Sales and Sales Management Blog

December 18, 2007

A First-Time Manager’s Story: A Lesson in Wasted Talent and Money

One would think that having spent over 5 decades living in an irrational world I wouldn’t be particularly surprised by the irrational behavior of companies and their managers.  I have to confess, I’m still stunned by some of the generally accepted behavior practiced by management at many companies. 

Although much of this behavior is associated with small and mid-size companies, we see almost very day that irrational behavior is certainly not a foreign concept in major corporate boardrooms.

This story, however, comes from a mid-size manufacturing company although the same scenario plays out at thousands of companies, including some major corporations.

Diana called me one recent morning to discuss the possibility of hiring me as her sales and management coach.  If we agree to work together, she’ll be with a new company.  She had been unemployed since the previous Friday.


Diana was a branch manager for a mid-sized manufacturing company.  She had worked there for two and a half years as a salesperson prior to being promoted to branch manager back in September.  She had been in her new position for only a little over 90 days before she was let go.


She was the top producer not only in her office but also in her region.  She knew the products cold, worked well with her clients, was always prospecting, and had started helping to train some of the newer salespeople in the region.  She was doing very well and considered something of a star in her company.


Then, in August, she was approached with the offer to take over the branch manager’s position that had come open when the then existing manager left the company.  He’d only been the manager for about 9 months.  He had taken over after the manager before him had been let go—after less than a year.


The company has numerous offices spread throughout the country; yet, there are only a handful of branch managers who have been with the company for longer than a year or two.  The majority of the company’s branch managers have been in management less than a year.  The company’s branch manager turn over is over 50% a year.


As is so typical for many companies, when looking for someone to promote into a first line management position, they looked at the top producer, not the best management candidate.

Diana knew this history.  She knew that managers came and went quickly.  Yet, she accepted the offer.  She assumed that the problem was that the regional managers were simply hiring and promoting the wrong people.  Her experience, she knew, would be very different.  She knew the products.  She knew the company.  She knew the customers.  She knew how to sell.  She was committed to being successful. 

She was obviously very, very wrong about what her experience would be as a manager.

As manager, she was responsible for sales.  But she was also responsible for the branch’s P&L, inventory control, and clerical and installation personnel.  The salespeople were just a portion of her new responsibilities. 

Diana isn’t dumb.  She is a very bright woman.  But she isn’t a manager—yet.  She wasn’t when promoted, and three months later, she has progressed little.

However, the fault doesn’t lie with her.  The fault is primarily with her company.


Like a great many companies, Diana’s company has no idea how to prepare a first-time manager.  She was given two days training—on filling out the reports.


She received no training on how to manage P&L.  She received no training on managing people (other than on harassment and termination regulations).  She received no training on inventory control, making personnel decisions, scheduling, working with shipping or the warehouse, or any other aspect of her new job.


Diana was forced to sink or swim.  She sank, just as the majority of the company’s other first-time managers.

Diana wasn’t low key when it came to asking for help.  She called her regional manager constantly.  But he didn’t have time.  September was the end of the quarter and he had to concentrate on getting sales booked and shipped—and so did she, he said.  October and November were busy times as he had to get his 2008 projections and business plan completed prior to the end of November—and by the way, where were her 2008 projections, he wanted to know. 

By December, it was too late for Diana.  She was overwhelmed.  Not with the time commitment or the schedule.  She was fine with those.  She was overwhelmed with the expectations the company had from someone who had never done these things and had nowhere to turn for help or guidance.

She is bitter, yet determined that she is going to make someone a great manager.  And she will.  She has the determination, the commitment, and the ability.  And despite her experience, her spirit isn’t broken.  And she is wiser for the experience.  But it will take quite sometime for her to become a good manager if left on her own, just as it would most anyone else.

The company is losing some of its best salespeople through its own ineptitude. Certainly, Diana’s old company isn’t the only example of this “do or die” mentality.  It tends to be the norm rather than the exception.

The truly sad part of this story is that it doesn’t have to be this way.  Developing and instituting a manager-training program need not be expensive nor need it be particularly time consuming for any one manager in the company.  As a matter of fact, a quality manager training program will save the company a tremendous amount of money every year.  Depending on the size of the company, those savings can be measured in the tens of thousands or the millions of dollars.


“What crap,” I hear.  “We’ve always done it this way and we’re doing just fine.  We eventually find the tough managers who can really make it.  This is a tough business, we need tough people.”

For a company to care so little about their employees and their bottom-line is stunning.  Yet, because of not wanting to invest the dollars in training, a belief that first-time managers should take the reins and prove themselves, a sincere belief that on-the-job training is the only legitimate method of preparing a manager, or just plain thoughtlessness and ignorance companies are wasting people and money.  Fortunately, most aren’t as bad as the company Diana worked for.  Most aren’t experiencing the level of first-time manager turn-over or the wasting of top producers as this company.  However, the percentage of companies wasting both talent and money is far too high.

It must be nice to have all that extra money to burn–not to mention the people that also burned along the way.



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