Volume 2, No. 3

May/June, 2004


Eradicate the Irrelevant... by Jim Witschger

Money Sense...Protect Your Retirement Savings...by Michael Falcon

How To Develop Your Creative Thinking Skills...by Dr. Errol Wirasinghe

Leadership Mythology...by Greg Smith

Buzzwords Don't Always Deliver On Their Promise...by Jeff Ratje

Business Owner/Sales Manager...Double Jeopardy... by Harriett Greenbaum and Lawrence Kohn

Six Principles For Promoting Self-responsibility... by Terry Bragg


Eradicate the Irrelevant

By Jim Witschger
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As management professionals, our days are filled with interruptions, telephone calls, email, and regular mail. There may appear to be far too few hours in the day to complete present tasks, let alone to focus on the future. Let me share a secret I use that has actually increased the amount of time I have each day. I call this principle: ERADICATE THE IRRELEVANT.

I came to realize that if something was not important at present, it was probably not important at all. Certainly, some items of importance must be dealt with at a later date, but I found that I, like most other managers, tended to be an "issue packrat". I used to save documents, email, letters, and other items that I thought would be an issue later. These, of course, would multiply and form an ever-rising pile on my desk and worse, in my mind. Then I remembered that freedom I had felt in the past when I changed jobs. I would make a formal act of erasing and forgetting all of the stuff, issues, future plans that had piled up in that job because it was no longer relevant. I just swept the whole pile into the trash and allowed my mind to match my desktop (visibly clear, but not entirely empty).

In an act of desperation based on the need to see my desktop, I decided to apply this principle to my current position. From time to time, I would just clear the pile from my desk and throw 90% of it away. Then, I would wait and see if I needed any of the material or if the "issue" ever came to pass. After a few tenuous weeks waiting for a devastating issue to suddenly reappear, I found that I never missed anything and that the "issues" never did materialize. I had been mired in the irrelevant giving desk space and mind space to issues that would never arise. Now, I formally follow this practice that I have to know as: eradicating the irrelevant. Here is how it works.

I do not open 90% of the mail addressed to me. If it is not something I am expecting, it is irrelevant and I toss it. After all, how can it be relevant if it is not something I am expecting? From time to time, I set something aside as a "future issue" assuming I will either want or need to deal with it later. Inevitably, I find that even this carefully selected material ends up in the trash.

I apply the same principle to telephone calls. If I am not expecting the call or it is not immediately relevant, I do not take the call. If the call ends up in my voice mail, I usually listen to the salutation and then delete it. Some people might advise listening to the message. Why? What could a person whom I am not planning to talk to or whose call I did not expect have to say that is relevant to me? The fact is: the people calling want to make themselves relevant to me. Be it a sales person, a job candidate, or a well-meaning charity, the person wants to suck me in, become part of my business life, and become relevant. I have to be traffic cop and willfully determine what is relevant.

About now, you are thinking, this sounds great, but… Well, a wise old preacher was fond of this statement: "but is for sitting". People would come to his preaching, hear his message, begin to grow excited, and then say "but… but my life is different, but my situation is harder, but you do not understand". His answer was always the same: "but is for sitting". It was obviously implied that you were not going anywhere sitting on your butt. You cannot bring about change, you cannot create movement if the message does not move from your head to your feet or whatever part moves you. You determine everything.

Get off your butt’s. Here is a simple way to start eradicating the irrelevant without fear. Obtain a paper box from the copier room and put it under your desk. Mark the box "save" and then use this box as your transitory trash can. When mail, faxes, memos, or emails come in that are questionably relevant, throw them in the box. (Throw the obviously irrelevant stuff directly in your real trashcan). Then do your job as normal and see if anything actually becomes relevant. If something does not come up, great. If something does come up, fetch the document from the box and process it. Within a few months, you can throw away the "safety box" and trust your judgment intuitively. You will have more legroom under your desk and more hours in your week.


Mr. Witschger has 23 years experience in software development with a variety of firms and over 15 years in human resources software development, sales and marketing. Mr. Witschger is CEO and Co-founder of Technical Difference, Inc., a privately held corporation and publishers of People-Trak; a PC based Human Resource Information System for organizations with 10 to 10,000 employees. He has published multiple articles regarding the practical aspects of HR management. For more information see www.people-trak.com or call 1-800-809-5731.

