How to Turn Your Staff of Losers Into Winners

Guest Author Blog; Hop Off the Leadership Love Bus – By Sean O’Neil and John Kulisek authors of BARE KNUCKLE PEOPLE MANAGEMENT: Creating Success with the Team You Have - Winners, Losers, Misfits, and All

Bare Knuckle People Management
Bare Knuckle People Management

When polled, nearly every employee will tell you they prefer flowers and incense to chains and shackles. But what employees say they prefer is not necessarily what they need to maximize performance. We’ve found that the managers we work with are frustrated that despite their kind and gentle efforts, their bus seems to be stuck in neutral.

We blame the Leadership movement.

What began as a legitimate effort to soften managers’ rough edges has morphed into a game of patty-cake in which the winner is whoever doles out the most warm fuzzies.

The pendulum has seemingly swung too far in the other direction.

What’s been lost in the process is a common sense approach to managing people.

To our surprise, our reality-based approach to people management has made us incredibly popular with our clients. Make no mistake, we oppose brutal management practices. But we are just as critical of management styles that permit ineffective employee behavior by failing to effectively and firmly confront it. We firmly believe that you’ll get more out of your employees when you:

  1. determine what behaviors you want to see more of or less of,
  2. assess what’s occurring at present by systematically gathering thorough data,
  3. set clear goals around the target behavior,
  4. identify a system of carrots and sticks that will reinforce the behaviors you desire and discourage the behaviors your don’t, and
  5. firmly and straight-forwardly communicate the data, goals and carrot/stick system.
Guest Author Blog
Guest Author Blog

Below, we show three examples of our client engagements in which our “shock and awe” approach to implementing these five steps has led to tangible results.

Smack Them with Reality. In our work with a major sales division within First Data, we spent weeks examining the division’s runaway sales rep attrition of 57%. Instead of orchestrating the typical trust falls and acoustic guitar sing-along’s associated with leadership training, we spent the first morning showing executives the survey and interview data we gathered. Notably, employees reported little contact from managers, poor follow-up, and insufficient training.

  • Our take: “No wonder your people are leaving in droves and such a small percentage are productive. You’re simply not doing anything to help them perform better!”
  • Result: Within months after management training, attrition dropped 26%.

Find Out What the Hell They’re Doing. At Royal Bank of Scotland’s WorldPay division, executives struggled with a wildly underperforming national sales team. During our data gathering, we learned the home-based reps were not accountable for how they spent their time. So while some professionally attacked their territory, others spent mornings in pajamas watching television while “working the phones” and “finishing paperwork.”

  • Our Take: “Because your sales are driven by sales rep activity, you must know what your people are doing. Hold them accountable by filing activity reports until they perform at an acceptable level.”
  • Result: Sales teams under the trained managers improved sales unit performance by 32% over a six-month period.

Change the Rules to Encourage Desired Behavior. The National Basketball Association’s Team Marketing and Business Operations (TMBO) division deployed a team of consultants who helped NBA teams improve ticket sales, corporate sponsorships, and marketing relationships. The consultants were exposed to market-specific data and best practices which, if communicated to others, might increase efficiency. But the consultants were measured, in large part, by their teams’ year-over-year improvement relative to the other teams. That is, there was a disincentive to share information. TMBO’s leadership prodded the consultants to share the data through e-mail announcements, public praise, and other means, but it was not enough to overcome the disincentive.

  • Our Take: “From now on, your job performance will include the quality of your shared data across the team during newly-formed best practices exchanges.”
  • Result: TMBO instituted the best-practice exchanges and included shared data scores in the consultants’ reviews, resulting in vast improvements in efficiency and shared best practices.

Every work team is different. Sometimes flowers and incense work. And when they do, we strongly encourage you to use them. But most often success requires a lot more than a Summer of Love mentality. People management is a challenge, and sometimes warrants a delicate balance of Woodstock and Wall Street to get the very most out of your team.

Sean O’Neil and John Kulisek are the authors of BARE KNUCKLE PEOPLE MANAGEMENT: Creating Success with the Team You Have - Winners, Losers, Misfits, and All

Have a book idea?Email me at bullishonbooks@cnbc.comAnd follow me on Twitter @BullishonBooks