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As a sales manager, I hosted a daily sales meeting like every good sales manager should. Like all good salespeople do, the sales team would come to the meeting with their list of “should-haves” and “could-haves” if only “blah-blah” was true. This would often take the wind right out of my sails and tarnish the best-ever-peep-talk-of-the-century that I had prepared to rally the troops. I knew I had to change this course of action but was struggling with a solution. Out of desperation, I came up with my most successful worst idea ever, to make a game out of how to handle complaints. The goal of the game was to create a place where the negative had no home and the positive was brought to light. So how do you create a positive influenced sales meeting?
Establish the rules of the game: Complaints are not a bad thing. There are actually a seed from which positive change can be populated. The key to complaining is to be a part of the solution and not the problem. If you are part of the problem, then that is called whining and without cheese and crackers, no one wants a whiner. If you wish to complain, come to the table with a single clear complaint and examples (notice the plural) of how you would like to see this problem resolved. In other words, bring solutions to your problem. Having to provide solutions to a problem, gives the complainer ownership of the problem and the outcome.
Create a field to play on: Your team is already assembled but where is their forum to play. Creating a single meeting once a week to play the complaint game, or meltdown meeting, is frequent enough to be relevant but repetitious enough to be productive. I hosted my meltdown meetings on Monday morning. They quickly became known as Meltdown Mondays and I never had a problem with attendance. It was an open forum that allowed the salespeople to have a voice, but they had to follow the rules of the game to play. In this open forum format, it was easy to decipher isolated complaints from actually breakdowns in process that affected the whole team. A salesperson would share their problem and solutions and then we would open the table for discussion. If it was an isolated incident, discussion would usually not occur. I would then invite that salesperson to see me personally to work this out. If there was an abundance of discussion, I knew we had a breakdown. Hosting this open forum also allowed me as a manager to keep my feet wet in the trenches with my team. If I just listened to them, I could actually feel the pulse of the problem and understand what was required to bring about a solution. Salespeople may surprise you, in that they often offer some spot on solutions when given ownership of a problem. This type of forum also allows the team to have ownership of their processes and having a stake in the game makes the game worth playing. Playing this game actually ended up giving the team permission to succeed in resolving conflict independently of what was perceived as the overbearing methods of management. This level of ownership kept the team fired up and not burned out over breakdowns.
Enforce good sportsmanship: Leave it all on the field. When the game is over, the game is over, no matter the outcome. In between games, it is each team member’s responsibility to practice and prepare for the next game. The time to complain is during meltdown meetings. When that meeting comes to an end, the complaining must wait for the next meeting. This now creates space in the rest of your daily or weekly meetings for productivity outside of breakdowns. This is your time as the sales manager to coach the team to success including lessons learned from the previous meltdown meeting game. In order to be successful though, the sales manager must assume the role of coach and umpire and strictly enforce the rules of the game. Without this consistency, the team can quickly slip back into its-all-about-poor-me individuals and away from how-can-we-better-our-division teammates. Of course, make sure your team understands that if something does come up between meetings and is urgently important, they can address their problem with solutions with you in person.
When my team started playing the meltdown meeting game, it was tedious at first. It was like trying to coach five year olds to be a world class soccer team. They seemed to have stock piled problems and struggled with bringing solutions. Over time and with some coaching and reinforcement of the rules, the team began to play as a cohesive unit regarding the rules of the game, even coaching each other. I also noticed over time, the number of isolated complaints diminished. As the team began to take ownership of their daily activities and processes, I observed fewer moments in which they were just on the clock putting in their hours. A great side effect of meltdown meetings was it actually made the team more productive over time. As a result, I was given the opportunity to focus on being their guide on the side and no longer forced to be some sage on a stage. I was now the coach of a world class soccer team!