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July 01, 2017

New Perspectives

‘We’re All on the Same Team’

by John Addison

John Addison spent 35 years in the corporate offices of one of the world’s largest direct selling companies, Primerica Inc., most recently serving as Co-CEO. Since his retirement, he wrote the best-selling book Real Leadership: 9 Simple Practices for Leading and Living with Purpose, and he now serves as Leadership Editor for SUCCESS magazine and President and CEO of Addison Leadership Group. He regularly offers his leadership insights to Direct Selling News readers, and has answered some of your questions below.

If you have a question you’d like John to answer in a future issue, email

We’re planning our next big field event and having a debate about onstage recognition. Who should get the most stage time: the legacy leaders or the up-and-comers?

This is a very good question and a very tricky question. It has to be balanced. You can never make your big organizational builders feel like you’re putting them out to pasture or you don’t care about them anymore. That sends absolutely the wrong message to the organization; however, it is critical that you also showcase new, young heroes in the business.

Let’s focus for a second on what are you trying to accomplish with a big event. I would say for most companies at least a third of it should be first-timers. If that’s not the case, you’re really not attracting enough new people.

Events don’t need to be the same old people talking to the same old people. You have to have that new blood, that new growth in the room. You want to energize the people who have been with you, but you want to have the new people say, “I can do this, I’m in.” I’ve always told people, a big convention should be a showcase of success. It needs to have some emphasis on the new heroes, people growing, on the way up. You always edify those who are the big builders and have been there a long time, but you have a huge, huge focus on up-and-comers and new heroes.

The year is half over, and we’re lagging behind on our sales objectives for 2017. What do you recommend we focus on to get back on track?

I believe it is important to have both a short-range and a long-range plan for the business, because if you’re not measuring against something, you’re just taking a chance on things. And don’t overreact, because if you’re constantly changing stuff, it just leads to a bunch of confusion. Even positive change is change, and you need to be
very careful.

Also, I think people need to be very cautious when changing their compensation plans to compensate for a midyear disappointment. People plan their lives and their business based on the comp plan, and if you’re constantly changing it, people lose confidence in the leadership. Instead of a comp-plan change, you need to have a budget for short-term incentives that you can put in place if things aren’t going the way you want. For example, if I saw recruiting was down, I would call a play that led to a 90-day recruiting incentive. You need to have short-term things you can do that create energy, excitement and growth.

We have some senior managers whose business units are not performing as expected. How can we turn things around? And when is it time to move on?

In every organization, the leader needs to know their people. They need to know their strengths and weaknesses. Now, sometimes you have great leaders who are struggling because of the economy, regulatory issues or something else that’s happening in the environment. You need to be realistic and know that sometimes people are fighting a tough battle.

But I believe leaders need to be close not only to the people who are right around them, their direct reports, but also to people two and three levels deep. The leaders need to know them as people, know their strengths, their weaknesses and even whether or not they are a cultural fit. When someone is a constant negative force on the business, you need to move them on to their next opportunity in life. The worst thing to do is to say, “I’m not going to make a decision and see if it gets better.” It’s a mistake to think that magically they’re going to wake up one day and things are going to change.

Our legal and marketing departments can’t seem to work together. How can we bridge the divide?

When we took over at Primerica, there were some struggles between the legal and the marketing area of the business. One of the things I made clear to everyone was that we’re all on the same team. Your message has to be, “We’re all on the same team. We’re here to grow this organization.” My theme for that year was, “One Team, One Dream.”

That said, to build a business, you gotta be in business. If the marketing people get too far out there, you won’t be in business, but if you let the lawyers get too far out there, you won’t do any business. Everyone has to have the same goal to build a healthy, secure, strong business. We’re here to build and grow. Tennis is an easy sport with no nets or lines, but the fact is, it does have a net and lines, so while the lawyer’s job is to try to keep us inside the lines, our job is to grow. There may be a constant tension between the two, but the critical and constant message should be, “We are on the same team.” 

We recently had some negative publicity. How concerned should we be, and how can we shift the conversation?

The most effective way to handle negative publicity is to make sure you are making morally and ethically good choices for the business. One of the most important things you can do for your reputation is to handle complaints fast. Do not have angry customers out there saying, “I bought this, and I couldn’t get my money back.” We need to resolve problems for upset people, fast. You’ll probably never be in a place where people don’t criticize you, but when you get to the bottom line, you need to feel good about what you’re doing for the consumer and for your reps.

Don’t overreact to negative publicity. Control what you can control, and don’t run around and overreact to everything. I think when people say, “Everybody needs to know our story. Just put a noisemaker on our head and start hiring a media person,” it’s usually one step before disaster.

Now, if you have a real crisis, you need to hire somebody good at dealing with crisis media. But I’ve watched people take a small situation and turn it into a problem by going to the media. Make sure you are doing the right things, but if you get a little criticism or whatever, don’t overreact to it.