Secrets of the Superbosses

To continue the recent post, “The Power of Silence,” I wrote that some companies I have worked with have no idea what “the silence” is saying about their products and services. The post ended by suggesting that grooming talent that cares about customers’ issues and needs is critical to breaking negative aspects of the power of silence. As so often happens, another example recently surfaced during a conversation at Phoenix Startup Week.  A national sales manager was having ongoing problems with an underperforming sales engineer. The engineer was well educated, well trained, and seemed to be doing all the right things in his large territory, but sales were mediocre. The company’s products were excellent and rapidly gaining worldwide marketshare so that wasn’t the problem. After some analysis, the sales engineer seemed to be better at supporting customers than making sales so the national sales manager hired local sales reps and promoted the sales engineer to a regional manager position. The result, sales were still stagnant. What was the problem?

I’m not 100% sure since I have never consulted for this company, but after this discussion I strongly suspect that the busy national sales manager was being manipulated by his regional sales manager through the power of silence. The employee was visiting customers and supporting the reps, so “no news is good news,” right? The company’s headquarters are in Europe so busy upper management was probably also being manipulated by US management in the same way. By silently avoiding the issue, nobody had to face the real problem of underperformance. What is the solution?

1901 US cartoon from Puck depicting John D. Rockefeller.
1901 US cartoon from Puck depicting John D. Rockefeller.

Like many dysfunctional management problems, immediate solutions can range from coaching and written recovery plans to personnel changes, but the problem never would have surfaced if the employees involved had been hired and groomed properly from the start. The Harvard Business Review (HBR) article, “Secrets of the Superbosses,” is a wonderful glimpse at how the best people make the best company, but only if “leaders follow specific practices in hiring and honing talent.” The article goes on to explain several of those practices such as using unconventional hiring that:

  • Focuses on intelligence, creativity, and flexibility
  • Finds unlikely winners
  • Adapts the job or organization to fit the talent
  • Accepts churn

Then following up that unconventional hiring with hands-on leadership that:

  • Sets high expectations
  • Trusts the team to execute
  • Encourages step-change growth
  • Stays connected

I know from observation (and feedback from their customers) that this European company is utilizing these practices in Europe which is why they are experiencing such rapid growth. Their challenge is to insure the entire worldwide organization is doing the same. If this seems like a daunting task for your organization, don’t despair. This is a long term shift of culture and thinking for most companies, but even the longest journey starts with a single step.