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Protect Your Retirement Savings
Michael Falcon
 Chief Operating Officer of the Retirement Group, Merrill Lynch

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Individual retirement accounts (IRAs) are a great way to save and invest so that you have a source of income during your retirement years.  And while an IRA can be a tremendous tax-deferred investment tool during your lifetime, it can be an additional tax and legal burden on your heirs if you neglect to choose a beneficiary for your IRA or fail to maintain how your IRA assets are to be passed along to others.

It is important to properly designate the beneficiaries on your accounts to ensure that your assets are distributed according to your wishes. Your IRA can pass to primary and secondary (also known as contingent) beneficiaries.  After your death, the primary beneficiaries you chose receive the percentage of your IRA assets you specified.  If there are no primary beneficiaries living at the time of your death, the account is divided in the percentages you designated among your living contingent beneficiaries. 

How your IRA assets are passed to your primary or contingent beneficiaries can be specified with three beneficiary designations.  A "single beneficiary" is one living beneficiary to whom all assets will be distributed upon the account owner’s death. "Multiple beneficiaries" include more than one living beneficiary who will receive the account owner’s IRA assets according to the amounts specified by the deceased.  And "custom beneficiaries" are a grouping of beneficiaries who receive assets in a customized manner designed by the deceased (these often include surviving children or charities).


“Stretching” Your IRA

When determining your beneficiaries, you should consider who you want to inherit your retirement assets and how you would like them to receive the assets.  Your beneficiaries can receive your IRA assets a number of ways, including directly from the IRA or through a trust.  By designating a trust as your IRA beneficiary, your assets will be distributed to the trust upon your death.  This can be an attractive option because the assets can then be distributed from the trust in the manner you designated to the beneficiaries you designated.  For instance, a trust could be set up to provide income to a beneficiary.  With a trust, you may also designate a trustee to manage the assets for a beneficiary with special needs or make tax-advantaged charitable gifts.

If you do not need to use your traditional IRA assets to help fund your own retirement, you could employ the "stretch IRA" strategy.  It allows you, literally, to stretch the time that traditional IRA assets grow tax-deferred.  For example, you can name your spouse as your beneficiary.  When you die, your spouse can roll over the assets to his or her own IRA without paying taxes and name a younger beneficiary.  Your spouse can then take distributions based on his or her own life expectancy.  After your spouse’s death, the younger beneficiary will inherit the account assets and he or she can take distributions based on their life expectancy.  The stretch IRA strategy can extend the length of time that withdrawals can be taken as well as the period in which the assets grow tax-deferred.  Please note that you should talk to your legal and tax advisors to determine how tax laws can impact using this strategy.


Payout Restrictions

Naming a spouse as your primary beneficiary is easy enough.  Among the many options available, your spouse may choose to roll over the IRA assets into his or her own IRA following your death, thus continuing the tax-deferred growth.  At this point, your spouse could name new beneficiaries.  Assuming your spouse is under age 70½, he or she may also decide to put off taking the required minimum annual distributions from the IRA until he or she reaches age 70½.

You could also decide to name a non-spouse individual as your primary beneficiary.  A non-spouse individual beneficiary has a number of distribution options available depending upon whether the account owner dies before or after reaching age 70½.  If the account owner dies before reaching age 70½, the beneficiary has two options.  He or she may take distributions over his or her own life expectancy (the beneficiary must choose this option no later than December 31 in the year following the IRA owner’s death).  The beneficiary may also choose to distribute all of the assets (this option must be chosen no later than December 31 of the fifth year after the year of the IRA owner’s death).  If the account owner dies after reaching age 70½, the beneficiary can take distributions based on his or her own life expectancy or continue the distributions previously established by the account owner.  In all of these scenarios, the beneficiary will only pay ordinary income tax on the amount distributed.

If you name multiple, primary individual beneficiaries, the payout period for their distributions is generally based on the life expectancy of the oldest primary beneficiary.  However, each beneficiary can create his or her own IRA (called an "inherited IRA") after the account owner’s death.  This allows each beneficiary to take distributions based on his or her own life expectancy.  Keep in mind that this option must be selected by December 31 of the year following the year of the account owner’s death.  Each beneficiary can also choose to take an immediate distribution of their portion of the assets whether or not separate beneficiary accounts are set up.

Many of these beneficiary-selecting techniques can also be used with employer-sponsored retirement plans, such as 401(k) plans.  But sometimes these plans limit beneficiary distribution options, such as requiring the beneficiary to take full distribution one year after the employee’s death.  These plans may also require spousal consent in writing to name a non-spouse beneficiary. 

