Stop Branding Your People (Part 1)

Become a better sales coach and sales manager today.

Do you ever label people based upon your experience with them? That’s exactly what this group of managers did, without realizing the consequence of doing so.

Excerpt from Keith’s upcoming book, Coachquest.

It was the morning of the sales leadership coaching program I was delivering in Santiago, Chile for one of the world’s largest global technology companies. After sharing a quick story, we began to move around the room, where I gave each person an opportunity to share their expectations and what they hoped to learn from our two days together. Here’s a snapshot of what I commonly hear.

“Keith, I would really love to learn how to:

  • Make my people more self-sufficient and accountable.
  • Better handle tough or timely situations.
  • Turnaround under-performers more effectively.
  • Create deeper buy-in and alignment around my direct reports’ goals and vision of the company.
  • Motivate and empower people—especially during challenging times.
  • Leverage our analytics and CRM better.
  • Assess when to coach and when to train or give the answer.
  • Get the very best out of each person on my team so that we can achieve our business objectives.

And finally, “Keith, what can I do about those people who just don’t get it? Especially the veterans on my team who have been around a long time, many longer than me, who don’t want to be coached. And it’s not just coaching. They refuse to change or be open to any new ideas that could make them more successful. These conversations are so unproductive that I usually just do my best to avoid interacting with them as much as possible.”

All the managers in the room nodded their head in agreement. They had all been there before.

This is where I paused and created the first coaching moment of the day.

“Can you say more about that?” I inquired curiously.

“Sure I can,” the manager happily chimed up, believing he had been given the opportunity to stump me with an insurmountable challenge.

“I’m referring to those people on your team who just aren’t open to feedback or change. You know who I’m talking about, Keith. The difficult people who frustrate you to no end and don’t want to listen to what you have to say. To be brutally honest, I don’t even like being around these types of people. We just keep them on our teams because they still deliver value to the bottom line.”

Jumping on the Bandwagon of Despair

For this manager, he was not only voicing his opinion and the opinion of his peers, but a perceived fact he believed simply could not be changed. After all, when something happens regularly, you become blind to it. It becomes an undisputed fact for you. The greater cost is, when you can’t see the deeper issue or root cause on your own, when you’re blinded by your own assumptions, you can’t create a new or better outcome.

But I can see it. As a coach, that’s my job.

After the manager finished venting and sharing their point of view, I inquired further by asking, “So you’re saying that there are people on your team who are simply uncoachable?”

A unified, “Yes” echoed from practically every manager in the room.

“I’m curious, why do you feel so strongly that this person is, for a lack of a better word, helpless?”

I could sense the manager was ready to respond to my question. “Well, I’ve tried to coach them before and, compared to how open other people on my team are to being coached, it’s clear they just don’t want to change. They clearly broadcast this message in several ways. Some of my seasoned performers tell me straight up, ‘Just let me do my job. I’m performing. If I need something I’ll ask you.’ Conversely, even if they say they are open to being coached, they don’t really mean it. I mean, I have this one person on my team who’s not hitting their goals and told me they’re open to coaching but we have scheduled about eight different coaching sessions and wouldn’t you know it? As the hour of our coaching session gets closer, every single time, they email or text me telling me that something, “came up”—an emergency, a client meeting they couldn’t reschedule, a deadline, customer issue, or whatever other excuse they can creatively muster up to justify canceling our meeting. And they’re the ones who could probably benefit from the coaching more than anyone else on my team!”

I graciously thanked them for sharing their very detailed experience. “So then, as a result of their behavior, compounded with the multiple conversations you’ve had with them and what you have observed, you have come to the conclusion that this is just how they are and they don’t want to be coached. Is that correct?”

“Absolutely,” the manager says with confidence and assurance. Cheers of support from his peers rallying around him reaffirm his position.

“Okay. So, what else could be possible here?”


Your People Aren’t Horses

“Let me ask all of you a different question. Have you ever been in a situation where you or your salespeople were working with a prospect and that salesperson believed, with great certainty and conviction, that there was no way this person will buy or ever buy from us or anyone else?”

Heads nod in agreement.

“Now, I’m not saying this happens all the time, but in certain situations, has this very opportunity that the salesperson thought was dead and hopeless, miraculously convert into a large and profitable sale?”

Consensus amongst these managers continues to build.

“And why does this happen? What makes this even possible?”

Another manager jumps in and responds. “Because the salesperson made some assumptions about the customer that simply weren’t true.”

“Why would salespeople do that?” I asked?

The same manager continues. “They probably base their assumptions on some past experiences they had with that customer or similar customers they had worked with previously.”

“So then how do these un-closable deals end up miraculously closing?” I ask.

“Many times, salespeople end up asking more questions to validate or invalidate their assumptions. Sometimes they realize that their initial assumptions had been incorrect and were actually the very thing that had caused the problem in the first place. Then, by either providing an alternative solution or engaging with that particular customer in a different way, they were able to turn that opportunity around and create a sale.”

“So what do you do then as a manager?” I ask.

“Well, we tell our sellers not to make assumptions because it limits their ability to create any new selling opportunities. After all, past experiences don’t always equate to future expectations, right?”

At this point, most managers in the room have identified their own gap and learning moment. They now see how the assumptions they make about others based upon their own judgement and past experiences impact their communication, relationship, and level of trust with them.

If you’re operating from this line of thinking, then what are you modeling for your team? Chances are, your direct reports, co-workers, customers, prospects and salespeople are doing this type of damaging branding as well.

Now, if this is true, then what do you think people are then saying about you?

Once you remove the limiting labels you have placed on others, rather than walk into every conversation with a preconceived outcome based upon how you assume the person will react, it allows you to hit the reset button on any relationship you want to improve. Now, you have the awareness needed to change your approach and disposition, how you communicate and how you engage with others. Only then can you authentically create new possibilities, breakthrough results and become an elite, transformational leader.

In part two of this series, I’ll share with you 22 Toxic Ways Managers Brand their People for Failure.

Photo Credit: Julia Tim (via Shutterstock)