They say leadership is a lonely position. It’s true, but that doesn’t mean you’re all alone. Often, it is better to open the door and let others have a chance to solve the big problems leaders face.
I once led an organization that sold services through a terrific, and financially motivated, group of independent representatives. They believed in our offerings and us and were very loyal, but still wanted to be paid as well as possible. We came under significant pressure when our competitors raised commission levels they would pay to the vendors, eclipsing us by a wide margin.
Our reps/vendors worked hard for us and were very professional so we wanted them well compensated to be very well paid. However, increasing the amount we paid them by definition also increased our overhead and left precious fewer dollars for the other fixed, internal costs we had. This could make us noncompetitive in what was then a very price-driven marketplace.
Rather than saying no…or yes…to commission changes, I decided to bring in several key reps and hold a brainstorming session with several members of my team to develop options for us. At the beginning, we spent time-sharing some of our internal information with our outside reps, and they shared their perspectives on what was fair, competitive compensation.
Even before we began brainstorming next steps, I made sure everyone was able to look at both sides of the issues…not just their own.
It was powerful. We unleashed a lot of energy and creativity once everyone understood and respected the other side’s concerns. We created common issues that were in our combined best interests to resolve and we joined forces to face the issue together.
We all worked together and developed a new compensation structure that not only rivaled the competition and met the reps’s needs, but also built in several “kickers” that would reward our truly successful reps over and above anything they could earn elsewhere in the market. Agents ended up with an attractive and motivating comp structure and we were able manage our costs smarter by rewarding our most successful reps, not just paying everyone the same higher rate.
Result: we received and “wrote” more and higher quality business submissions from many of our reps who were rewarded with profitable new business and better client retention than previously.
Now, I understand that the nonprofit world is vastly different than the for-profit business world, but the lessons here still apply. Collaboration works, mutual respect works, partnership works, win-win thinking works. What problems are straining your important relationships? Can you position the problems as shared ones so everyone can come to the table with ideas on shared solutions?