Effective distribution of an IRA account offers superb planning opportunities for families.  Thinking carefully about your beneficiaries and updating beneficiary choices as your life circumstances and investments change is crucial to ensuring that your money goes to the right people with the least amount of delay and taxation.

How To Develop Your Creative Thinking Skills!

James Feldman
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Realizing that many opportunities come brilliantly disguised as insoluble problems, Albert Einstein once said: "The significant problems we face today cannot be solved on the same level of thinking we were at when we created them."

Opportunities and solutions abound, if only you can see them! To see such opportunities you must start to think creatively. This is best exemplified with a story.

Two avid fishermen, Jack and Joe, were fishing in a pristine river in the Pacific Northwest, when they spotted a large grizzly rapidly approaching them from the other bank. The two started to head back to their shore as fast as they could. Once on shore, Joe took to his heels, while Jack stopped to remove his wading boots and put on his sneakers. Joe shouted at Jack; "Jack, you fool, you are not going to outrun that Grizzly simply because you have running shoes on. Start running!" Jack replied, "Who said I had to outrun the Grizzly, all I have to do is outrun you!" Jack's life depended on his creative thinking skills.

To be creative you need to be a rule-breaker. But this is not easy since it goes against our entire upbringing. When we were growing up we were taught to conform (see "Conform!" below). Now we are being asked to be creative, to think of something that is not so intuitive-what a contradiction!


A baby learns quickly because he/she does not have to unlearn anything.

Living in the safety and comfort of what they know, adults are often reluctant to unlearn things that have served them well. Consequently, they are slow to learn creative thinking.

Tell a young college graduate to think of a way to trap a monkey and he/she will come up with many ingenious ideas, all based on some form of device.

Yet, farmers in Africa have been relying on the monkey's natural behavior to trap him. They dig a hole in the ground with an opening just large enough for the monkey to grab the food they place inside. The monkey cannot withdraw his hand unless he drops the food, which he will not do. What a creative idea!

Creative Thinking is sometimes referred to as Lateral Thinking or Thinking Out-of-the-Box. The Internet itself an incredibly creative concept, has generated some very creative ideas. Thanks to lateral thinkers, today we have search engines, e-mail services, web-hosting services, individual websites, etc., free of charge.

During the Vietnam War, the U.S. Air Force continuously bombed the North Vietnamese bridges in an attempt to hinder the movement of men and machines to the war front. The U.S. could not understand how the Viet Cong kept moving forward in the face of such an incessant bombing campaign. Later it became known that a young Viet Cong soldier had suggested building bridges below the water line so that U.S. planes would not be able to spot them.

The "Aim-Preset" Technique

Lateral thinking skills are not natural to everyone. However, lateral thinking can be learned by using the Aim-Preset technique. This technique enhances one's capacity to think laterally and generate solutions.

The acronym stands for: Accept, Isolate, Modify, Problem, Replace, External, Sacrifice, Environment, and Time. These are the basic questions you should ask each time you are faced with a problem. With every problem you face, employ the aim-preset technique to search out your options. This requires you to spend some time thinking through the implications. Do not jump at what comes naturally. Many people are inclined to charge at a problem like cavalry; the aim-preset technique is akin to artillery, where you search out the coordinates.

A     - Can I simply accept the problem and learn to live with it?

We need to figure out if the problem is worth fixing, or if the solution is cost-effective.

Your company relocated, adding an extra half-hour to your commute. Is this worth looking for a new job closer to home, or can you live with it?

I     - Can I isolate the product or the system from the influence?

When x-raying a patient, the dentist places a lead apron (shield) on the patient to reduce exposure to radiation. 

M     - Can I modify the product or the system?

Product modification is possibly the most common solution.

When tires showed excessive wear, manufacturers modified the rubber compounds with synthetic additives to increase their wear resistance.

P     - Is it possible that the solution might be in the problem?

Many years ago, rodents infested certain areas of England, destroying crops. The rodents were the external cause of the problem. Laboratory tests showed that a high-frequency sound generated at night caused the rodents to suffer epileptic fits and die. The rodents' biological clock triggers a protective mechanism that makes them immune to noise during the daytime; somehow, this protection is rendered ineffective at night.

Vaccines are derived from the source of the problem.

