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Coach’s Diary: Where There’s a Will There’s a Way


A sales manager learns how to motivate a disengaged member of staff in the latest installment from Olivia Stefanino's casebook.

Ian was furious. While his team was currently placed third on the all-important whiteboard in his company’s open plan sales office, Ian knew that they needed to improve their performance dramatically. At stake was the annual foreign holiday that was awarded annually to the team that exceeded its targets by the greatest amount.

He – and his five sales staff – had narrowly missed winning the prize last year and Ian was determined that the same thing wouldn’t happen again this time round. Knowing that he needed help, he’d given me a call.

As we talked, it was clear that Ian was a great manager and motivator – and that his team were working hard. But as our conversation continued, it became clear that although nearly everyone shared Ian’s holiday ambitions, there was one individual who wasn’t quite on board.

“Actually, Jim is something of a liability. He doesn’t like it that I was promoted over his head – we joined the company at the same time – and to be honest, I don’t feel that he’s really pulling his weight. What makes my blood boil is that he’s not only letting himself down but the rest of the team are suffering too.”

Knowing that Ian was a pretty fair-minded type, I knew that he wasn’t trying to cover up for his own shortcomings by blaming Jim. I did wonder though, how Ian had coped with managing Jim when previously, they’d been peers.

“It’s not been easy,” Ian had replied. “In fact, if I’m honest, I’ve tended to give up on him. In the beginning, I asked him how he’d felt at not getting the promotion and he’d simply replied that there were no hard feelings, as the best man had won. I’d taken his comments at face value but now I’m beginning to wonder.”

“So, how do you handle him now?” I’d asked. “Well, to be honest, I’ve been tending to ignore him but I can see now that without him fully on board with the rest of us, we’re never going to win that prize. Every other team has five motivated sales people – but we’re in the fight with only four. Well, effectively only four as we can’t really count on Jim.”

I pointed out that in the circumstances, it was actually quite encouraging news…

Knowing that Ian needed to shift his perspective, I continued, “You narrowly missed out on winning the prize last year – and you had a disengaged Jim working with you then too. So, in order to win this year, all you need to do is to get Jim firing on all four cylinders!”

By the look on Ian’s face, he thought I was being somewhat over-optimistic. “Well,” I said, “you’ve worked out that ignoring him isn’t working. It’s time for a different strategy. What are his personal goals?”

Ian responded that he didn’t think Jim would be satisfied with anything less than his – Ian’s - job!

”In that case,” I smiled, “why not help him get it? I’m not suggesting that you give up your job for him but yours is a fast paced company which promotes people all the time. Why not have a chat with Jim, tell him that you believe in him, and tell him that you’re determined to help him get the promotion he so craves. Work with him to create a SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, wRitten and Timed) goal. When he sees you’re serious – and that you’re interested in him and his future – his attitude will start to change, I guarantee it. As he gets more motivated, his sales figures will rise – and you’ll all be in with a real chance of winning that holiday. And when you do, remember to send me a postcard.”

Ian had left my office determined to give it a go, although I knew he was still a little sceptical. I had every confidence in him though – and when a postcard landed on my desk recently from a top holiday resort in the Caribbean, I’d been only too delighted. On the back Ian had written: “We got the holiday and Jim’s got a new job. Bet you wish you were here!”

* Olivia Stefanino is a leadership development consultant and executive coach, who works with blue chip organisations, SMEs and individuals. Download your free e-booklet “128 ways to harness your personal power” at


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