New To Sales Management? Assess Your Team Sooner Rather Than Later

Jonathan Farrington

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You need to begin to get the measure of people early on. Beware of thinking you are an expert psychologist, but do:

  • Listen to what people say and how they say it

  • Read between the lines

  • Check immediately anything that is unclear

  • Address (or note) any apparent hidden agendas

  • Be aware of the informal communications channels as well as the hierarchical ones

  • Note any areas requiring further investigation

    You need to get to know people, their working methods, strengths and weaknesses. This cannot be done in five minutes; start early and handle it objectively.

    Beware of making, and acting on unwarranted, instant assumptions about people.

    A First Staff Meeting:

    Get the team together as soon as possible, on the first day if you can. Remember, your meetings speak volumes about the kind of manager you are. Plan to make them really effective, therefore.

  • Set the time and date to be as convenient to people as possible (you may need to check this with a new group)

  • Organise the administration (place, refreshments, acting to stop interruptions, etc)

  • Issue a clear agenda in advance

  • Make sure the agenda is worthwhile, fits the time available and is useful for those attending

  • Tell people what you expect from them (for instance, if someone is to give you a run down on their section or work, let them plan how to do it from your clear brief)

  • Set start and finish times – and try to stick to them (you are setting up habits here so be sure to start on time)

  • Give people a say – listen – make notes and be seen to take an interest in their views

  • Make any action points clear (whether for the group or for individuals)

  • Link to the next meeting (you might set a date)

  • Confirm anything necessary in writing

    A meeting should motivate. People will wonder how your presence and style will affect them. Show them your impact will be beneficial. Spell out how.

    The agenda for the first meeting will depend on your precise role. It is likely to include items such as:

  • Your understanding of the team’s role and immediate goals

  • Any necessary explanations for change (e. g. why you are now manager)

  • The current position (progress, problems, opportunities)

  • A chance to ask questions

  • Details of, and reasons for, any immediate changes

  • Reporting and communications procedures (e. g. : when and how you plan to keep in touch with individuals and the group)

  • Action points on immediate operational issues

    You should ask as much as inform, and not change existing procedures without good reasons (and knowing the facts). However logical changes may be, people will be suspicious (Will it adversely affect me?) so see, and explain things, from their point of view. Empathy is your greatest ally in the early stages of managing a group.

    Early Issue: Early Action

    Here is something to do as soon as possible (though always with a firm basis of information). Identify an issue waiting for attention and which is seen as needing attention. And sort it out.

    Something where you can:

  • Tell people you recognise it is a priority, one that must not be left

  • Explain the basis of a decision

  • Specify action to be taken (this could be a temporary measure)

  • Take any additional action necessary (e. g. : confirm in writing, consult or advise further a field than your section)

  • Get it off the department’s to do list promptly and definitely

    You need a task that is seen as due (overdue?) for action, one that will also be seen as well resolved – an example of how you mean to go on. Select carefully, act in a considered fashion and this will not only clear an outstanding issue but will also say something positive about you.

    Ground Rules

    Consultation is important to the management process but there are times when arguments must be avoided and an authoritative approach taken. If every initiative involved lengthy consultation, time would run out, little would get done and we would all be in trouble.

    You, might, for example, consult about departmental policy on dress code or what can be claimed on expenses. Then – for a while at least – what is decided (what you decide) assumes the status of a rule. It is expected that people toe the line, and no time is wasted on endless arguments about exceptions. In due course you may need to reassess the situation and possibly change the rules.

    The same can be said of meetings (When we set the date for a staff meeting, we all stick to it and start on time) and procedures (When certain documents are sent out you get a copy – always) .

    How you act in this kind of way affects your profile as a manager. If people say of you: If you attend one of Jonathan’s meetings you’d better be on time, it is surely a good thing – as long as they believe you are a manager who understands their point of view.

    Copyright © 2007 Jonathan Farrington. All rights reserved

    Jonathan Farrington is the Managing Partner of The jfa Group . To find out more about the author, subscribe to his newsletter for dedicated sales professionals or to read his weekly blog, visit:

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