The Coaching Effect Blog

The Coaching Effect Blog

    Should the Sales Manager Role be Eliminated?

    by Bill Eckstrom / June 8, 2015

    Zappos Management Structure It must make sense.  If a forward thinking company such as Zappos is doing it, it must be a smart thing to do. 

    In business, most every move has an “increased performance” purpose.  Whether it’s the adoption of new technology, training, new market entry, new products, etc., executives look for the same end result—more money.  This is not evil, it is a reality that makes sense for many reasons.

    So, without knowing much more than what the article shares, my assumption is that in order to be a more profitable business, Zappos decided to get rid of all manager titles, manager responsibilities and adopt a “holacracy” movement.  I had to look up the word, “holacracy”, and found it really isn’t a word, but according to Google searches it is a way to describe a new management model.

    First of all, hooray for Zappos!  They are trying something radically different and as a result, will have a different outcome. Using EcSell performance verbiage, they have broken the bounds of order and engaged into complexity by injecting a catalytic element into their organization. Said another way… the only way to continually grow is to vacate what has been done and always be trying new things.  Not that Zappos cares, but I admire people, departments or entire organizations that always strive for better outcomes through aggressive change.  In sales, we see that growth is always desired, but most are unwilling to truly change. 

    In a previous blog I referenced an article written by Jim Clifton, the CEO of Gallup, who shared their research that indicates 70% of the managers in U.S. business are not just performing poorly, they are likely inhibiting team performance.  Within sales departments, our research supports this stat as well, which is why all executives need to wake up and smell the coffee, by providing managers the needed resources to succeed.  I’m confident not all managers in Zappos were poor performers, but if they were reflective of the research, 70% of them needed to either be given an opportunity to improve, re-positioned or terminated. 

    But, is removing the manager role the best solution? My response is not just “no”, but “heck no.  Taking this type of action would be similar to removing the role of the sales person because sales goals are not being achieved.

    Okay, now comes the weird part…  Zappos may see better short term results from this move-seriously.  However, they will never achieve the levels of performance they are capable of achieving with the position removed.  This is because individuals and teams are not capable of achieving the highest levels of performance without a great manager, coach, leader, sponsor, etc. involved.  Zappos removed a short term inhibitor, but placed a big ol’ lid on future performance.  

    The alternative would have been to identify the behaviors, activities and tools that are needed to drive results, provide those to the managers and then make sure they are being done and done well.  Measure inputs and outputs!  This is common practice for sales people, so organizations need to make it common practice for managers.  The challenge is understanding and training to the most productive behaviors, activities and tools—so few have taken the time to find and implement these critical performance levers. In sales management we have defined the high pay-off activities and you can check them out here.  But, without them the Zappos move begins to make sense.

    Executive leaders are beginning to acknowledge the science that shows the impact managers have on performance outcomes, but that doesn’t indicate the role is at complete risk. The good news is this can be positively affected, but training and development, sales ops, HR, and all executive leaders need to take action by providing resources to this neglected role.  The answer doesn’t begin with elimination, it begins with education.


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    Bill Eckstrom

    Bill Eckstrom

    William Eckstrom is the CEO and Founder of the EcSell Institute. Bill has spent his entire career in the sales management and leadership arena. In 2008, he founded the EcSell Institute to fill a void he witnessed and personally experienced in the sales leadership profession. He's went on to present a viral TEDx Talk and co-authored the best-selling book, "The Coaching Effect."

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