R     - Can I degrade the product and replace it?

More and more manufacturers are resorting to this technique to cut costs and ensure a constant demand for their products. Often the cost of repairing something exceeds the cost of replacement. The downside of this is the cost to the environment, and depletion of raw materials.

Disposable razors, plates, and even cameras are good examples of this type of solution.

E     - Can I eliminate or mitigate the external cause of the problem?

We use pesticides to kill or deter pests.

S     - Can I use direct or indirect sacrificial techniques?

In automobiles, brake pads are sacrificed to protect the more expensive stainless steel rotors.

E     - Can I change the environment in which the problem thrives?

Genetic modifications to plants prevent certain pests from residing in them.

T     - Will the passage of time resolve the problem?

Time is a valuable tool in resolving problems. When we are annoyed, we need some time to cool down. So why not use this as a tool for problem solving?

Parents go through some very difficult times with their teenage children.

Some parents get frustrated and resort to all sorts of "remedies." Others take a philosophical attitude and accept this as a passing phase in a teenager's life.

Farmers seek seasons to plant corps - time!

With the Aim-Preset technique, you can revitalize your creative thinking skills, and seek solutions that are not obvious at first glance. This is not a technique limited to the business world! You can use it to find solutions to your day-to-day problems.


Dr. Errol Wirasinghe has worked for over 25 years in the area of decision-making and creative thinking. He has been a consultant to many international companies in Asia, Europe, South America and the Middle East, and is well known for his ability to restructure complex problems. In addition to his book "The Art of Making Decisions-Expanding Common Sense & Experience", Dr. Wirasinghe is the developer of "XpertUS" decision-maker software. He is an entertaining speaker, and his seminars and workshops are popular with many companies. For more information visit www.XpertUS.com or mail to: errol@XpertUS.com.

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Leadership Mythology

Gregory P. Smith
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Leadership is probably one of the most talked about business concepts, but the least understood. Leadership is about getting things done and helping people reach their potential. My experiences as a consultant has shown me many organizations do a pitiful job helping people reach their potential. One reason for this is old-fashioned leadership techniques--out-dated leadership concepts or what I call,  "leadership mythology."

A myth is something that is false, but believed to be true. As in many things in life, there are several myths surrounding the concept and practice of leadership.  Unfortunately, these myths prevent qualified people from rising to the top. By listing these leadership myths, it is my hope to dispel many of the false beliefs. 

Myth 1 - Leadership is a rare ability only given to a few. Many people still think leaders are born not made. This can't be further from the truth. Most people have the potential to become good leaders. Leadership is not like a diet pill. Like most learned skills, it takes time, training, and lots of trial by error. The key ingredient making people good leaders is the ability to care about others.  The second ingredient is a sense of purpose, vision or mission. A good leader charts a course and provides direction to those they lead.  

Myth 2 - Leaders are charismatic-Many leaders are charismatic, but closer scrutiny shows that most leaders are not. Some of the world's most famous leaders had warts--some sort of shortcoming or personality issue. In a leadership role, people skills are very important--more important than technical skills. However, the best leaders are those who work toward a goal. Your cause, your purpose and your mission in life will make you charismatic, not the other way around.   

Myth 3 - The person with the title, most rank or the highest position is the leader. True leadership is not based on position or rank. It is based on action, performance, ability, and effectiveness. We all relate to working for those people who were placed in leadership roles who did more to demoralize and destroy the business than anything else.

The best companies strive to develop and create as many leaders as possible. W.L. Gore & Associates, makers of Gore Tex and other products, have a unique approach to leadership. The practice of natural leadership "leadership by followship." They don't appoint people as leaders . . .they let the true leaders surface to the top. People naturally gravitate to those they want to follow, respect, and work with. There are no limiting job descriptions, job titles, and few rules and regulations. If a person comes up with a new idea, he or she puts a team together of people who have the desire and knowledge to make it work.

Myth 4 - Effective leadership is based on control, coercion, and manipulation. Leadership is about the future, not the past. Joel Barker's has the best quote about leadership, "A leader is someone you would follow to a place you would not go to by yourself." Good leaders gain followers out of respect and their ability to cause people to work toward a particular goal or achieve a destination. People follow because they can relate to the vision or goal personalized by the leader. A good leader helps people become better than they are. A good leader creates a work environment that attracts, keeps and motivates its workforce.

