Have the conversation

The other day I had the privilege of witnessing a sales leader sharing a story with newer sales leaders about a difficult conversation he had early on in his career. 


He was 3 weeks into the leaders role and the person he needed to “have the conversation” with was about 20 years his senior, had been in the role nearly as long and was related to one of the directors.  She wasn’t performing.  And, hadn’t been for a time.  It needed to be addressed.

So he did.

What he learnt however, were a couple of gems of insight that he’s now brought forward into other “conversations he has to have”, and I think they’re worth sharing here.


ONE: Frame the conversation

When you have a great working relationship with someone having “the conversation” can be tough.  A simple phrase like: “I’m putting my managers hat on now” helps to frame what’s about to be discussed.  It enables context to be set quickly and clearly.  Both parties know it’s probably about performance, and probably about the need for improvement.


TWO: Check for understanding

This leader thought his message about the number of weekly sales required was clear – 3.  But like so many of us in the sales role, if anything is unclear, we can change the reality back to something less direct: “He said 3 a week” goes to “I think he said 3 a week” goes to “did he say 3 a week”?

Something so clear can unravel quickly so we need to check whilst in the meeting


THREE: Follow up

Checking back in to see how action aligns with the need for change helps to reinforce it as an accountability point.  Assuming someone will simply take the new action is folly and sets all parties up to not succeed.  Check in, use evidence to clarify, confirm direction and set new action.  That way, a quick next step can be identified in time.


FOUR: Always do what’s best for that person

Sometimes, despite someone’s best efforts they’re simply not in the right role or organisation.  They have great skills in other areas.  In this case, this person was not a salesperson.  She needed to accept that and move on (which she has into a highly successful marketing career). Trying to make square pegs fit round holes is futile.  That also means the leader has to rise above the situation to make some tough calls.


FIVE: But have the conversation!

Avoidance prolongs issues, can even exacerbate them and undermines those who are performing well.  Having the conversation nips issues in the bud.  Develop the skills to have them and have them.


“Having the conversation” liberates everyone back into reality and what’s required.  It’s bigger than any one person’s ego and part of strong communication.

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