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Will the Next Sales Achiever Be a Vegetarian?

Looking for your next sales achiever? Here’s how one sales manager I worked with tackled the challenge:

“The perfect salesperson is one who has a new car, a mortgage, a stay-at-home wife, a baby, and another one on the way.”

Translation: “Motivating people isn’t my thing.” Sure, workers who exist in consumption traps bring motivation to the job, but they also bring plenty of problems, including stress. Is that profitable? Is that sustainable? And, does that create happiness for anyone? Maybe I’ve asked these questions in the wrong order.

Thirty years ago, few executives worried about the correlation between personal happiness, physical and mental health, and on-the-job productivity. In the early 1980′s, I sat in hours-long meetings when cigarette packs and lighters occupied space on conference room tables the way Blackberries and iPads do today. Where I worked, not smoking was considered anti-social. “Sure, go ahead and light up! If smoking helps you get your work done, we’ll provide matches and ashtrays!” So it was. I knew everyone’s preferred brand, and my clothes reeked at the end of each day. No need for me to smoke since there was plenty of it in the air.

Rules and regulations that once seemed draconian have squashed workplace freedoms like smoking anytime and anywhere, but for those who thrive on inhaling clean air and wearing fresh clothes, there are undeniable benefits. In thirty years, we’ve progressed from “Oh! You smoke!” to “Oooooh—you smoke?”, a remarkable shift. And happily—or disappointingly, depending on your view—other personal behaviors have received similar attention.

In an article, Workplaces Feel the Impact of Obesity, Avi Dor, a researcher at George Washington University, said that employers “recognize that there’s so many potentially highly productive workers who happen to be obese — highly skilled workers in some cases — that they really want to tackle this problem head-on.”

This level of caring and compassion didn’t happen overnight. But it happened. Why? A symposium I attended last week at the University of Virginia’s McIntire School of Commerce, Cultivating Well-Being: The Necessary Role of Business Leaders, Researchers, and Educators, ” offered four ideas:

1. The relationship between employee well being, employee satisfaction, and customer satisfaction has become better understood. Similarly, the notion that employee well-being and profitability are negatively correlated has fallen out of favor, because for many companies, customer satisfaction and lower employee churn drops to the bottom line.

2. What employers pay attention to and ask about has changed.

3. Employers recognize that employee well being is less about ROI, and more about value returned to the company and its customers.

4. Employers and public policy makers have recognized that personal health is not always “somebody else’s business.” Companies must work to solve problems that are real to everyone.

Forget the social-do-goodism for a moment. It’s still all about money. Employee personal health has become the same hard-nosed dollars and cents issue to companies as supply chain efficiency and cost of capital. Even with automation and software tools, working in the “knowledge economy” has become more mentally and physically demanding—not less. So employees who aren’t ready because they’re out of shape, overstressed, or unhappy, are a competitive liability. Which possibly explains why it’s rare to meet a top sales producer who chain smokes and weighs over 350 pounds.

Maintaining personal wellness seems natural to many of us, but not every manager or employee buys in. “You have to show people the benefits of engaging in certain behaviors,” said keynote speaker Punam Anand Keller, Professor of Management at Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business. “You have to tailor your marketing to their needs.” Biz-dev 101 stuff. But Keller said the rates of participation in corporate and public well-being programs are “dishearteningly low.” Part of buying in depends on the ability of senior managers to walk the walk, not just talk the talk.

One panelist, Dianne Houghton, former CEO of Digital Focus, Inc. said “Never have a doubt that creating an environment where people can do their best work is the best thing for the bottom line,” she told the audience. Another panelist, Jerry Ng, President and Chief Executive Officer, Bank Tabungan Pensiunan Nasional (BTPN) cited other benefits. Supporting well-being “is not only philosophically good, it creates competitive advantages.”

His company’s financial results support his opinion. The Indonesian bank, which serves a largely low-income, elderly clientele, has been growing at a 40 percent annual rate. Among the services BTPN offers are free medical clinics, seminars on how to live healthy, and courses in financial management. Amazing what financial good can result when banking executives are capable of thinking beyond five-dollar-per-month debit card fees.

Keller provided examples of other companies that are outstanding promoters of employee wellness, including Abbott Labs, Disney, Johnson Controls, Whole Foods. The Abbott Labs Work Life programs web page touts “available sports vary by site and may include bowling, basketball, golf, volleyball, softball, skiing, tennis and bingo.” Bingo? Something for everyone, I guess.

Do the connections between wellness, productivity, and profitability mean that the new sales achiever must be a tee-totaling, non-smoking, mountain-biking, vegetarian triathlete who hits the gym instead of the bar after work, and who coaches Little League? I don’t know. But sales readiness means physical and mental readiness. And that’s as important as having product knowledge, social skills, and business acumen. The best salesperson is one who not only has motivation, but confidence fueled by a sense of well being. Something the regional sales manager didn’t consider.

It’s understandable that managers might be reticent about asking an employee to lose weight, eat a healthier diet, or start an exercise program. But whether you agree that employee wellness benefits society, corporate profits, or both, the need to apply leverage might be unavoidable. Another panelist, Josh Wright, Acting Director, Office of Financial Education and Financial Access for the U.S. Department of the Treasury felt that choice that is purely free doesn’t exist. “Whether government- or market-influenced, all choices are biased in some way . . . There’s no need to mandate behaviors, but why not help to structure people’s decisions?”

Further reading: Do Happier People Work Harder?, New York Times, September 3, 2011

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2 Responses to Will the Next Sales Achiever Be a Vegetarian?

  1. Jack Malcolm November 3, 2011 at 6:11 pm #

    Andy,

    Interesting topic. I also remember when it was practically mandatory to drink at lunch when you took a client out.

    Your title reminded me of what Churchill said when someone once brought him a cucumber sandwich: “Bring me meat. This war will be won by carnivores.”

  2. Jen Meltzer March 3, 2012 at 8:27 pm #

    @Andy_Rudin, thanks.
    Always love your posts about sales.
    Takes one to know one.

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