Lynne Curry: Don't promote trouble

Lynne Curry

Q: I’ve worked three years for our branch, first as a salesperson and then as the sales manager. When I started to burn out on sales, I told our company’s CEO I wanted to move into operations and he said he’d move me up as soon as he could. Last week, our branch manager unexpectedly resigned and I got the promotion. 

I need to decide who to hire or promote into my place as sales manager. “Anne” is the logical choice. She’s our highest-producing sales agent and a true go-getter. 

She’s also high maintenance and cutthroat. She pushes every envelope and is the agent most often involved in commission disputes. As one example, our sales personnel rotate who approaches walk-in customers. When Anne’s on the floor, she ignores the rotation, rushing customers as they come through the door. When I call her on it, she argues and says she only heads for the door when she sees a customer needing help and no one promptly offering it. 

Anne is the first to complain if one of “her” customers comes in while she is on break and another employee “steals” the customer, resulting in a split commission. Anne then protests that she earned the full sale, that the other agent only “accepted” the order and thus shouldn’t share the commission. 

Despite Anne’s predatory ways, the other sales agents like her. She regularly brings in breakfast burritos or Great Harvest scones for the whole crew and always remembers everyone’s birthdays. 

Anne’s already asked for the job, has reminded me she ran her own business before joining our company and insinuated she might quit if not promoted. I’m worried no one we hire will be able to handle Anne and we’ll lose her. I’m also worried she’ll turn her co-workers against anyone we might bring in. Your thoughts.

A: Anne shines in three areas -- she produces, others like her and she brings her former business expertise to the table.

Do these strengths balance her downsides? Anne argues when you call her on her behavior and puts her interests ahead of others – not a good quality in a manager. What might happen if you give her more status and power?

Your best course of action? Let Anne know you’ll welcome her application.

Then involve your employees in the hiring process by asking each, “What qualities do you want the sales manager to possess?” and “What benefits do we as a company gain or lose if we hire from within or bring in additional talent from outside?”    

Invite members of the sales team to sit in with you on the interviews. Tell them you take this decision concerning who to promote or hire as a sales manager seriously. Remind them the right choice matters to them as well as to you.

If you promote Anne, meet with her and clearly outline your expectations. As sales manager, she needs to consider the full team’s success as her primary objective, regardless of her personal financial gain.  

If you ultimately decide not to promote Anne, meet with her and let her know your reasons. At the same time, explain how much you value her as your most accomplished sales professional and explore with her ways to reward her for her talents. She appears motivated by money and power. What can you offer her that motivates her yet strengthens your company? Could you better incentivize her as a top producer? Can you reinforce the team spirit she shows by bringing burritos to the team with a thank-you dinner gift certificate?

Next, you know Anne and your team well. You’ll want to make sure you stay in close contact with both your new hire and the team so you can step in and prevent any sabotage.

Finally, if your decision seems best for the long-term yet presents short-term challenges, realize you made the right choice. Many managers take the easy way out only to pay for it in the long run.