Myth 5 - Good leaders have more education than other people. Educational degrees may mean you have a good education, but it doesn't necessarily mean you are a good leader.  When it comes to leadership, experience is the best teacher.  The U.S. military has the best leadership development program in the world.  In the military, you start out at the bottom. You are placed in leadership positions and closely evaluated. As your experience broadens, so does your responsibility. This practical experience is reinforced with weeks and months of formal training throughout the individual's career. 

The secret of success is those years of experience on the front-line. This is where a person learns to manage those interactions, experiences, and conflicts. You learn how to balance the needs of the mission versus the needs of the individual. Those officers and non-commissioned officers who fail to advance must exit the military. The military model of leadership development may not be perfect, but remains unequalled by any other organization.


Greg Smith is a nationally recognized speaker, author, and business performance consultant. He has written numerous books including his latest, Here Today, Here Tomorrow: Transforming Your Workforce from High Turnover to High Retention. Greg has been featured on television programs such as Bloomberg News, PBS television, and in publications including Business Week, USA Today, Kiplinger's, President and CEO, and the Christian Science Monitor. He is the President and "Captain of the Ship" of a management-consulting firm, Chart Your Course International, located in Atlanta, Georgia. Phone him at 770-860-9464. More articles available: http://www.chartcourse.com

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Buzzwords Do Not Always Deliver On Their Promises


Jeffrey M. Ratje
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“Leadership” and “teamwork” are the buzzwords of the present business world, yet they are rarely found in the workplace.  I contend leadership and teamwork have replaced “management” and “processes” in the modern business vernacular without productivity basis for the change.  Executives often proclaim leadership and teamwork as aspirational ideals regardless if they fit with their organizational structure.  Management gurus and academics continue to tout the benefits of these styles, and they have gained such cachet that rational logic about their utilization has gone out the window.  Leadership and teamwork are the sexy new ways to define management and processes; however, the differences between the terms are significant, and they should not be used interchangeably.  All four words should be better defined to improve our pairing of management style with the desired organizational outcome.  This article may sound like semantics, but the difference between leadership and management, or teamwork and processes are substantial.  I agree with the gurus and academics that leadership and teamwork do add value to an organization when appropriately applied.  Only that, organizations have misunderstood the message, and believe leadership and teamwork should replace all management and processes functions.  This understanding could not be farther from the truth.  Both sets of styles are like tools in a toolbox, and they should be implemented as the situation warrants.  Many organizations pay thousands of dollars for leadership and/or teamwork training programs, then wonder why productivity does not increase when the knowledge from the seminars is implemented.  Often, the reason for the disappointment is that the average workplace does not lend itself as a good candidate for the style change.  Supervisors pay big bucks to improve functions that are often missing from their organization; not every organization can benefit from leadership and teamwork principles.  Before I go further, let me explain what the terms mean to me.

Leadership differs from management in that leaders are thinking long-term and strategically.  They do not get involved with the day-to-day issues that managers do.  Leadership requires a group of people to lead, a common goal effectively communicated to employees, and a long-term strategy for the future.  Management, however, is daily supervision, short-term in nature, and can be done with only one person.  Leadership is appropriate for executive levels where long-term thinking is necessary, but management should be encouraged on the shop floor of a bank, assembly line, or hospital where daily supervision is necessary.  Spending precious resources on leadership training at the shop floor level has a low rate of return relative to management training.

Teamwork is a sexier term than processes but does not exist in every organizational environment.  Teamwork requires operating as a single entity to achieve a common goal, often referred to as synergy.  Processes are the more commonly found organizational behavior where employees work together but not as one.  They have interconnected activities but are not required to work as a single entity.  One employee adds value to the product and then passes it along to another employee for them to add value.  They do not work as one, but work independently most of the time.  Processes are found in every level of an organization, while true teamwork is found only in a few levels and often for only short periods of time.  Many companies send their employees to teamwork “summer camps” to improve something that may not be needed in their current business environment.  Again, this money could be better spent on developing improved processes, employee morale programs, or be used to provide financially based performance incentives.  Just because leadership and management, and teamwork and processes are related does not make them equal.  Each situation calls for a different tool.  Pick the right one and you will realize increased productivity, improved employee morale, and as a result, improved customer relationships.  The choice of management style must match your organizational structure.

