When Supervising Sales… Enforcement or Encouragement?

It must be something about my background or upbringing. When I hear “supervision” and “accountability,” I go to the negatives. When I think of supervision, I think of hall monitors, playground supervisors and prison guards. When I think of accountability, I think of disappointment, warnings, bruised egos, reprimands, enforcement, retribution and big brother.

If you find yourself obsessed with accountability and supervision, I question five things: 1) Did you hire the right people? 2) Do your managers know how to lead? 3) Are you focusing on the right things? 4) Does everyone in your business understand who the customer is and what benefit the customer is expecting from your products and services? 5) Does everyone in your organization understand his or her role, responsibilities and outcomes?

These are big questions. Few of us, if pushed to answer honestly, would be able to give a resounding yes to all of them. So the question is, do you have processes to assess these issues, and action plans for continuous improvement? If not, are you just hoping the problems will go away?

So how do we manage a sales force we don’t see eight hours a day? What is the proper role of supervision and accountability in this 21st century?

My philosophy is simple: Help people be the best they can be and find the right work! I believe when people find the right work, in the right environment, properly encouraged and supported, they need little supervision. They manage themselves and hold themselves accountable to a much higher standard than you or I ever would. Your top producers do this; you just wish everyone did.

This type of relationship, in my opinion, starts with ensuring the people you select truly understand the nature of the work they are going to do and know it’s a good fit for them. How do you do that? Explain the job, the role, the work. Explicitly describe who your business serves and what your clients expect. Be very clear about the outcomes and results you expect, and share stories about people who have been successful and why.

Now here is a radical suggestion! When you think you have found the right person and you’re ready to make an offer, ask him or her to write a business plan — concise and to the point — for the new job Buy a day’s worth of his or her time at market rates, and don’t be cheap.

Here is what you will learn from this process. The individual will either embrace this process or not. That alone will tell you a lot. When you read the plan, you will learn if he or she heard, understood, agreed and knew how to pursue the opportunity. You will also learn a lot about how he or she thinks and plans to act. You will be able to make a much more informed decision about whether this person is a good fit for your company. And you will have a much better idea of how much energy you will have to spend supervising and holding this individual accountable.

Enforcement is a drag… leave it to the police! Encouraging, supporting and watching your people grow and prosper is the ultimate work. Make better hires, and maybe “supervision” and “accountability” will drop from your vocabulary.

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