Squirrel Spotting: What Kind of Team Do You Want?

IndependentsJul 31, 2018

Squirrel Spotting: What Kind of Team Do You Want?

Your first answer might be, “the same team I’ve had for years,” but that is not necessarily the best answer, Peter Smith writes.

Peter Smith has more than 30 years of experience building wholesale and retail sales teams. He currently is president of Vibhor Gems.

To suggest that people are important to a business is akin to recommending a daily dose of fresh air for good health. While it may be a self-evident maxim, what actually constitutes “good people” is decidedly more complex.

Every business, of course, must decide how to best put together its team.

Some prefer harmony and an ease of management that excludes mavericks and outliers. Other businesses prize a performance culture that values individual productivity, and recognizes and accepts the inevitable challenges of managing top performers.

When I ask retailers to tell me about their team, I very often hear, “My people have been with me for years,” as though tenure itself was the secret to success.

I’ve often wondered how successful my beloved Chicago Cubs would be if Andre Dawson was still hitting clean-up at Wrigley Field, or how the San Francisco 49ers would fare if Joe Montana was under center.

OK, OK, I know that sports teams, where athletes must have a great mental approach along with world-class physical prowess, is not the same as sales, but I use sports (insert your own metaphor) to point out that tenure alone cannot be the measure of the competence of an individual, or the health of a team.

In fact, Gallup researchers conducted an analysis a few years ago of 1.4 million employees in its database and found an inverse relationship between employee engagement and the number of years she or he had worked in the job.

The study basically asserted that for most employees, the first year was their best year and thereafter it was, if not exactly downhill, a flat and uninspiring walk into sustained mediocrity. The conclusions from the study revealed that disengaged employees were a drain on profits, sales and customer satisfaction.

Angela Duckworth, a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania and the author of “Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance,” wrote: “Do you know anyone who’s been doing something for a long, long time—maybe their entire professional lives—and yet, the best you can say of their skill is that they’re pretty much OK and not bad enough to fire?”

There is clearly a very big difference between your top performers staying with you for years and your mediocre people sticking around—not exactly setting the world on fire, but managing to keep their heads above water.

As I see it, there are really

three ways a business can go:

1) You can value tenure and accept that you are willing to give up performance for the sake of familiar people sticking around;

2) You can prize sales performance and, in doing so, understand that non-performers will be rotated out as results demand; or

3) The default option: You celebrate and value tenure, and choose not to spend too much time thinking about the costs to your business in sales and profitability.  

In “Reward Systems,” Steve Kerr (not the basketball one) wrote, “If you reward seniority, you are likely to get very little in the way of risk-taking, innovation and candid, upward feedback.”

Each business, of course, much make its own decision (or no decision) and while I would still pay to see Andre Dawson take a few swings in a Cubs uniform at Wrigley Field, I’ll take Anthony Rizzo. Until I don’t.

Go Cubs!

Peter Smith is president of Vibhor, a public speaker and author of “Sell Something” and “Hiring Squirrels.” He spent 30 years building sales teams in retail and wholesale and he can be contacted at,, or on LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter.
Peter Smithis president of Memoire and Hearts On Fire, and author of three books, “Hiring Squirrels,” “Sell Something,” and “The Sales Minute.”

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