Contracting offers a model for building good relationships between the sales manager and the field representative, based on a clear understanding of the responsibilities and expectations of each.
MANY PEOPLE believe that the main reason for many sales professionals leaving their organisation is the lure of greater financial gain. In fact, the main reason is that the employee’s role is no longer offering any challenge or excitement. The second reason is the behaviour and capability of the employee’s immediate manager.
More often than not, the two reasons are strongly linked: the manager takes little interest in the individual development of the employee, who thus ends up feeling undervalued and bored. Many new recruits also struggle to make a good impact in their roles due to lack of support from their managers, who tend not to have regular one-to-one coaching sessions with their employees.
Blame is laid at the manager’s door for this apparent lack of attention – but both sides should take a share of the responsibility. The trouble usually arises when expectations are not laid out up front, and both parties are unaware of each other’s needs, motivations and expectations. The end result is often a mutual lack of trust and respect, which leads inevitably to conflict.
From both sides
A good manager will ensure that a ‘contract’ is created between the manager and the representative, and that this contract is ‘two-way’ with equal ‘air-time’ for both parties. Unfortunately, this rarely happens. If any contract is put in place it is usually ‘one-way’, with only the manager outlining what he or she expects.
This is the result of the ‘I am the boss’ mindset of many managers, who fail to realise that by asking the question “What do you expect of me?” they can gain an insight into the new recruit’s working style and motivations, as well as their actual expectations. The new recruit will also feel valued as a result of the two-way conversation.
So how can you avoid conflict and work productively with your manager? Part of the answer is to ‘contract’ with your manager by getting agreement about how best the two of you are going to work together. Ask questions such as:
- “What are your specific expectations of me?”
- “What are my specific objectives and how am I going to be measured?”
- “What behaviours annoy you?”
- “What motivates and demotivates you?”
- What reports do you want? When do you want them? With what content?”
- “How often do you want to sit down with me for a one-to-one discussion?”
Let’s stick together
Contracting is all about managing both parties’ expectations. A good manager will always outline his or her expectations and ask you about yours. Once you are both clear about each other’s expectations, this is another building block in the foundations of trust and respect.
An important step is to seek regular feedback on how you are progressing in your role. Ask your manager to meet regularly with you and to coach you when necessary. Be proactive: do not wait for your manager to come to you. On the other hand, do not always appear to be reliant on your manager: give them space. Agree on this area of support in your contract. Try to set up a regular monthly or bimonthly meeting in which you take your manager through your progress against the objectives that you have previously agreed. I would hope that all managers would do this proactively, but in some cases you may really have to push for these coaching meetings.
It pays to be a visible support for your manager. Management can be lonely and stressful, particularly if your manager isn’t managing their own boss particularly well or the company and/or team is not doing as well as was expected. Be supportive and offer to take on extra tasks, provided you have the time and capability to do so. These tasks will not only make space for the manager to work more productively and strategically, they will also enable you to develop your own capabilities.
Be careful to ensure that you also manage your team-mates’ expectations. Being seen as supporting the manager can often be misinterpreted by some of your colleagues, and on occasion the less enlightened can see such behaviour as threatening.
If you feel that your relationship with your manager is starting to go sour, then immediately call a meeting with them and openly discuss your feelings. To make this easier, build it into your contract right at the start by saying something like: “If I feel our relationship is not what it should be, can I address this problem immediately rather than let it linger?”
Do not discuss your feelings with your peers if this can be avoided. You will find some people very supportive and helpful – but you may also find that some go out of their way to reinforce the negative feelings you have, thereby making the problem more difficult to address with your manager. It is always best to tackle these feelings head-on without referring them to your teammates. If you have a coach allocated to you within your organisation, they are often the best people to support you in handling such situations. Relationships with managers usually deteriorate because there was little trust in the first place, and as a result openness has not been achieved. Follow the tips in this article, and you will go a long way towards building a lasting and productive relationship with your manager.
Keep it real
It is absolutely vital that you have a full understanding of what your specific role entails and what your specific objectives are in relation to that role. Without a full understanding of these things, confusion can occur – and this can lead to a lack of success and a breakdown of your relationships with your senior manager and your team-mates.
In the initial meetings when you contract with your manager, make sure that you achieve clarity on your specific objectives. Many managers are still not comfortable in setting specific objectives, tending more to generalise and give ‘top line’ objectives. This is dangerous and can often lead to confusion, resulting not only in poor performance but in demotivation.
The best structure for objectives that I have found is the C-SMART process. This involves making sure that your objectives all fulfil these conditions:
Only if each of your objectives conforms to the C-SMART requirements will you be able to plan out your workload and your priorities.
Extracts used in this article are taken from Allan Mackintosh’s Improving Practices guide, ‘Successful Contracting and Objective Setting’, from KeywordPharma. To obtain a full copy of the guide, visit www.keywordpharma.com