By, Cari Desiderio
Over the course of my HR career I have supported sales, manufacturing, engineering and healthcare organizations predominantly. Each genre has it’s strong suits when it comes to creating an attractive employee environment. My healthcare friends were masters as creating an environment of care and belonging. This was related to their slant towards nurturing and nursing I suppose. The engineering and manufacturing folks had a very organized and steady culture in terms of laying out expectations and having clear communication.
But I’ve learned the most from my sales teams. There is no team in the company that has a better handle on “gut check” when it comes to understanding the state of employee contentment and engagement. Even the HR professionals miss the boat, sometimes. We can get so fixated on the process and the policy and completely miss what is going on on the streets and in the trenches with our people. We can become more concerned with form and less about substance if we forget the art of people that our sales teams know so well. So what is the remedy? A little Sales 101 my friend. It is the cure all for any HR person afflicted with the malady of being a schoolmarm instead of a being an effective team coach.
Why do our sales folks get it? Well I think it’s simple actually. To be in sales you just simply need to be a people person. It’s in the salesperson’s blood. That said I’ve thought about this a bit and I think there are four main ways that sales people can teach us the art of creating happy teams.
Intuition. This is the quality of just “getting it” you might say. Street smarts. It is the art of sensing what is going on in person’s head and what it around the bend based on the circumstances in front of them. This is about having a sense of how your employees are feeling, who is a flight risk, what they need to be motivated. Some people would argue that intuition cannot be learned. But I think some of it can be. If you get out there and hang with your people enough, and make yourself approachable, you will soon be in the know. Lower that window of separation and pretense and get real. Take them out to lunch. Crack a few jokes in meetings. When you break the ice people open up. Listen to them.
Communication. This is the quality of speaking the love language of others as well as the discipline of just making yourself frequently check in and talk with teams. Sales people communicate all day long. They go to industry events and chat with people. They fly on planes to visit customer sites and talk to all the key people. Now applied to teams this is about one on ones, walking the floors, talking to people about their lives and what’s going on. Finally, this art form is also about being able to speak the language of others. A simple book I’ve taught multiple times on this is Julie Straw’s The 4 Dimensional Manager. It’s about knowing your personality makeup, studying that of others, and learning to tailor your method of engaging and approaching to reach others.
One Class Act. This is the art of treating people like they are special. Sales folks figuratively wine and dine their prospects all day long. This simply means they treat them like they are special. This too is not a complicated thing. When you go out on a date to McDonalds for a burger and fries in your shorts and tank it just doesn’t feel as special as a night out on Lake Michigan on the Odyssey Boat with formal wear, a four course meal and stars in the sky. Now treating employees with a little class act thought doesn’t need to involve nights out on the town. But when a service with a smile culture culture is applied to employee engagement there can be simple ways to make your teams feel special. I’ve seen grill outs with leaders donning aprons and serving food. I’ve seen recognition ceremonies where leaders thank team members for contributions and provide service awards and a gift. It can even be the little things like being sure to recognize the team as the real reason for success (and downplay self) when a leader is speaking in a group setting. Class Act behavior is about respect and treating people like they are special. Because, they are.
The Art Of Negotiation. This is probably the skill that is the more substantial that our sales friends teach us. Sales folks are very aware that if they go to their customers and threaten them with contract loss and insist they pay higher rates that they will commit sales suicide. Now do they want to get a contract signed and charge more money? Of course. But they have to immerse themselves in discussion with the customers, talk, negotiate, give and take a little here and a little there in order to get that contract signed. Transferred to the team management dynamic, a healthy team is one that learns to manage conflict among themselves and negotiate the working structure. The leader who can step back from any need to be the big boss who imposes rules, and step into the role of negotiating a team structure that works for all will create the most lasting engagement success. This is because people are hard wired to need to be heard. So if they are at the table in negotiating team rules and structure they will be most bought in.
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