A great case in point is from a recent consulting experience I had with a multi-million dollar mental health care corporation.  My group was charged with identifying performance-based measures that would help the corporation’s management determine if they were meeting their goals and objectives.  Shortly after interviewing the CEO, executive management, and line staff it was obvious performance measures were only part of the problem.  Their management valued leadership and teamwork highly; yet, our on-site observations did not support their contention that the new management styles were necessary or implementable.  The executive management proclaimed leadership and teamwork as the saving grace for their company, but four out of five distinguishable services they offer do not warrant a teamwork environment, and none of the services required leadership ideals.  Their employees are scrambling to implement new systems and procedures to comply with management’s mandate.  They would be more productive and better served to recognize that management and processes are what they should embrace and improve.  Some of our final recommendations encouraged the use of management and processes as well as identified performance measures.  It is still too early to tell what the impact will be when the corporation implements our recommendations, but I believe they will see significant improvements in productivity and employee morale when they do.

How, then, does leadership and teamwork develop in an organization?  Change.  Change brings about opportunities for employees to utilize leadership and teamwork.  Change as simple as employee turnover or an important project; or change as complex as company mergers or bankruptcies.  When there is no significant stimuli to create sufficient change, management and processes are the rule.

Leadership and teamwork are the flavor of the month, and more impressive than their boring cousins, so there is a strong incentive to say your company utilizes them.  Most companies, though, do not utilize leadership and teamwork to the extent they think they do.  There is no shame in management and processes, they are just as important to an organization as the newer styles.  But why waste money trying to improve something that may only be utilized rarely at best?  Assess what organizational styles your company uses and then work to improve them.  Focus your precious financial and human resources on the styles that will most benefit your organization, instead of throwing them on buzzwords that may actually decrease your productivity.


Jeff Ratje is a budget and policy analyst at The University of Arizona in Tucson, and a graduate student in public management. He does freelance program evaluation consulting for local nonprofit organizations.

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Double Jeopardy:
The Trials and Tribulations for the Business Owner/Sales Manager


Harriett Greenbaum and Lawrence Kohn
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Many businesses have a sales manager.  But, in businesses where a busy owner is also the sales manager, sales may suffer when reps are left to their own devices. Sales management is critical to the success of any business, so it (literally) pays for owners to make time for the sales force through scheduled communication, recognition and commitment. But, many owners don't know how to begin.

The process of becoming a better sales manager starts with an understanding of the universal obstacles to achieving a high performance sales team. Sales reps who have not experienced the benefits of effective management are usually hostile to being managed.

They resent the paperwork and procedures imposed by the company. They would prefer to be left alone and are not shy about voicing their complaints.

By contrast, owners frequently feel entitled to top performers who never need to be managed.  Inevitably, they get frustrated with under-performing, non-responsive sales reps. Since the owners may not be familiar with effective management techniques, they resort to a more aggressive version of the same ineffective techniques they were using before. This, of course, only creates more hostility. Or, they become intimidated by the complaints of the reps and find it easier to avoid sales management all together. Unfortunately, this lack of communication usually results in a downward spiral.

The good news is that owners who learn how to manage the sales force find out that people actually enjoy being well managed.  They work harder and smarter.  They're happier. The increased morale and productivity reduce turnover. Their enthusiasm is contagious.

Prospective customers get more excited and are more likely to commit sooner and for more dollars. After the sale, customers get better service, stay loyal longer and buy more products and services.

Here are five suggestions for overcoming the obstacles and managing your sales force more effectively:

1.    Take responsibility for the performance of your staff.

Owners should stop automatically blaming the sales reps for their less-than-stellar performance.  They do not necessarily have a character defect and are not inherently lazy.  More often, sales forces fail due to inadequate leadership.  Rather than thinking, "They're not getting it,” perhaps you're not giving training, motivation and structure. It's been our experience that most people can dramatically improve their selling when they are supported by leaders who take responsibility for providing the necessary tools.

2.    Open and maintain quality lines of communication.

A sales force must be in constant contact with management.  Owners need to know the status of the sales effort and garner insights from the field.  Sales reps need to be updated on changes in products, services and systems.  They also need to learn new sales techniques.

Since no one wants to waste time, the meetings should not be too frequent and must have a clear agenda.  We recommend that each sales rep have at least one private meeting per month with the owner.  The meeting can be brief and give both owner and sales rep an opportunity to bring each other up to date.  The meeting can be conducted via telephone to make it easier to implement.

The sales force should also meet monthly to discuss needs, obstacles and best practices.  Everyone can provide suggestions for creative approaches and efficient processes.

