A Brief Respite

A posting on another list caught my eye and led me to respond in a message
with some PCT overtones to it. I thought I'd send along my post and the one
to which I was responding. They offer a brief respite from all this
serious talk...

Ryan Combs writes about a sales manager who's having difficulty motivating
his Gen X sales force. It seems they fear not the stick and care not for
the carrots being offered. What's a poor sales manager to do?

In terms of the model of human performance I rely on (a control-theory
view), the situation would say to me that the members of the Gen X sales
force have everything under control. They seem to be making enough money
so the commissions or bonuses that tie to increased sales do not appeal to
them. The fear of losing their job seems absent. Their sense of well
being seems not to suffer from any disturbances. Hence, they're not
expending any energy trying to bring things back into balance.

The general form of the solution to the sales manager's problem is induce
some disturbances, to (a) find some carrots the Gen X sales staff wants and
(b) establish a contingent relationship between increased sales performance
and these newly identified carrots. (Lest you think I'm overlooking the
stick, the stick in question is simply control of the contingent
relationship between carrots they want and the desired performance. In
other words, if they want those carrots they'll have to work for them.)

So, what kinds of carrots appeal to Gen X? Can the sales manager obtain or
otherwise exert enough control over those carrots to establish a
contingency relationship between them and the desired performance?

It's not a matter of "motivating" them. It is instead a matter of finding
balance in the contributions-inducements relationship that defines the
basic nature of the relationship between employee and employing
company. Right now, the inducements offered don't elicit a sufficient
contribution. What will? I suspect finding the answer to that question
will entail some general research into Gen X and some very specific
"critical conversations" with the Gen X members of the sales force in
question. Try a google.com search using Generation X motivation and see
what turns up.

But, in the end, either you find the right set of carrots and establish a
contingent relationship between them and the performance you want or you
don't get the performance you're after.

What I've outlined above proceeds on the assumption that a sales commission
or bonus system is in place, that the sales manager's diagnosis is correct,
and that what Ryan reports reflects the true situation. Other
possibilities exist. The sales manager might not be up to the task and is
simply blaming Gen X. The organization might be setting some seriously
unrealistic goals. And the sales force might indeed be staffed with the
wrong kinds of people. Or, if the sales manager is a "Boomer" and the
staff are Gen X, there might be a mismatch or a communication gulf between
the leader and those being led.

There are lots of easy answers here. They're probably wrong. My
advice? Roll up your sleeves and go to work; it's an interesting and
challenging problem. You should have fun solving it and, if you do, you
will have learned something worth sharing.

Good luck,

Fred Nickols
"Assistance at a Distance"
Distance Consulting


To: the TRDEV list:
Subject: Training Advice

I am calling on the collective wisdom of the group. I am working
with a new client who just presented me with a situation I have not
dealt with before.

This client is a sales manager who has a sales staff made up mostly
of "Gen X'ers". The parent company that the manager works for sets
sales goals for the department, and it is the managers job to rally
his team to meet those goals. Here is the problem...

He claims that he simply cannot get his team to care about the sales
quotas, about their individual development plans, about much of
anything. He claims that "this Gen X sales staff" is not concerned
about meeting the sales goals because it is too much work for them,
and they would rather set lower goals that are easily achieveable
than reach higher and try for more. He says that when he reminds
them that sales is their job, and if they do not sell they will not
have a job...they simply shrug and take the "fine, I will just get
another job or ask my parents for money...no big deal" attitude. He
cannot simply fire the whole staff and start over.

He has asked me to help him figure out ways to motivate his team. I
know enough to understand that simply pulling some motivational
techniques on the team would be like putting a teeny bandage over a
huge wound...but I am not really sure what to advise!

I would greatly appreciate any ideas from anyone on the list who has
been down this road before, and help point me in the right direction.