The recession is forcing businesses to rethink their strategies and retool their processes as they operate in worsening, ever changing conditions. In the midst of this uncertainty, most businesses overlook how fear, and the lack of a clear plan to reduce it, impacts their employees. The fear epidemic perpetuated by the financial markets, government and negative media coverage is a deliberate assault on our very nature and must be reversed.
The constraints of fear without answers are the catalyst for inaction. Without solutions, denial sets in as people either begin to think they will not be affected, or simply feel hopeless. Either way, inaction takes place as the body experiences sensory overload. The adage "stopped in your tracks" holds true here just as a mouse in a maze becomes immobile with no options for escape.
The Only Thing We Have to Fear is Fear without a Plan
Once fear is accepted as reality it takes rare and powerful leadership to reverse it. The upside of fear is that it can be harnessed and used as a powerful motivator to bring people to act. Therefore leaders must have a clear, viable plan to minimize tension and take bold action now to challenge and reduce the fear. Corporate leaders can rise to this unique challenge and transform it into opportunity. Revising FDR's famous quote to take human nature into account, "The only thing we have to fear is fear without a plan."
Reinvest to Renew Confidence
Success starts with re-investment and a renewed confidence, demonstrated simultaneously. Layoffs have never been in the equation for growth or long term success. One critical way for business leaders to reverse the trend of fear mongering without solutions is to focus on business development. Nothing happens in the economic world until money is exchanged and that occurs once a sale is made. There are currently phenomenal opportunities to aggressively acquire unclaimed and available talent.
1. Allocate your resources to build the best sales force in your industry and start making sales. Upgrade your sales force through skills development and headcount. This sends a very strong message to the organization. It demonstrates that you are proactively focusing on your company’s future to which the sales force is so vital.
• Always be optimistic: Sales people are emotional and must stay optimistic and confident to sell effectively. Pessimism only sells newspapers, not products or services.
• Reverse the trend: In good times, ride your sales force hard demanding more and more. In tough times, the reverse is necessary. Re-educate, re-train and console to build confidence not tear it down.
• Develop competencies: Ensure your sales force has adaptable skills to produce in this changing market. For example, if they no longer had access to sell in person, could they begin selling over the phone?
• Solidify your sales force: Uncertainty clouds progress. It’s critical to ensure these improvements produce top performance levels and reduce underperformance.
2. Let your veteran force know the talent and backgrounds of the people you are bringing in. This should inspire them. If tenured employees are paralyzed or jealous about new talent being added to the team, they may be another case of "tough times" exposing those who don't have the drive to take advantage of the current circumstances. They will weed themselves out.
3. Communicate clearly and regularly to your sales team that the down economy is an opportunity for success. Though far from an ideal business environment, the recession still offers a rare opportunity for achievement that your sales team may never have again. This is a time to dominate and gain market share. Make your message clear so people recognize this challenge as an opportunity for growth.
• Do not panic: Management cannot show signs of pressing the panic button; otherwise you are in jeopardy of not only losing your best sales people but also removing their effectiveness as a sales person.
• Reaffirm your vision: Sales people cannot doubt the vision and company direction. They must know it and trust it. They must be spoken to directly and allowed to express concerns. Address all concerns letting them know what, how and why certain actions are being taken.
• Be direct and honest: If layoffs must happen, they cannot occur in waves, it must be swift, quick, and final. Nothing demoralizes a group more then to wait and anticipate when the ax will fall on them next.
While there are no guarantees in business, these three steps will instill confidence in your sales force and harness their fear to act and produce to their potential.
Originally posted March 26, 2009 at Incentivemag.com.
Dirk Gorman's expertise is in building successful sales organizations in the B-to-B space. He is founding partner of Empire Surgical, www.empiresurgical.com, a multi-faceted sales solutions company and exclusive distributor of Depuy Mitek, a leading Johnson & Johnson sports medical device company. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.