New Managers – How Do You Keep From Getting Run Over?

New Managers – Avoiding the Inevitable Traps

AC from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan (that’s in Canada for the geographically challenged leaders out there) wrote us in August for some advice on how to gain respect as a new manager. To read her original concerns and our response, please follow this link.

We were anxious about her situation, because it was so very typical of young managers tasked with leading entry-level sales reps with nothing to lose. It is much easier to lead six-figure salespeople and middle managers with skin in the game than it is to manage an immature group with too many other options.

From the sound of it, AC is doing the right things (and doing them right):

I just wanted to update you… I have taken all your insight straight to the bank. For 5 of the last 6 weeks, our store has been number one of the 58 stores coast to coast. I am constantly trying to reinvent ways of being organized and efficient…

That’s outstanding news, AC. For anyone who doesn’t understand the first rule of business, it is to make money for the owners of the company. AC’s store is clearly performing at the highest level for sales and she is continuing to look for ways to improve. Obviously, there are good things to come for AC in her management career.

While it can be said that Sales Cures All Ills, issues remain in AC’s store. AC could not get her team to complete a fairly simple task of keeping 12 clientele books updated, so she reduced the workload to a single book, expecting her team to relish in the efficiency and simplicity of the plan. As AC soon learns, no good deed goes unpunished.

My attempt blew up in my face. I can honestly say that it hit the fan that day, and people were up in arms. They had reacted as if I killed their dog. This change has created a catastrophe of tension within the store, and it feels like a junior high clique. I have never used my position to do whatever I want; I have goals and have always lent an ear to those who have an opinion, because I respect the opinion of my associates.

So, sales are good, but small changes create chaos. Moreover, it seems that the team does not appreciate AC.

These associates have taken advantage of the good grace and now feel the need to tell me how to do my job. I would be more than welcome to negative or positive feedback as long as it’s not a complaint session and a positive outcome could be reached. Such is not the case, fingers would rather be pointed than solutions found. These associates only seem to appreciate me as long as I am accommodating their every whim: letting them leave early and paying them for the rest of their time; letting them take coffee breaks and extended lunches; and having all their requested days off met while still trying to accommodate their need for hours. I’ve come to the conclusion that I am a pushover, and perhaps have created a beast that I no longer want to feed. 

AC, you’re not a pushover. You’ve made some great decisions (or your store would not have been number one for 5 of the last 6 weeks), though you have hit some inevitable roadblocks for new managers. I’m hopeful that these past two months have helped you understand that employees are never satisfied.

Employees Want Everything

It’s really a true statement that your employees want everything. An immature workforce, as is typical in a mall clothing store, is never satisfied. Give them an extra ten-minute break, and they’ll want twenty. Let them go home at 4:30, and they’ll want to leave at 4. Give them a $100 raise, and they’ll want $200. They will never be satisfied.

I’ve always said that if you gave an immature workforce the right to sit at home and watch TV and still earn the same amount of pay, they’d complain about when the checks arrived. They will never be satisfied.

Say it with me: They will never be satisfied. No matter what you give, they’ll always want more. They’re too immature to understand the needs of the business. If they could understand this, they’d attempt to balance their wants with the company’s needs – they won’t. Since they will never be satisfied, it’s time to stop giving. You can still reward, but you want to learn the difference between favors that gain nothing for the store and rewards that drive results.

I thought that there was a good work environment and that everyone was getting along, when in fact there was so much two-facedness going on that I was oblivious to. I can’t fix a problem I don’t know about. I’ve always been an honest person and I can own up to my faults. How do I fix this issue and establish myself rather then have people run me over?

Just like with small children, it is important to set the boundaries and limits for your team. Don’t stick anything in the electrical outlets. Don’t cross the street without looking both ways. Don’t touch the stove.

With entry-level workers, you have to expect that all of them will eventually leave for one reason or another, so don’t be afraid to allow some of them to depart right now. Set the limits on what is acceptable behavior, the length of the coffee breaks, quitting time and the schedule. Explain that you will be flexible so long as they are flexible and the store is meeting its goals.

For those who want to grow with the company, they’ll get this right away and they’ll perform. For those who are just too immature to help the company reach its goals, they’ll find something else to do. (Of course, they’ll be unsatisfied at their next job, too.)

Be Fair – Great Leaders Always Are

Let them know that if they need special consideration (e.g., they want to go home early or get a certain day off), that you’re a fair person who’ll work with those who are willing to work with you.

Let them know that your only job is to help them be successful, and that you have a primary goal to make this a fun place to work. Of course, it won’t be fun for anyone if you don’t meet your objectives. They can help you meet those objectives or they can find somewhere else to work.

Explain that while this may sound harsh, the economy we’re faced with today does not reward poor performing groups, although those who like being on the number one team have nothing to worry about.

Find an External Enemy

Sales is a competition and good salespeople are very competitive. Right now, it sounds like the enemy of the salespeople is their manager. You need to turn this around. Give them a new enemy to focus on: the other fifty-seven stores in your company.

Post the sales results of every store, every week. Highlight where your store is on the list and where the five or six geographically closest stores rank. Celebrate (by congratulating and thanking your team) whenever you are ahead of the others, and ask for suggestions (from your team) when you are not. When your team is focused on beating the snot out of the other fifty-seven stores, you’ll be amazed at how the petty issues of the past seem to go away.