Monday, November 12, 2001

The Success Coach

Tips for earning a difficult employee's respect

By Michael Crom
Gannett News Service

        Question: I have been recently promoted to regional sales manager and have one employee who is giving me headaches. Jerry is in his mid-40s and has been with the company for more than 15 years. Whereas I'm just 29 and have only been working two years. His sales figures are terrible and every time I discuss them, he just starts babbling excuses. According to Jerry, everything is not his fault, but someone else's incompetence. Besides, I couldn't possibly understand the situation because I don't have a long history with the company. I can tolerate his arrogance but not his poor performance. How can I encourage him to improve?

        Answer: You're in a very difficult situation but with a little care and nurturing, you should be able to gain Jerry's respect. By focusing on his strengths and helping him recognize his weaknesses, you will also include him as an integral part of your sales team. Try these tactics:

        1. Enlist his help. His field experience is a valuable asset. Suggest holding a weekly meeting where Jerry imparts tips to the other sales reps on how to deal with problem accounts or company situations. Such an arrangement will accomplish three benefits:

        First, Jerry will perceive that his experience and knowledge are being respected for their importance. By listening to his opinions and letting him do the talking, you'll find that he'll gradually become more receptive to your ideas and recommendations. In fact, he may actually resolve his own problems while he's helping the others.

        Second, Jerry might learn some good pointers from the more successful reps during these discussions. Eventually, you'll have developed a good team that shares ideas with everyone else.

        2. Make sure Jerry has the right tools. It's possible that Jerry's sales skills are behind the times. Is he using his personal computer to its full advantage? Does he understand the more complex sales situations with multiple influencers? You may find that Jerry's arrogance ultimately stems from his insecurity.

        3. Confront Jerry in a positive manner. Make a list of all the performance-based issues you have; be sure to avoid any personality differences. During this discussion, be sure to give him improvement dates. Tell him exactly what you want accomplished by that date. Make it clear you will hold him to it and you'll accept no excuses. Point out that you're requiring the same of all reps and while the company may have some problems that create roadblocks, everyone will have to find ways to work around them until changes are made. In other words, keep the focus on him.

        When he shows improvements, be sure to praise him. Even if he doesn't make the goals, if he shows progress, let him know you appreciate his efforts.

        4. Make sales calls with Jerry. Observe how he relates to the customers. Ask him to share with you the expected outcome of each sales call that you join him on. Coach him after each call by asking him to tell you three things he was pleased with. Have Jerry relate to you one thing that he could have improved upon. In short, help him pinpoint his strengths and weaknesses.

        Michael Crom is executive vice president, Dale Carnegie Training. For advice on work issues, visit or e-mail


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