Know your thing – everyone

A few years back, I was employed in an organisation where one of the sales people was under performing – nothing new here.

As a general rule, I like to get into the field with people as quickly as I can, to see how they operate on a day to day basis; not wanting to see this sales person fail, I gave him three weeks’ notice hoping that would be enough time for him to be able to organise some of his best customers and for him to  feel good about himself.

The first sales call wasn’t great beginning with “Is John here?” receiving a response of “sorry he left eight months ago”.  The second greeting was “jeez, we haven’t seen you for a while” – needless to say it got worse from there.

We had a “chat” and I suggested that a sales training course might be a good idea, following which we planned another day out in the field about a month later. There was no improvement.
With his permission, I snuck him through a personality profiling tool with an external consultant who was vetting prospective employees for the company at that time.  The results came back as a “definitely do not employ in a sales job.”

I haven’t the time to share all the other things I tried to do to help him to see that perhaps sales wasn’t his calling.  At the time, the market was tight for not only good sales people but people across all positions, so I tried to work with him to build a more suitable position within the company.

Notwithstanding the time, effort and money I spent on him, he was sure that I was looking to remove him from the business.  Indignantly, he told me that he had been made redundant six times in his career (he was 55 years old), and that on four of those occasions, the company had employed a replacement three months after letting him go.

My first point is this; businesses are continually challenged by a lack of engagement from their staff (up to 75% of people are not engaged according to a recent study by Gallup); if people are not engaged with themselves, businesses have very little hope.  This person was a good father, husband and citizen but it had been a very long time since he had allowed his heart to speak to his head. He had no idea what he liked nor what he was good at much less what he should have been doing; life is way too short not to know where you fit.

My second point is that we all need to have the courage to tell someone what they are or are not good at. Not because:

  • the employee needs to hear it
  • the company removes a non-performer or
  • you will save some poor future business a problem


  • because we become better managers and leaders for saying it and
  • we owe it to ourselves as developers of people.

A senior manager of mine used to say “… should always leave someone better than you found them” and if that requires you to share bad news, (in a respectful way) then so be it. General Colin Powell also said that “Being responsible sometimes means pissing people off”.

It happens all too often where people don’t have the hard conversations, instead they ship people off to “Special Projects” or similar to become someone else’s problem.

We need to do better by each other in all, and from all, perspectives.

Charlie Pidcock