CEO Liz leads a company with an outstanding product suite and market leadership, yet sales are missing the numbers due to market slow down and increasing price sensitivity. Liz believes that her last 3 sales managers have been incompetent.
Liz hired me to look into the Sales organization. I found a group of highly skilled and highly motivated people who were doing a great job under the toughest of circumstances.
When I presented my findings to Liz, she was upset. “I did not hire you to hear that”.
I have been working with Liz for 9 months. She has not changed her espoused opinion about the Sales organization, but she is happy with the work I am doing with her (about how she manages). I have not managed to change her views about how Sales is run, but I have changed some of her behaviours towards the Sales organization, Liz talks the same, but acts differently.
Here are a few things I have done with Liz,
- Used paradoxical interventions. “Liz, how about firing the whole lot of them now and biting the bullet. I’m sure you could turn this around in a quarter”. Or, “Liz, you aren’t busy enough, why don’t you run sales as a pastime?”
- Put Liz’s misunderstandings into context. Liz rose to the top quickly. She never failed. She prides herself on her spectacular career. She sees people as winners or losers. Once I understood this I could be more compassionate. (She sees me as a winner.)
- Winter driving techniques. Having learnt to drive in Montreal, I know how to get out of a snowbank, thanks to Mr Canning, my driving teacher. Back and forth-slowly. No force-just go back and forth. With Liz it’s same-same but different. Sometimes I entertain two opposite ideas, rocking her mind back and forth. because it’s stuck. “Liz, how about putting pre-Sales under a different manager, or setting up a technical pre-Sales department, or better localizing the Sales team”..Such sessions of “rocking her mind” are the ones she appreciates the most, subsequently settling back into rigidity.
- Giving Up. Sometimes I tell her that she looks at a giraffe and does not see its neck (an Israeli euphemism). That I cannot do anything. That she has defeated me. This gets her very angry, then she softens up.
- Humour. Liz and I share a sense of humour, Making her laugh about her own rigidity is very helpful.
- Understand the personal bias. Liz comes from a technical background. This is what we have cooked and it tastes great, Just sell it. Liz does not understand the complexity of other peoples’ non technical roles, yet.