John is one of the best salespeople in your showroom. He knows sales drive your business, and he always delivers profitable orders. He also has an “owner’s” view and keeps his costs down. He knows he needs to write orders without spending a lot of time doing so, and helps others in the showroom with their work. He knows which lines are relatively problem-free and deliver the most profit dollars, so these are the ones he encourages his clients to purchase. It’s a situation where everyone is winning!
Of course, you are worried that John will one day leave you. He could go to the competition, since it’s always trying to lure away good help. Or, worse, he might open up his own firm. So you take precautions. You let others know he’s good, but without your guidance, he wouldn’t really make it. When you have a friendly conversation with one of your manufacturer reps who relates what a good job John is doing, you agree, but add that John has a lot of issues, perhaps mentioning one or two, real or not. People will believe anything if it’s said with conviction.
You further keep John in his place by offering little training. It’s a scary thought that he might someday know more than you. He knows enough to do his job well, and you don’t need to inflate his ego. When he offers suggestions, you smile and toss them in the round file when he’s not looking. The last thing you need is for everyone in the place to see John’s ideas being used! After all, you are in charge, not John.
So how do you think John sees this situation? Do you think he won’t ever find out what you say behind his back? Or discover that his ideas always wind up in your garbage pail? When he does, he may start contemplating his future with you and begin actively looking for a better deal. Odds are good that some of your local competitors may have already mentioned to John that they would be interested in talking if he ever decides to look. Or John might really start thinking about opening his own place.
He certainly will start to ponder whether he’s paid enough to put up with his current situation. And once John starts thinking along these lines, he will naturally start discussions about this with your other salespeople. What will the consequences be for your business when everyone starts to analyze what you are doing? After all, if you’re discussing John, the showroom’s best salesperson, with outsiders, they’ll naturally wonder what you think or say about them. Plus, people often embellish what they hear, so if you talk about someone once, you now talk about them regularly.
Once this kind of thinking begins, it snowballs into everyone digging up every complaint about you that ever crossed their minds. This kind of talk can easily become quite pervasive in your firm, with everyone quickly adding their two cents. Very little good can come of it. President Lincoln knew a thing or two about divided houses and how well they stand; perhaps this may apply to your firm.
So what do you do about it? How about taking a good, hard look at yourself and your management style? Stop the civil war before some really serious shots are fired. Here are four steps to consider and begin creating a better showroom atmosphere:
Step one: Take a hard look at your management style. Is it doing more for your ego or your bottom line? Which is more important to you? Consider involving your staff more in decisions that will directly affect them. Do they wish you would display something you don’t? Find out why. Ask everyone questions, even your entry-level position people. You won’t believe some of the great ideas that are languishing in your truck driver’s head. After all, he has more contact with your end-users that you probably do.
Step two: Work on yourself. As Don Miguel Ruiz discusses in his masterful book The Four Agreements, “be impeccable with your word. Speak with integrity.” And, equally important, “avoid using the word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others.” All this negativity will only hurt you and your business. Instead of telling people outside your organization how someone is performing, tell the person who needs the improvement what you’re thinking. Perhaps there is something you are doing, or not doing, that will help them become more successful at their job. But you won’t ever know if you don’t ask and encourage an open dialogue. Make yourself available to all who work for you. You will surprise yourself with how much more your staff has to offer.
Step three: Work on your staff. Recognize the benefit of having more people on your team thinking like an owner. Share information with them to help them see the big picture. Do they understand all the costs involved with their requests? How can they if you keep them in the dark and refuse to share information that could help them grow? Pick one overhead item you pay monthly and show it to them. Do they even know it exists? Take workman’s compensation insurance, for example. Once you show them the invoice, they might get a better understanding of why you don’t want material left on the steps where someone can trip on it! Not to mention the amount of profit dollars that goes toward paying just this one invoice each month.
Step four: Speak to your people individually and as a group. Create an atmosphere of openness and cooperation. Insist that they stop talking behind anyone’s back and step up to the plate with you. Incorporate some intervention strategies in your meetings that foster this environment of true teamwork and sharing of ideas. Start by admitting that you have been guilty of this in the past and are determined to lead the way by starting with improving yourself. After they get over their initial shock of hearing this from you, they will start to open up with some good observations that might just add to your bottom line. Although you are still the owner, and the buck must stop somewhere, your people will truly appreciate working in this new environment of honesty and appreciation.
And be consistent! Your staff will naturally be a little dubious at first. We have all experienced friends and family who have announced that they are now “changing” something in their lives only to fall back into the old ways sooner rather than later. They certainly meant well, but new habits are hard to develop, and even harder to maintain. You have to work at it to make these changes an integral part of your life. But once you demonstrate to your staff that you mean what you say, they will be more inclined to join you. People want to work for people who demonstrate deference to their ideas and seek their opinions. But first you have to show them respect in order to earn theirs, even if you are paying them.
The proverbial wise man once said, “Attitude is everything.” Well, it starts at the top. And once John picks up on it, your house just might stand more profitably.
Daniel H. Chinitz managed a bath showroom and plumbing supply in New Jersey for 15 years. He now owns Creative Bath Sales, representing manufacturers in New York, New Jersey and the Southwest, as well as offering showroom sales and business training. Visit the firm’s Web site at www.creativebathsales.com, or call 908-403-4304.