Both the individual and group meetings must be conducted in an energetic, positive way with a sincere desire to provide positive support.  This is not a time for soapbox lectures, bragging, fear- mongering, shaming or guilt trips.  Boring and/or negative meetings will be met with justifiably strong resistance.

3.    Set clear expectations.

Lack of performance is often the result of an insufficient understanding of the assignment.  Owners must be precise about the details of their expectations, i.e. strategies to be implemented, number of calls to be made and revenue goals to be met.

One concern is that people don’t like being held accountable, which they know the employer can easily do, once clear-cut expectations have been set.

The solution is for the owner and each sales rep to reach agreement on the expectations.  These expectations should be a “stretch,” however, the rep must consider them achievable or they won’t even try.

4.    Provide recognition

Too often, owners believe that compensation alone is adequate recognition.  The fact is most sales reps, even stellar performers, need more than money to feel motivated.  They need to feel appreciated, respected and connected to both the owner and the company.

There are obstacles to providing recognition. Business owners may not be familiar with recognition techniques.  They may not feel comfortable giving recognition. Or, they are not sure how to customize recognition for individual employees.

Techniques for showing appreciation always include a sincere thank you or sincere congratulations and can happen in conjunction with everything from a handshake to monetary rewards.

To recognize a person adequately, owners really have to know their sales reps - what they like, what their interests are. This requires an investment of time.  The investment of time in learning about sales reps is seen as being caring, respectful and appreciative. Once owners know what motivates a rep, they will find it easier to give recognition.

5.    Establish a "Commitment Culture."

Owners must create an environment in which everyone lives up to the commitments they make.  This may appear difficult in most companies because people have failed to live up to their commitments so often that it appears as though failure to follow-through is standard operating procedure.

To solve this problem, owners must embrace a zero tolerance for failure to live up to commitments.  Everyone must be informed about the new policy and educated about the dramatic benefits of creating a Commitment Culture.  Living up to commitments builds trust. When people can trust each other, they can feel more confident in their ability to serve customers.  That results in more sales as well as a more pleasant working environment.

To create a Commitment Culture, everyone must be notified that all commitments are to be taken seriously.  An agreement to implement even the smallest task is a commitment.  Remind everyone that trust is built in small steps.

Since every agreement is a commitment, everyone must learn to give
adequate consideration prior to making a commitment.   People need to
get clear about the details.  What are the quality standards? Who should be in the "loop?"  What is the deadline?  In most cases, commitments will have to be negotiated to meet the needs of everyone involved.  Of course, if circumstances arise that derail a commitment, people need to learn to notify the affected parties instantly, and negotiate new commitments at that time.  Procrastinating to notify people about the potential of not meeting commitments hurts credibility and weakens a Commitment Culture.

Performing the duties of a sales manager requires clarity, skills, patience, and persistence.  It is easy to become frustrated with the pressure and the personalities.  However, by implementing these five sales management techniques, business owners can create a supportive and motivational environment in which sales reps, and subsequently the company, can prosper.


Harriett Greenbaum and Lawrence Kohn are colleagues in Kohn Communications, a consulting firm that provides coaching to business owners, executives, marketing directors, sales managers and sales reps.

They can be reached at 310 652-1442 or you can visit their website at www.kohncommunications.com.

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Six Principles for Promoting Self-responsibility


Terry Bragg
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The modern workplace needs people who are proactive, self-directing, and self- managing.  This means we need managers and workers who are willing to take responsibility for what happens, to act to correct problems, and to do the right thing despite the opinions of others.  Yet, a common complaint I hear is that people don't want to take responsibility for their lives, for their situation, and for their work. 

Unfortunately, leadership at the top does not always provide good role models for self- responsibility.  We see this all the time.  The headlines frequently carry stories about senior corporate executives who try to blame other people for the scandals and problems that occur in their organizations.  Although they are quick to accept credit for the successes of their company and to receive their multimillion dollar salaries and bonuses, they are also quick to absolve themselves of responsibility for problems in their organizations.

The following principles and concepts will help you and your organization be more responsible:

1.  E + R = O.  A formula I use in my management and communication skills seminars is:  Event + Response = Outcome. We cannot control the events that happen in our lives.  As Forrest Gump says, "Stuff happens."  What we can control is our response to what happens.  How we respond decides the outcome.  When a problem occurs, most people look to blame someone else.  You frequently hear: "Hey it's not my fault."  Fight this tendency.  Look for what you can do to get the outcome you want.

