Not long ago I posted some of the questions we ask clients who are working out their organizational culture. Last Thursday I was walking through the questions to review core value choices with a client and I have been toying with one of the questions in my head ever since then…
“Do you believe that those who do not share this core value—those who breach it consistently—simply do not belong in your organization?”
I believe firmly that companies with vibrant cultures will find that employees who cannot live up to certain values, spoken or otherwise, will simply opt out. This is a brief story of me opting out due to a conflict of unspoken and spoken values. This is also a story of how I learned that my secret calling is to be an insurance sales man…
I should note that at least twice that I can think of the spoken message about the culture of a company has brought me on board to company while the unspoken message or the addendum later has led me to opt-out. To kick-off this story let’s just say that in 2008 I joined an orientation session for a company I was considering working for and saw the following lines that were about 75% of their “mission statement”… “(we succeed by) listening to the needs of our clients and developing customised solutions that are immediately practical and improve their effectiveness…”
As I sat there in their training room with a group of incoming account managers and potential trainers (to my knowledge none of these people still work there) I felt like this would be a good match. Judging from the mission statement and the investment they were willing to make in account managers clearly there were going to be opportunities to grow and provide quality training. Which meant more money in the bank and of course satisfying work.
Jumping back a couple years before that some of you might remember my going to the US to get my SPIN certification. Beyond changing my sales style it also altered the way I look at sales. From my perspective the sales person has an obligation to create a solution to a problem that helps their client improve and be better than they were before. If the ASTD can argue training hasn’t happened with out learning I would argue value added sales hasn’t happened without positive change.
So I took it upon my self to provide training for free to the Shenzhen sales staff using the SPIN system. What I found immediately (and I believe is ALWAYS the case) was that they were very uninformed about the products they were selling and the solutions those products could provide. More importantly they were unable to envision the kinds of problems their client could be facing that these training courses could then remedy. ie provide compelling value and are “immediately practical and improve (their) effectiveness.”
So I spent a fair amount of time getting these young people to begin to think about the sales process as a method for identifying problems exploring their implications and providing best fit needs. Now for those of you familiar with sales psychology you will know there are two reasons for this method. The first and obvious one is that it creates a long term sense of value for a client who can resolve issues and improve their company. The second and slightly more sinister one, is that this method creates the sense of need to by exposing a sense of “pain” that looking for implications exacerbates in order to provide a compelling psychological push to purchase the solutions that a good SPIN seller gets the client to profess to needing.
The worst case scenario is that of the insurance sales man who gets you to confess how royally screwed you are without any insurance and how much safer your family would be with just a little bit more of the premium insurance package. “After all isn’t your family worth it?” People like the US government regularly take this approach. BTW it doesn’t make them wrong just manipulative.
I like to think that I and others like me are the best case scenario, but let’s be perfectly honest the difference between what I am trained to do and what insurance sales people do is pretty much nil. The difference is in the values that drive the methodology and the outcomes we want to create. I like to think that the money comes somewhere after the result in my case. But hey it’s all just perspective right?
I would say it is actually all about what you think of as valuable. For the company I was thinking of working with creating value started at the overall happiness of the trainee, since if the trainee was happy the HR supervisor or manager they were working with came across golden and they had effectively met one very important need, “make the decision maker look good.” The primary need that they were focusing their account managers on was to make that decision maker look good, in affect they were tying job performance not to organizational impact but to one person’s face within the organization.
This company also professed to be in the “edutainment” business. The skills of trainers were evaluated not by actual impact but by edutainment scores…
So let’s think about this from the perspective of the account manager. Let’s go back to a time when we were fresh out of college or when we tied our boat to the happiness of another person who was either our supervisor or senior manager. Let’s imagine that we need to defend our own fragile ego (failure is not an option) and our prime directive is to make “someone look good” are we going to help them see the brutal facts about what is hurting their company? Are we going to want to put in the hours to make the person whose happiness determines our success feel worried or concerned? Are we going to ask them take a good hard look at themselves and ask them to feel dissatisfied with the way things are?
I think the answer here is “Hell NO!”
This company further supported that model by giving their sales people product training that consisted of questions like, “which trainers come from the UK?” “Which trainer studied Mandarin for a summer at such and such university.” When I pointed out that this kind of training didn’t really help solve problems I was then told…
“John your sales style is like that of an insurance sales man. Sometimes the client just needs to be recognized for organizing a successful training.”
This mentality impacted their business in several ways from then to now. Some of them, honestly many of them, were very good for business, this company thrives in China and I wish them well. However, within about 6 weeks I had opted out and walked away from their organization. They continue to thrive in their market segment and I continue to thrive in mine. What we learned though was that their unspoken values made it easy for me to opt-out. During the economic downturn their values made it easy for a lot of people to opt-out. As I pointed out the entire group that attended that orientation (about 15 people) all left. Sales volume is fine there (by there I mean Shanghai and Beijing), employee turnover is less stellar.
The moral of the story. No one culture is right for everyone. No one culture is right or wrong and as long as the company stays true to itself and the people who adhere to their culture stay true to each other they will have a head up in the business world. If your culture is rife with unspoken or conflicting messages expect people to opt-out over time and your turnover to be more than you expected.
So if your turnover is really hurting you and you can see where that is impacting your bottom line I’d like to talk to you about this insurance package I am selling…