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The Importance of the Psychological Paycheck

I was twenty-five years old and a newly minted District Manager for a fast-growing company—Wallace Computer Services, Inc. I had nine direct sales people and an office administrator. I had arrived! Or so I thought.

I was in the job about two months, when the General Sales Manager (GSM) of the Northeast (my boss’s boss), came to my office for two days to do what he referred to as a “temperature check.”

The “temperature check” included me meeting the GSM at the hotel, going on sales calls with him and our sales reps, observing my interaction with my team and socializing with the team over drinks and dinner. I knew exactly what a temperature check was. It was code for “let’s see if this kid is going to make it or not as a manager.” He was tough Vietnam veteran and a Marine.

I almost didn’t make it. And here’s why…

I was supposed to meet him at breakfast at 7:30 AM. I showed up six minutes late. His opening response: “You’re late. Thank God I wasn’t waiting for oxygen… I would be dead right now.” Not a good start.

As the two days progressed, we went on sales calls together, he went on sales calls without me, we had dinner with the team and at the end of day two he walked in my office and said, “Got a minute?” The exchange went something like this:

GSM: I had two good days with you and your team.

Me: I am glad you enjoyed yourself.

GSM: Who said, I enjoyed myself? I said I had two good days. I never said, I enjoyed myself.

Me: (quite uncomfortable but making the adjustment) Well, I am glad you had two good days.

GSM: Let me give you some coaching. I had the opportunity to observe you and your interaction with both customers and your sales team. You are quite a talented salesperson. Now I understand why we promoted you so quickly.

Me: (feeling good) Thank you.

GSM: Don’t thank me. We didn’t promote you to be a salesperson. We promoted you to be a manager.

Me: (long, uncomfortable pause, and scared to death). Ok….

GSM: I noticed you are really good about telling people what they do wrong. How they could have handled the objection better or how they could have reframed the question better. Don’t get me wrong, that is an important part of the job…

Me: (attempting to defend myself) That is probably due to my athletic background. As a wrestler, my coaches always instilled in me you should strive for perfection in everything you do. So, what I was trying to do….

GSM: (interrupting me and completely unimpressed) This isn’t wrestling! You’re not here to take down the customer. These are salespeople who need to be developed. They are cold-calling and facing rejection after rejection and then when they finally get a meeting and bring you with them, you feel the need to tell them everything they did wrong. Let me ask you this, did they do anything right?

Me: Of course, they did. They got the appointment…

GSM: (interrupting) I didn’t hear you say, “Nice job getting the meeting.” Did you? I didn’t hear you say, “Nice job getting the order” to Dan, did you?

Me: (swallowing hard) No…

GSM: You are great at coaching people at what they do wrong, but you really suck at coaching them up—recognizing what they did right.

Me: (embarrassed, but highly coachable) That is a good point.

GSM: Do you have a change cup at home? You know, where you throw your change at the end of the day?

Me: (a little confused) I do.

GSM: Here is what I want you to do. Grab a handful of change every day and put it in your right pocket. Every time you say something positive to your sales reps, I want you to move a coin from your right pocket to your left pocket. Every time you point out a perceived negative, I want you to move a coin from your left pocket to your right pocket. If all of your change is not in your left pocket at the end of the day, you are not doing your job as a manager! It’s called positive reinforcement. You have to catch them doing things right and recognize them for it. Recognized behavior gets repeated. Unrecognized behavior, goes away. Make sense?

Me: (thinking it through) Absolutely. It makes perfect sense.

GSM: Now, you are a talented kid. I know talent and you’ve got talent. I want you to read the book The One Minute Manager. It will help you to grow as a manager. You will learn that people work more for the psychological paycheck than they do for the actual paycheck. Yes, even salespeople.

That was some of the best coaching I have ever received. And that is how I learned the very valuable lesson of the psychological paycheck.

I have had the opportunity to do several keynotes this month at company kick-off meetings and have seen firsthand the power of recognition! I have watched salespeople beaming on stage winning awards like “Rookie of the Year” and “Comeback Player of the Year.” It all starts with positive reinforcement—daily!

At Butler Street, reinforcing positive behavior is an integral part of our Leadership Training. As you consider further development of your management team, consider Butler Street. Our team has been there and done that. Click CONTACT and let’s talk.

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