognized and failure points out areas for improvement.
Let’s say good-bye to Bobby Knight and all those like him. The future is too good to be spoiled by their kind.