How to Avoid the Gap Trap

On a recent episode of NBC’s Thursday night blockbuster comedy, “The Office”, Jan Levinson’s written performance appraisal of her boyfriend, Michael Scott, is revealed. For those of you not familiar with the show, Michael Scott and Jan Levinson have been an on again/off again office romance with plenty of out of the ordinary relationship issues along the way. On this particular episode Jan is attempting to win a lawsuit against their company, Dunder-Mifflin. In order to do so, she must include a past performance appraisal of her boyfriend Michael Scott in her deposition against the company. As her appraisal is read aloud by her attorney, viewers discover Jan felt that “Michael Scott is not cut out to be a sales manager. His skills will not allow it. I recommend the company move him back to a sales position where he belongs.”

As much as I love the show, the story lines are a bit far fetched and not something we would regularly see in the business world. However, the story line referenced here is tragically one of the most common we see in real life as the organization of the 21st Century is analyzed.

Imagine several high level executives are seated around the boardroom table. One states, “Our sales manager for the Eastern region just resigned. We need to get that seat filled quickly before sales take a turn for the worst in that area. Who should we consider?” Another executive states, “Well how about Mrs. Superstar Salesperson out of the West Region?” The other executives respond, “Well what are her qualifications?” The group resounds together gleefully, “She has the highest individual sales production of course!” Coffee mugs are raised, a toast is made, and bang! The new sales manager is hired.
What this newly appointed sales manager does not yet realize is that the executives have just steered her right into the dead center of the “Gap Trap.” I define the Gap Trap is any place on an organizational chart where person is moved due to exemplary skills in one role, but those skills are completely irrelevant for new role they are now expected to play. The Gap Trap extends well beyond this common example of sales representative versus sales manager and it may be the focus of a series of future articles. So staying on this one example for the moment, the Gap Trap these executives have caused revolves around the fact that the skills needed to be an effective individual sales producer compared to the skills of an effective sales manager are as a different as night and day! In fact, what made an employee a great producer is actually the same ingredient that can make them a horrible sales manager.

The differences needed in skill sets between these two roles are countless and there are far too many to explain in this short article, nevertheless here is a quick example. Our newly appointed sales manager is nearing the end of the fiscal year and she is significantly behind on meeting her region’s quota. As a result, this newly appointed sales manager, (remember this person was once Mrs. Superstar Salesperson) does exactly what she used to do when she was behind on quota as a salesperson. She gets out there herself and attempts to sell more! She says to herself, “If my team can’t hit the number, then by God I will do it for them!” Unfortunately, even if she gets lucky and does make the number on her own, she has just formulated the beginnings of a very bad habit. She is making her team dependent on her to close business, she is loosing time, she is loosing leverage, and she has missed out on an opportunity to challenge and improve the performance of her sales representatives just to name a few of the problems that her knee jerk strategy will cause. As we said, what made this employee a great producer is actually the same ingredient that can make her a horrible sales manager.

If this situation sounds at all familiar, rest assured there are many ways to get out of the Gap Trap. Step 1 is to realize you need to change your habits and skills. Step 2 is to seek out training and development opportunities to make these changes in our performance capabilities. Step 1 begins with you. We can help you with Step 2. So as this holiday weekend continues let’s ask ourselves, “Do I need help out of the Gap Trap?” If we honestly ask ourselves this question and even if we frightfully decide the answer is “yes”, it won’t take an attorney’s reading of our significant other’s appraisal of our performance as a leader to let us know we need some help.

This article was written by one of the SBA Network’s associates, Aaron Kent, of Dale Carnegie Training. He will be the guest on our show today at 4 pm PST. Just tune in to at 4 pm to learn more about how you can increase the standard of performance for your sales team.

Cory Halbardier

Posted in Management Development, Uncategorized.

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