Many of the sales leaders I talk to these days tell me that they are struggling with the issue of keeping the team(s) focused. Of course, this problem, which extends across all industries, comes at a time when many of us are directly or indirectly confronting issues related to the global pandemic, to financial pressures on both the personal and organizational scales, and to questions of social unrest. It's not all that surprising that sales teams are distracted. Everyone is distracted. The question is, what do leaders do about it when that distraction reaches the point where it affects revenue generation?
Arriving at the best possible answers to this question requires another question: Why are so many younger members of so many sales teams so prone to distraction right now?
I believe there are two interlocking and interdependent answers to this. The first is that, for much of this year, there have been major social upheavals and personal challenges for all of us to come to terms with…and that people under about 30 have increasingly been inclined to bring their responses to these challenges into the workplace. Why have they done this? Good question, and one that brings us to the second answer, which involves a fascinating demographic shift in behavioral styles.
If you are not already familiar with the behavioral assessment tool known as DISC, let me oversimplify that system by briefly pointing out that it identifies four distinctive ways human beings communicate with other human beings. Two of these, identified by the letters D and C, tend to prioritize the completion of tasks. The other two, identified by the letters I and S, tend to place a much higher priority on relationships with people.
Knowing only this much is not enough to give you much insight into the use of the DISC system as a management tool…but it is enough to shed some light on the question of why so many sales teams find themselves profoundly distracted right now. The answer to that is: in recent years, for reasons that are not well understood, younger workers have skewed strongly toward the I and S profiles, and away from the D and C profiles.
In fact, according the ‘Extended DISC Validation Report 2019’, the overall English-speaking population of respondents that have the ‘Driver’ profile has seen a drop in the last 15 years from 14% to 10%. This means that many sales teams populated by younger workers are strongly inclined to explore feelings and relationships as their means of interacting with the world at large.
There is nothing inherently wrong with this. There are no good or bad DISC styles. However, a challenge arises for sales leaders when the desire to explore one’s feelings and solidify one’s relationships with others crosses the line into avoidance of key workplace responsibilities.
If there are behaviors that need to happen on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis in order for the person to do his or her job effectively, and those behaviors consistently are not happening, the sales leader needs to find an effective way to respond.
This can be a challenge – particularly if the leader is on the task-oriented side of the DISC spectrum. Here are some suggestions for handling this situation.
- Acknowledge the importance of feelings and relationships. These are portals through which the I and S team members experience the world. Effective communication requires you to acknowledge their importance.
- Set up a one on one meeting with the team member in question. Don’t try to change this pattern during a group meeting. It won’t work.
- Stick to logic and facts. The ego states through which you want to communicate with the team member are known as the Nurturing Parent and the Adult. Leave the Child and the Critical Parent out of the conversation. Focus on objective realities you can both agree on (such as the need to help and support family members, and others at the company, who are counting on the salesperson) in a nurturing way.
- Keep bringing the conversation back to the behaviors. You can do this by asking questions like, “What can we control?” “What can we do next?” “How can we make this better?” The best answers will tactfully, but invariably, point the salesperson back to his or her behavioral plan.
I would add an important point: social media is a portal into distraction. To the extent that you can use these one-on-one coaching discussions to limit those distractions by helping the salesperson choose to curtail non-work-related social media usage during the day, you will find it easier to keep people on task.