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March 02, 2010

Top Desk

Embracing Opportunities for Growth

by Doug Witt, Managing Director, Ignite

DSN: Top Desk, March issueImagine this scenario.

A team coming off a Super Bowl win learns its head coach is stepping down during the offseason.

Surely, this represents a daunting challenge. They’re faced with the prospect of entering the next season with the entire league gunning for them—and they have to do it without the architect of their Super Bowl victory.

Can they possibly expect to repeat as champions under these circumstances?

The San Francisco 49ers were faced with just such a situation when legendary coach Bill Walsh retired in 1988 after producing three championships during the ’80s. What happened next? Did the team fold to the pressures of change?

No. The team’s defensive coordinator, George Seifert, picked up the reins and maintained the core group of players and the essential character of the team. He kept true to the things that had made the team great, but he also put his own stamp on the team, rallying his players to rise to a new level of excellence while developing new talent.

The Result?

Seifert and company delivered a repeat Super Bowl win for San Francisco in 1989. Not only did San Francisco win, but they won by the largest margin of victory in Super Bowl history, and are the only team to score eight touchdowns in a single Super Bowl.

One of the most daunting challenges that can face any team or organization is leadership change. This can be especially true in network marketing, which, by its very nature, is a people business and, thus, heavily dependent upon the personalities who participate.

When a leader departs from a team for one reason or another, it has the potential to be a significant—and costly—disruption. However, it also brings with it the opportunity for new leaders to emerge, for the organization to grow and evolve, and, ultimately, to become something better than it was.

During my career, I have been privileged to be a part of several different enterprises. I’ve experienced firsthand the ups and downs that can result from a change at the top. Along the way, I have been blessed to learn something about team dynamics, about the right way—and the wrong way—of keeping a team on track.

So how do you manage leadership change to keep your team from derailing? Better yet, how do you use the circumstances you may find yourself in to lift your team to greater performance and success?

Keep Your Finger on the Team’s Pulse

It’s easy to assume what they want, but there’s a big difference when you listen. We all know that certain things sound good on paper but find no welcoming committee in the real world. Listening to concerns is the key—more specifically, listening to the underlying concerns. For example, are price points the real concern or is it the way in which one is compensated for units sold?

The relationship between the field and corporate is always an interesting one, but keeping it productive can be a constant challenge. There is a balance between soliciting feedback at too-distant intervals and having field leaders call the shots. There has to be a vision of leadership that has sufficient input from those it will affect. Sometimes just asking for input is vital. The decisions made, including temporary rough spots, aren’t quite so difficult to accept when one feels they had input in the process. A player on a bad set of downs is more likely to stay focused if he believes in the overall game plan.

Sometimes a launch or a particular promotion does not go exactly as planned. Making quick efforts to get input and acting fast can go a long way toward maintaining confidence in the program.
Again, vision is necessary, but it’s vital for key members to have input at some level. By all means, lead, but make sure they’re behind you.

Get Back to the Basics

Return to the ABCs of your business; that’s why they fell in love with you to start with. As a business grows, it gets sophisticated. Sometimes, it gets overly sophisticated.

One of our field leaders is a former football coach who relates an experience coaching a particularly amazing defensive player. To try to capitalize on this player’s athleticism, the coach drew up a complex set of game plans and told the player to only tackle based on certain cues and schemes.

However, when game time came, the player languished. He was confused by the plans drawn up for him and failed to make a single tackle the entire game. When pressed by the coach, the player pleaded, “Just let me tackle the man with the ball.” The coach relented, and the player not only improved, but led the state in tackles that year. The simplicity of your model is important.

Manage the Internal Organization

Of course, making things easier on the front end may create more work for your corporate crew on the back end. This entails a certain amount of courage to keep going back to the drawing board, but sometimes it’s necessary. Again, there is a balance between delaying a launch because things aren’t 100 percent perfect and putting something out too early. Keep the end users in mind. Is what you’re doing making things simpler for them? If not, is the return for them justified? Think about products that are easy to use. They are simple because someone worked hard on that simplicity. For instance, a lot of effort went into making the iPod and iPhone easy to use and, thus, the hottest toys on the planet.

Basically, your opportunity has to be simple, fun and duplicable. Notice that simple is first. If the simplicity isn’t there, it won’t be fun and people won’t be able to duplicate with ease.

Top Desk: Change is thelaw of life. And those who look only at the past or present are certain to miss the future." —President John F. Kennedy

Focus on Future Goals

Whenever a leader departs from a team, the temptation exists to revisit the glory days, to allow nostalgia to creep in. I think it’s a natural response when being confronted with change to seek solace in the “good ol’ days,” if even only for a little bit. But it’s a temptation that must be resisted.

Your path follows your gaze. When you’re looking backward, how can you expect to move forward? You can’t. There’s a quote from President John F. Kennedy that speaks to this. He said, “Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.”

When a leadership change occurs, that is precisely the time to put forward bold goals and a new vision of where you want to take your team. The team, who may have grown complacent in rallying around the leader (who has since departed), must quickly be coached to rally around a goal.

Making people feel part of a cause is a much greater motivator than simply putting money in front of them. At the end of the day, people want to feel they made a difference. And network marketing is a great vehicle for this. We’re changing people’s lives every day, and our visions and goals should be in sync with that simple truth.

I believe people have an innate need to respond to a higher calling outside their individual desires. They want to be a part of something bigger than themselves. As a team leader or coach, particularly during a time of transition, it’s your responsibility to set that vision for them.  

Doug Witt is Managing Director of Ignite.