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The Center for Sales Strategy Blog

2 Reasons Some Managers Can't Activate Their People


Why have a manager who cannot move their people to performance?

That would be useless, right?

But the reality in today’s business is there are too many managers who fit this description. Why is that? Why would a manager, despite his or her best effort, be unable to activate their people? There are two primary reasons, and they have an interactive relationship with each other:

1. The Manager Doesn’t Have a Lever (a Powerful Relationship)

Lots of managers have a friendly, or at least cordial, relationship with their people. But not what we call a robust relationship. A robust relationship is one that’s useful to the manager wishing to improve the salesperson’s performance, and, therefore, the organization’s performance. It’s a relationship that gives the manager the power to accomplish this essential aspect of his or her job.

A powerful relationship is one the direct report appreciates, values, and responds positively to — because they know with certainty that the manager cares about them, cares about what’s important to them, and cares about their long-term career success. That definition goes way beyond simply “caring” about the salesperson’s performance to ensure that the organization meets its revenue goals.

This active and positive relationship doesn’t mean the every interaction is friendly or easy going. But because the salesperson knows that the manager will always act in their best interest, there can be plenty of “tough love.” Tough love requires not only toughness, but love.

See also: Which is more important in a sales manager: empathy or accountability?

If you read studies on exit polls you will see that the reason most employees leave a company is because they believed their manager did not care about them and often didn’t even know what they were doing or accomplishing every day. When a manager actually cares about his or her people, they’ll walk through walls for that manager. But if they’re left wondering if the manager know, if the manager cares, if the manager has their best interests at heart, they’ll eventually walk across the street.

2. The Manager Doesn’t Pull the Lever (Set the Right Expectations)

We like the lever analogy because it’s so vivid and so accurate. The powerful relationship puts a valuable lever in the manager’s hand. Then the question is whether or not the manager pulls the lever, whether or not the managers asks something of the relationship, whether the manager uses the power in his or her hand to help both the individual and the organization.

The manager leverages that powerful relationship by setting clear expectations and holding the salesperson accountable. Growth happens when the manager pushes the salesperson out of his or her comfort zone by asking the person to use their strengths in new ways and/or to reach a higher level of achievement. The relationship provides the lever; pulling the lever prompts growth.

Effective managers give themselves a lever by building the right kind of relationship, and then they use that lever to grow the person and the performance. It takes both.

Over my 25 years of consulting I have seen too many scenarios in which the manager kept yanking on a lever he didn’t have as well as the opposite situation in which the manager has a great lever and never uses it. Both result in disappointment all around. The only difference is that the first type produces lots of tension and strife, while the second produces smiles, rainbows, and little else.

Both are lost opportunity — the company loses, and the individual loses.

The best managers do both. They invest in powerful relationships, giving themselves a lever, and then they pull theirs by articulating clear expectations. Their people respond.

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Editor's Note: This post was originally published June 9, 2015 and has been updated.

Topics: leadership