If you work for a company long enough the policies will change (for some companies this can feel like a seasonal occurrence). The strategy may change. The product may change. Policies may change. The people will surely change. And, if you’re in sales, you know that the compensation structure is going to get tweaked from time to time.

These changes can be disruptive. Some of them can be even be perceived as being negative and can be unpopular with your people.

Because you care deeply about your company and your people, you can oppose changes to policy while they are being discussed and developed. You can argue with your leadership about what you believe would be more effective and still accomplish the necessary outcomes. But after the decisions are made, blaming the company and intimating to your people that you disagree with the policy makes you less of a leader.

Unintentional Undermining

Even if the policy isn’t good, suggesting to your people that you disagree with the policy and that you are only “doing what corporate is making me do,” undermines the policy. Mostly this is an attempt to deflect the blame and the bad feelings from you to “the company.”

Even though you wouldn’t intentionally undermine the policy, the net result is that you reinforce the belief that the policy is negative and that your executive team makes poor decisions—or intentionally damaging decisions (the first of which is sometimes true, the latter far less frequently).

You set the standard.

What’s wrong with letting blame lie with those who deserve it?

As a leader, you set and keep the standard your people follow. By deflecting the negativity, by making it known that you disagree, you are giving tacit approval to your people disregard the policy.

Here’s a quick example. Your company has an activity quota. Let’s say it’s ten face-to-face sales calls per week. You believe it’s too high. Your salespeople believe it’s too high. When confronted by your salespeople, you say: “Yes, I believe the activity quota is too high, too.” Now your salespeople believe that you believe that the quota is unfair, and many will use your agreement that it’s bad policy to avoid doing what is required and expected of them. The worst of them will use your own words as an excuse not to try, and they will use your own words against you.

By making it “corporate’s standard,” it is no longer “your standard.” If you want to lead your people, you have to set the standard.

What do you say instead? You say: “It’s our strategy to be in front of our customers and to go to them where they live. It’s critical that we make face-to-face sales calls in order to achieve our company’s objectives, as well as our team objectives. It’s not easy to make ten face-to-face sales calls a week. But we are going to do it. We are going to work together and we are going to meet our goals. What ideas do you have that will help us to do so?”

Now it’s your standard. Now your people are accountable to you. They also know that you are a counting on them to follow your standard and to bring their resourcefulness to bear on the problem.

Two caveats

First, bad decisions are bad decisions. Sometimes good decisions feel like bad decisions at first, especially when you don’t have all the information and you don’t quite understand them. If a decision is illegal or immoral, you are right to refuse to follow the decision, and you are right to resign rather than lead.

Second, none of this is to suggest that you aren’t supposed to oppose the decisions that you believe will harm your company and your team. But to do so, you can make your case to management privately; you don’t make your case for management with your people. If you do so, you are obligated to also bring your own resourcefulness to bear on the issue and bring your leadership better ideas that will achieve the outcome they need.


Why is it wrong to avoid ownership of unpopular decisions and unpopular policy changes?

What affect does avoiding ownership of policy and quotas have on your people’s perceptions of you as a leader?

You have to fight for your people, and they have to know that you will go to bat for them. How do you do so without undermining your leadership team?

When you believe your leadership is making a poor decision, how are you most effective in advocating for your people and making change?

Post by Anthony Iannarino on January 7, 2012
Anthony Iannarino
Anthony Iannarino is a writer, an author of four books on the modern sales approach, an international speaker, and an entrepreneur. Anthony posts here daily.
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