2.   Model self-responsibility.  Model the behavior in which you want others to engage.  Do what you would expect other people to do in the same situation. Too often people have dual standards when it comes to responsibility.  They expect others to take responsibility, but avoid responsibility themselves when it is uncomfortable or risky for them.  Avoid the double standard approach.  Behave the way you want others to behave.  Become their role model.

3. Self-responsibility comes from within.  Because the only behavior you can control is your own, you cannot force other people to be responsible.  This is why hiring people with a good work ethic is a better than trying to improve someone with a poor work ethic.  Lead by example and show others that accepting responsibility is how we define ourselves and shape our identity.  Instead of being a burden, self-responsibility is a source of joy and self-empowerment.

4. Expect and require responsibility from others.  Although you can't force someone to act responsibly, you can clearly express your expectations and require them to act responsibly or pay the penalties of their irresponsibility. This is how parents teach children to be responsible.  They expect their children to be responsible, and require them to experience the results of their choices and actions.  The same principle applies in the workplace.

5. Our choices and actions have consequences.  People are responsible for the consequences of their actions, and consequences can be either positive or negative. You get what you reward.  Therefore, you want to reward the behavior you want people to repeat.  Unfortunately, many organizations unknowingly reward the opposite behavior and therefore reinforce some of their workers' nasty behaviors.  So reward people when they take responsibility to do good things, instead of punishing them when things go wrong.

6. Lecturing and punishing doesn't work.  People assume self-responsibility when they realize that their choices and actions are not getting them the results they want.  They can choose to continue with their behavior and continue to get the results they don't want, or they can choose to act differently.  You cannot force them to this realization by lecturing or punishing them.  You teach people to be responsible by showing them the natural consequences of their actions, not by punishing them for the choices they make.

For example, a large company approached me to help them change a long list of negative behaviors by a large group of their staff.  Mistrust, divisiveness, and low morale tore this company apart and pitted management against their staff. 

As often happens, the fingers were wagging vigorously and the fingers were always pointing in the other direction.  Management blamed the employees for the company's problems.  The employees blamed management for mistreating workers. 

The company's management wanted me to come in and "fix" their employees' attitudes and transform their negative behavior into something positive.  Of course, management also wanted me to "fix" their employees quickly in a two-day training session.  Management never acknowledged their responsibility in creating or perpetuating this situation. Instead of modeling self-responsibility, management failed to examine its own contribution to creating a bad work environment.  They absolved themselves of responsibility and merely blamed the situation on workers with bad attitudes.

The employees resented management for holding them accountable for results but not supporting them in achieving those results.  Many workers resented receiving performance warnings from their managers.  Instead of using their influence to gain more support and to improve their skills, they degenerated into backstabbing, bickering, and wallowing in their self- limitations.

This was a snake pit where no one was willing to accept even partial responsibility for the situation or to do what was really necessary to improve it.

This example illustrates that you cannot force people to change.  Getting people to accept responsibility for their actions is not about "fixing" people.  It also shows that quick fixes and trying to force people to change do not work.  It takes time to get to the root of the problem.  Ultimately, self-responsibility comes from inside the person.

© 2004 All rights reserved, Terry Bragg, Peacemakers Training.

Free stuff: For a free copy of "What Are You Really Responsible for at Work?," fax your letterhead with your name, address, email address, and the words "RESPONSIBILITY AT WORK" to 801-288-9303, or email the information to terry@terrybragg.com.

Terry Bragg runs a company called Peacemakers Training in Salt Lake City, Utah, and is the author of the book 31 Days to High Self-Esteem.  He works with organizations to create a workplace where people want to work, and with managers who want their people to work together better.  If you want your organization or your people to have more energy, more trust, more respect, and more meaning, please contact him at:

Peacemakers Training
5485 South Chaparral Drive
Murray, Utah 84123
Telephone: 801-288-9303 
E-mail: terry@terrybragg.com
Web site: http://www.terrybragg.com


Harriett Greenbaum and Lawrence Kohn are colleagues in Kohn Communications, a consulting firm that provides coaching to business owners, executives, marketing directors, sales managers and sales reps.

They can be reached at 310 652-1442 or you can visit their website at www.kohncommunications.com.

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Editor:    Douglas Shaw, CM