The past couple of months have created more questions than answers for many sales organizations. Furlough, work from home orders, and dried-up customer bases are a few of the recent changes. Many CEOs are forced to make a tough decision: should I fire my sales leader? Before you reach that decisions, here are a list of questions that might bring you some clarity.
If you decide it’s time to fire your sales leader, the follow Ben Horowitz’s process.
From The Hard Thing About The Hard Things by Ben Horowitz (modified for the context of sales leadership)
When a sales leader is failing, it creates an unspoken “weight” that everyone feels, including the reps. In most situations everyone (including the sales leader) knows a change is coming. Keeping cultural continuity and retaining top talent starts with letting the sales leader go the right way. This is especially true when you’re firing the leader that potentially hired the top performers and likely made some positive contributions to the company’s culture.
Step 1: Get Your Head Right
When a company fails to hit its revenue targets so severely that it must fire the sales leader it went to great time and expense to hire, it weighs heavily on the CEO, and for good reason. No matter the circumstances, the failure of the sales leader is partly the CEO’s fault, she hired the sales leader. It’s difficult to focus on the future because the past and current reality overwhelms you—but that’s exactly what you must do.
Step 2: Don’t Delay The Firing
Once you’ve decided that you must terminate your sales leader, the time elapsed between making the decision (in your head) and executing that decision should be as short as possible. Don’t let your sense of compassion outweigh your responsibility to be courageous. It’s also important to keep the decision under wraps. Loose lips sink ships. When you talk about the change (before you’ve fired the sales leader) with people in the company that don’t need to know, it’s gossip. It’s never good for the CEO to gossip.
Step 3: Be Clear In Your Own Mind Why You Are Firing Them
You are letting the sales leader go because the company failed to hit its targets. If the sales leader’s individual performance was the only issue, then the consequences could be different (in some instances individual performance and company performance intrinsically linked). Company performance failed. The distinction is critical. If company revenue attainment failed to hit the target, and you keep the individual responsible for revenue attainment, then you’ve failed as a CEO.
Step 4: CEOs Fire Sales Leaders Not HR
People remember how they were let go. Your reputation as a leader depends on you standing tall, facing the sales people that trusted and worked hard for you. You owe it to the top-performers on the sales team to not tolerate performance that doesn’t meet the standard.
Step 5: Address The Entire Sales Team
The CEO must deliver the overall message that provides the proper context and air coverage for the rest of the sales team. If you do your job right, the rest of the sales team will have a much easier time doing their jobs. Remember, the message is for the people who are staying. The rest of the team cares deeply about how you treat their leader. Celebrate the successful accomplishments of the sales leader, and be clear that the leader and the company weren’t successful despite these accomplishments. Remind them that the ultimate measure of success, performance relative to revenue and earnings wasn’t achieved. You know the sales leader can and will be successful, just not in your company.