I've just finished watching the movie Glengarry Glen Ross for about the fifth time. For those of you who have never seen the 1992 film, it was adapted by David Mamet from his acclaimed 1984 Pulitzer Prize and Tony-winning play of the same name. I think it's a "must watch" for anyone who works for living.
The film portrays two days in the lives of four real estate agents who become desperate when the corporate office sends a representative to "motivate" them by announcing that, in one week, the two who have sold the least will be terminated. Four salesmen with an ultimatum: Sell or be fired. The story then explores the lengths to which these four men are willing to go in order to save their jobs.
You can sympathize with them or condemn the system that's oppressing them; but what about the manager who has to play God? If business turns down, it's necessary to cut costs. This will not be done by firing the top performers. In fairness, a drama with the theme of Glengarry Glen Ross should look at that side, too.
I have been with VENDING TIMES for more than 22 years and it never has seemed simply to be about just making money. Money pays the bills, of course; but it was also about doing what I liked. For as long as I can remember, VENDING TIMES has always been a place I wanted to arrive at on Monday morning. I worked with people I liked and respected, and we all had the chance to make a difference.
I don't think anybody builds a business without hard work. But it doesn't have to be "red in tooth and claw," like that movie. I've never liked micromanagement, and admittedly, I've always wanted to be liked. Recently, I've had to do quite a bit of self-analysis and soul-searching in order to make critical decisions and be a leader without being a tyrant, while still building a solid business.
Sure, everybody always says it's about building a team, but there are teams that work together by recognizing a common goal and pursuing it, teams that work only because of commonly felt fear, and (of course) teams that don't work at all. In my experience, there are some things that work every time and other things that don't. I thought it would be a good exercise (for me and for my readers) to take an in-depth look at some recurring themes.
Believe in what you do. People naturally support things they can believe in. There is no sales tool as powerful as believing that what you're selling is good for your customers. Shared values can empower your team and motivate your people; the right values can also energize your marketing and impart credibility to your product. It's a wonderful feeling to walk out the door at the end of the day, or to return home from a trade show or customer visit, feeling that you've accomplished something. Make sure everyone on the team shares a goal and understands their role in attaining it. People who believe in and understand what they do and why they are doing it will feel energized.
Empower your people. The reason I don't like micromanagement is that it's hard to do, and it can be extremely frustrating. I try to hire smart people who share my business values, give them ownership of their jobs, and trust them. The idea of "owning" specific areas of the business is really important. I try to offer them help, collaborate and empower, but without second-guessing. But there have been times when this approach hasn't seemed to work. This is usually an indicator that a new hire is not a good fit for the business. If you don't address an evident lack of compatibility right away, it will be your fault, not theirs. As the legendary Davy Crockett used to say, "Make sure you're right; then go ahead."
Communicate, don't procrastinate. Communication should be continual, not occasional. I'm not talking about a formal semi- annual review process, but about talking to people and evaluating their progress regularly. Negative feedback is hard and can be unpleasant with people with whom you work. But doing it honestly, and without delay, is the best approach. When things go badly, talk about it. Don't pontificate, and don't sit and stew over it; recognize the problem, talk about it and collaborate in finding a solution. Move people around if you have to, and if that's not possible, let them go. Disguising failure undermines everybody. Recognize that, inevitably, there will be times when you will not win the popular vote – especially if you're the person doing the firing.
If you're going to survive in your own business, you have to expect mistakes, acknowledge them, and build on them for the future. It's about building a better team, working on known strengths and weaknesses, and using that knowledge to improve, however gradually, instead of just stagnating. We make mistakes. Everybody does. The idea for this very column was inspired by mistakes. Deal with the mishaps and get on with the business.