But This is How it Works in America!

How an employee resigning led to a positive change in my perspective.

“Damn….. So, where are you going?” This was my first question after getting the resignation of one of my employees as a new Sales Manager in Dubai.  I was interested in where he was going, but I really wanted to know WHY he was leaving.  If I could find out why, maybe there was a chance for me to save him.  I didn’t learn this from any specific sales or leadership training, but it feels natural for me to find a root cause so I could hopefully address it and help future employees.  I can be known to obsess over the “why” but that’s allowed me to be better at learning new things and identifying opportunities for growth.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t keep this specific team member and it was sad to see him go.  I decided to do my own mini-exit interview and get a handle on why he was leaving so that I knew how to best keep other employees on board.  The information he provided was helpful and our discussion pushed me to realize I needed to use a different perspective than my “American Way.”  I also wanted to know whether his opinions were shared amongst other team members or if they were isolated and not to be worried about.  My next step was to find out, so I asked everyone on my team to complete an anonymous employee questionnaire.  What I found was interesting, but more importantly, clarifying in terms of what our employees did or didn’t value.  One positive thing was that a couple of the concerns were easily addressable.

Let me go back to that statement of changing my perspective.  When I was in Houston, I and many others weren’t concerned with our titles.  We were called Sales Representatives and that was perfectly fine.

What’s Wrong with being called a Sales Rep?

“A Sales Rep is someone who stands at a kiosk at the mall.  It will also be harder for me to get a business visa to go to Saudi, Qatar, or other countries we may need to visit.” These were comments provided by more than one person.

As an American, I didn’t stress about being able to get into another country.  My navy-blue passport was a golden ticket so it didn’t matter what my job title was. But what about others from India, Pakistan, or the Philippines?  Boom…. Perspective.

“So what title would you be happy with if we could change it?”  I asked my current Sales Reps.

“Sales Executive would be great.  That would look better and more professional on a visa.”

This wasn’t a discussion about a promotion or raise along with the title change.  It was simply adjusting their title on business cards and email signatures.  Done.

I personally didn’t put much value into what I was called, but I understood why it was important to them.  After we made the change, you could clearly see the pride each person took with their new title of Sales Executive. It was a simple update, but made an impact on our business.

What other feedback did we get, you ask?  Well, we ended up sending this to all our employees and not just in sales.  Here are a few topics that I can recall:

  • Sales: We want to visit more customers in person
  • Operations: We want to the sales executives to spend some time on the warehouse floor to understand what all goes into processing and fulfilling an order.
  • Sales: We want to travel to other countries to visit customers and grow those accounts.
  • Sales: We want to be more involved in the purchasing decisions of new inventory
  • Operations: We want more consistent off-site events for morale and team building.

I am not going to pretend that we implemented immediate fixes, and everyone was singing about puppy dogs and rainbows overnight.  We had to look at the strategic value and the realistic ability to make things happen.  For example, we had a systematic method for purchasing inventory, so we didn’t want to add layers of bureaucracy and create bottlenecks.  So, what level of input and involvement did we want to design for the sales team?  We wanted to address feedback, because there is nothing worse than gathering information and then doing nothing with it.  But it also didn’t mean we had to address everything with massive overhauls.

My advice to any leader or business owner is to take intentional action towards incorporating consistent employee feedback to improve systems and encourage innovation. ONE thing I want to make super clear is do not gather feedback and stop there.  Make sure you are acting on advice or criticism when possible.  People will be frustrated and disillusioned if they are asked for their opinion and it falls on deaf ears.

Approach this situation like a product manager who gets user feedback to improve the software experience and design.  If users are asking for the same thing but the company doesn’t listen and make the appropriate updates, how long will those users continue paying for the software?  Why would an employee act any differently if the business they work for fails to appreciate their feedback and perspective?

Here are some examples of qualitative questions you can ask your employees to get feedback and ideas:

  1. Job Satisfaction and Engagement: How do you feel about coming to work each day? What aspects of your job do you find most fulfilling or rewarding? Are there any tasks or responsibilities you feel could be better aligned with your skills or interests?
  2. Company Culture and Environment: How would you describe the company culture in your own words? Can you share a recent experience that made you feel proud to be part of this organization? Are there aspects of the company culture you think could be improved?
  3. Management and Leadership: How would you describe your relationship with your manager or team leader? In what ways has management helped or hindered your job performance and satisfaction? What could management do better to support your professional growth and well-being?
  4. Growth and Development Opportunities: Do you feel you have adequate opportunities for professional development and career advancement here? How could the company better support your career aspirations and professional growth? What skills or knowledge are you interested in developing further, and how can the company facilitate that?
  5. Work-Life Balance and Well-being: How do you feel about your current work-life balance? What changes, if any, would help you feel more balanced and less stressed? Are there company policies or practices that you think should be revised to improve employee well-being?
  6. Communication and Feedback: How effective do you find the communication within your team and across the company? Is there anything you’ve wanted to discuss or suggest but haven’t felt comfortable doing so? How can we make it easier for you to provide honest and constructive feedback?

Whatever the feedback is, be sure you do not use it against the person in any way.  If you know your people, you’ll likely be able to identify who is saying what, even though it’s delivered as an anonymous survey.  Always remain appreciative and open to their responses, with the hope that they are sharing it to make them and the company better.  Don’t take it personally.  You asked for their opinions, and you got them… now do something with this information and perspective to make your business one where people want to work and contribute.