Published On: Thu, Aug 9th, 2018

Poor Leadership and Accountability Caused This Problem.

Poor leadership and Accountability caused the problems with this company.

I was the President / CEO of a family-owned wholesale distribution business that was in existence for over 60 years. The company sold tobacco, candy, and groceries to convenience stores from Maine to South Carolina. When I joined the company, it was in severe financial trouble:

Poor Leadership and Accountability Caused This Problem. My immediate goal was to get the Company to break even status both financially and for cash flow purposes.

Six weeks after I joined the organization, I attended a meeting of the Company’s sales management. There were nine sales executives at the meeting; the Vice President of Sales and eight Regional Sales Managers. My goal was to evaluate the quality, caliber, moral, and attitude of the sales management team. I noticed that this meeting was conducted to vent every possible excuse why the sales team didn’t do their jobs. Not a single word was said about growing sales, providing excellent customer service or improving customer satisfaction. Collectively, they complained that:

  • Prices were too high compared to the competition.
  • Essential products were constantly out-of-stock.
  • Fill-rates were very poor and below acceptable industry standards.
  • Product selection for customers was weak compared to the competition.
  • Deliveries to customers were often late causing additional labor costs for store owners.
  • Delivery shortages and overages were excessive.
  • There are shortages of promotional material from the vendors.

Poor Leadership and Accountability Caused This Problem. After listening for 45 minutes, I could not stand it any longer. Everything said up to that point was negative and laden with excuses. There had not been one single problem–solving discussion to develop solutions to any of the issues mentioned. It had been a 45 minute whining session. I interrupted and began asking the questions that I had jotted on my notepad during the meeting. There was an easel in the corner of the conference room still untouched. I went and moved it in front of the sales group to highlight some critical points.

The first question I asked each sales manager in the group was, “What is your actual job function for the Company?”

I certainly had no idea from the conversation that I heard during the first part of the meeting. As I looked around the room, the question generated some very red faces. After a long pregnant pause, I asked the question again. With some frustration, I commented, “If I were to get out your respective job descriptions, what would they say?” That comment finally got some reaction, and we started to offer what they believed were the essential functions of sales management team for the Company.

I wrote the job responsibilities on the easel for everyone in the group to see. When completed, there were 11 primary functions, which included:

  • Recruit and hire the sales force.
  • Train the sales force.
  • Motivate the sales force.
  • Provide leadership for the sales force.
  • Deliver the goals and objectives of the company to the sales force.
  • Carry out the vision and mission of the company.
  • Act as a liaison between the company, customers, and vendors.
  • Obtain product knowledge for the sales force and customers.
  • Deliver  quality customer service.
  • Provide promotional information of products being advertised by the vendors.
  • Provide direction to the sales force regarding client acquisition.

After we had finished developing the list; I asked the group to prioritize it, from the most important to the least.

Next, with these items listed on the left side of the easel, I drew a line down the center. I chose to ask the individual who was the most vocal during the complaining portion of the meeting.

David was a confident type of guy who liked the attention. I said, “David, I am going to assume, for the benefit of this exercise, that you worked 50 hours last week.” He nodded approval, and I wrote the number “50” on the top of the pad just to the right of the line that I had previously drawn. Then, I asked how much time he did spend last week on the #1 priority item on the list. He stated, “Actually, none last week.” I went to the #2 item and asked the same question. This time, he estimated that he had spent about a half an hour on this function. I wrote down a half an hour next to the second item.

By the time I had gotten to the sixth prioritized responsibility on the list, he had estimated that he had spent a total of 3.5 hours of a 50 hour work week on the six most critical functions of his job. I stopped the process at that point to recap for the group what I illustrated during this exercise. David had spent 7% of his time last week (3 ½ hours of the 50-hour workweek) on the six essential functions of his job as Regional Sales Manager. That also meant that David spent 93% of his workweek either on the less critical duties of his position or items not even on the job description.

For the last 45 minutes, all the sales management team did was complain about every aspect of the operational functions of the Company: purchasing; warehousing; distribution; order entry; customer service; accounting; and marketing.

I identified the first of many critical problems that had put the Company in severe financial trouble. I knew that if I went through the same process with every department, the results probably would be similar. These problems were not unique to the sales manager. This issue was just one example of the many challenges of every department in the Company. It was apparent that poor leadership, lack of focused direction and accountability caused these problems.

Do you have any “Seven-Percenters” at your Company?

Robert “Bob” Curry has turned around more than 70 businesses, both large corporations, and small businesses. He comes to your place of business or the site of your choice. The first consultation, of course, is at no charge. Bob Curry has a stellar track record of professional success and excellent formal education, including Masters Degrees in Taxation.

Please read some of my other articles on improving your hiring skills: Invest Time and Money to Reduce Hiring Mistakes! and Listen More During an Interview, and Talk Less!

Robert “Bob” Curry has turned around more than 70 businesses, both large corporations, and small businesses. He comes to your place of business or the site of your choice. The first consultation, of course, is at no charge. Bob Curry has a stellar track record of professional success and excellent formal education, including Masters Degrees in Taxation.

Bob published his first book “From Red to Black – A Business Turnaround – The Matter of ABC Shutters” that is on sale at Amazon.com.

Please read all my blogs at Fortlauderdaleceo.com.

See the website Redtoblackbooks.com.

If you would like to comment on this article, my email address is Bob@ceorsc.com.

About the Author

- Robert S. Curry is an author, seasoned business coach, and successful turnaround specialist. Earlier in his career, he served as President and CEO of three different companies, the largest with annual sales of more than $1 billion dollars - all which experienced successful turnarounds under his management. In the late 1990s, he started his turnaround consulting firm, and for the past twenty years, he has turned around more than seventy distressed companies in many different industries helping each to establish a strong management team and become profitable. He published his first book: From Red to Black – A Business Turnaround – The Matter of ABC Shutters. He resides in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, with his wife, Esther.

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