Too Smart to Read Stupid Books

We all have expectations that we inherently have for others in our lives. As a parent of a high school senior on prom night, you explain your expectations to your child to keep him safe. If you purchase a Mercedes, you expect a certain level of customer service from the dealership.  Over the years, whenever I started in a new position,  I’ve had the expectation that my team would read to improve personal and professional knowledge and skills. As the Director of Sales at an IT company, I set a goal to read and discuss one book a month with my sales team. The first book was SPIN Selling by Neil Rackham to teach effective questioning, listening, and overcome the old selling paradigm and the second book was Who Moved My Cheese? by Spencer Johnson, M.D.  After reading these books, I used the concepts as the foundation for role-playing scenarios that were conducted at monthly meetings.  I firmly believe that creating cohesive and successful teams comes from continual learning and practicing.  As I shared the team goals and missions consistently, I encouraged each member to confidently face the enormous challenges and changes faced in our industry. At the end of the second month, one individual, Mike, asked to talk to me about “a few things.”

When we got together, Mike proceeded to tell me why reading these books and going to training was a waste of his time. He stated, “I’m a professional salesperson. I know what I am doing. I don’t need to waste my time reading these books and taking time away from selling to come to these meetings.” It was immediately obvious that I was not going to convince Mike that training and education were extremely important values of mine, and more importantly, were necessary to improve the value salespeople can offer in everything they do.

This meeting wasn’t the first time Mike had voiced his resistance to what was expected. To add to my concerns about Mike’s dedication to his work, his sales performance was considerably below target. In the past year, he had been well below average in revenue attainment, and in the last sixty days, he had not shown any signs of progress. These facts, along with his lack of desire to develop himself, catalyzed an important decision I made for both me and my team. I fired him on the spot. I informed him that a Letter of Termination would be sent to his house by certified mail first thing in the morning. I directed Mike’s Sales Manager  to help Mike clear out his desk and escort him off the  premises.

I immediately called a meeting to let everyone know Mike decided to join another team. Mike made the decision to join another team when he informed me that he was unwilling to read books or participate in the training. Although that wasn’t the sole reason I fired Mike, it was an important contributor to the decision. I explained to the sales team that in order to add value to our customers, we needed to get better at what we did every day. I also shared with the team, that in order to be our best, we needed to develop and hone our skills. I clarified my expectations with the team and explained, “We have just started this journey to excellence.  In the past two months we have seen some positive things happening. I see activity up, people learning, and members of this team helping each other. We still have a long way to go, but it is my commitment to you that those willing to work together on this adventure will prosper.” I found out later, to my surprise, this type of discussion had never happened at this company! 

How do you create continual learning and skill development opportunities for your team?  What expectations are you communicating?  Are goals and activities clear and tracked to report progress and improvement? 

“There are few things more pathetic than those who have lost their curiosity and sense of adventure, and who no longer care to learn.” 

― Gordon B. HinckleyWay to Be!: 9 Rules For Living the Good Life

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