Where’s the Problem?

A man goes to a doctor for advice, because he’s concerned that his wife is losing her hearing. The doctor says, “The first thing we have to do is find out how bad it is, so when you go home, stand in the doorway and say something. If she doesn’t hear, move halfway into the room and say it again. Then, stand next to her and say it.”

So the man goes home and looks into the kitchen. “Honey, what’s for dinner?”

No response.

He walks halfway into the kitchen and says, “Honey, what’s for dinner?

Again no response.

Finally, he gets right behind her and says, “Honey, what’s for dinner?”

She turns and says, “For the third time, CHICKEN!”

I liked this joke when I first heard it earlier this week, and it especially resonated because of a speech I delivered on the topic of creating an ethical sales culture. What’s the connection?

One of the points that I made is that often when a sales leader is unhappy with sales behavior, their first instinct is to figure out what’s wrong with the salesperson. Maybe they need a little more motivation, or need to be counseled on ethics, or maybe they’re just the wrong person for the position. But, how often do they look within for the causes of the behavior? How often does it even enter their minds that maybe the fault lies within themselves?

The example I used in my speech was Wells Fargo. After their scandal broke, they touted the fact that they had fired 5,300 employees for unethical behavior. I wonder how many of those employees were actual perpetrators, versus how many were victims? By that, I mean victims of an ultra-high-pressure culture in which they were monitored up to four times a day and “hounded, berated or demeaned” when they were inevitably short of impossible quotas. Under such conditions, is it any wonder that many saw no recourse but to cheat and open unauthorized accounts?

But it does not have to be as egregious in scale or degree as Wells Fargo to be a potential problem. I’ve seen it on a much lesser scale in so many ways. The sales VP who stresses the value of long term relationships but rewards and punishes short term results; the sales manager who wants her reps to take initiative but immediately steps in to rescue a sale; the director who overlooks a little white lie about delivery dates because it salvages a big deal.

My point is not to deny the importance of personal accountability, but to affirm it. Someone should definitely be held accountable—but look within first. This is not only right, but practical. If the behavior is caused by something you’re doing or not doing, it’s not going to go away just because you counseled or fired the rep. It will likely infect the rest of the team, and anyone you hire to replace the “bad apple.”

Maybe the first rule of sales coaching should be: “Check your own hearing first.”

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