Does Your Sales Department Need an Accountability Operating System?

BY C. Lee Smith
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Some of our country’s greatest organizations, think Facebook and Apple, were started by "chemical entrepreneurs" who channel their energy and ideas into products and services that thrill consumers. Sooner or later, as these companies grow, the entrepreneurs have to hire and work with teams. That’s when organizational disaster often start. Because, like Jonathan Raymond, these entrepreneurs may underestimate the impact of their authority. They’re so driven to succeed that they fail to have important conversations with their employees or show their empathetic side. Raymond, a recent Manage Smarter podcast guest and author of Good Authority, talked with us about helpful strategies, including an accountability operating system, he developed for leaders who struggle with how to provide the right level of support and guidance during periods of high growth and uncertainty. You can combine Raymond’s advice with sales team manager training to take your sales department to the next level.

The Changing Workplace

The workplace has changed in the last few decades. Employees now have more say about their work environment. And they expect their employers to work in a certain way. Few workers will stand for managers who take the "my way or the highway" approach. That kind of organization model became well established during World War II when everyone pulled together and listened to leaders because they wanted to win. These days, well-​educated employees expect to engage with meaningful work. They want to be respected for who they are. And they want the organizations they work for to be on the “right” side of contentious social issues. When they don’t sense that kind of support coming from their immediate supervisors, they will, in fact, head for another job.

The Accountability Operating System

To Raymond’s credit, he recognized the “impact that my authority was having on their [his employees’] performance and my presence, which was sometimes actual presence, physical presence, sometimes my digital presence…as a leader…was having on their performance.” To reduce employee dissatisfaction, Raymond developed and now helps teams use “the accountability operating system.” In developing this system, Raymond identified five stages of accountability that managers can use to improve their relationship with reps and to optimize each rep’s outcomes.

The accountability work starts with a mention. Your sales manager might notice that one of their reps doesn’t seem engaged in a meeting or the work process. Reaching out through a text or office chat system to ask if everything is okay marks the first step to encouraging the rep to open up. If the rep doesn’t change their behavior, the manager should take the next step, which is to invite them to discuss what’s bothering them.

Another good example of managing accountability is when senior leadership notices that sales managers aren’t doing enough coaching. After an initial invitation to discuss the problem, they can open a conversation and offer guidance and help. In this case, the logical solution would be to offer sales manager training. Once the sales manager takes enough training, they’ll recognize when they need to provide coaching.

Conversations between a manager and a rep will differ from those that are peer to peer. When a rep approaches a peer, they need to set boundaries. The easiest way to do this is to keep the end goal in mind. One employee wants the other person to change their behavior. The conversation shouldn’t be about making the person feel “wrong” or “bad.” Instead, the focus should be on emphasizing what “isn’t working for you…in the relationship,” Raymond points out.

Don't Risk Losing Your Best Sales Reps

Ultimately, there are limits to these kinds of discussions. Managers have to show they care by engaging with employees. But they also have to know that when a topic like mental health comes up, they should acknowledge their lack of expertise and guide the employee to the right resources. Our research shows that nearly 40% of reps who leave a company voluntarily have done so because they believe that nobody cared about them. Don’t let that happen in your organization. Commit to sales manager training and investigate the use of an accountability operating system.

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