LAS VEGAS - In addition to being keynote speaker at Excellence Alliance Inc.'s (EAI's) fall meeting, Matt Smith addressed another sports-related subject in a session titled "Managing Superstars."

"You must create channels for their arrogance," he said. "You must harness their competitive nature."

In his estimation, the essential skill necessary in managing a superstar is "the ability to remain absolutely objective."

"Objectivity is the essential skill," he stated. "But do not think for an instant that it is a fundamental skill. It is not. Objectivity is an advanced management skill, and must be learned. Obviously, absolute objectivity is not conducive to human association or rapport. Imagine if you had no choice but to be objective the first time you met your future mother-in-law."

Smith said the only two ways superstars join in the ranks is the same two ways human beings learn: by repetition or imprinting.

"Repetition is exactly what it implies," said Smith. "It is also the most common form of learning because it never stops."

To illustrate the concept of imprinting, he banged on a table and yelled at one of the seated members. "Imprinting is a form of learning that results from an experience that is so intense or un-usual that no further repetition is required," he summarized.

In the end, he asked his seminar attendees to look in the mirror. For instance, he said, if you fail to follow through on a threat, your superstar will continue to remain aloof.

"Without question, the most underused tool in the service manager's kit is authority," he said.

EAI members take notes on how to manage their employees during a presentation from Matt Smith of The Contractor’s Friend.

Coaching Techniques

Fundamentals, he said, must be stressed to these people. The glaring truth, he said, is that "hard work beats talent if talent doesn't work hard."

Smith said, in life, people need a game to play. When people don't have a game to play, they will invent their own game, he said, quickly adding, "It may not be the game you prefer your people to play while in your uniforms, in your trucks, collecting your paychecks."

Therefore, he said, in order to keep a superstar playing the game you'd like him to play, there are two indispensable pieces of information you need. You have to know their stats and know their motives.

"Whether they like it or not, your superstars are on stage in your company at all times," he said. "Chances are, they like it - probably more than you realize. Neither their ability nor their desire to lead matter nearly as much as the fact they are followed. When they don't do well, all the other techs have an excuse for not doing well."

In the end, knowing statistics is not optional for sales managers.

"Those of you who have harnessed the convenient excuse that you're not a numbers guy are in deeper that you know," said Smith. "Get to be a numbers guy."

Some of the coaching techniques Smith recommended for harnessing superstars include:

  • Challenges - "Few things in life will move a superstar faster than a well-timed ‘betcha can't.'"

  • Make them trainers - "Offer them the ability to have audience with the rest of the techs on an ongoing, formal basis," he said. "They've been telling you how good they are. Give them a chance to show you."

  • Ride alongs - "Your single biggest coaching advantage is the ability to say with certainty ‘Here is what I observed about your presentation' versus ‘Here is what I think you may be doing wrong.'"

  • Reach and withdraw - The theory here is that the more one reaches for an individual, the more that individual withdraws from the reach. The more one withdraws from an individual, the more that individual reaches for the withdrawer.

    "This involves giving specific statistical objectives without any mention of how to accomplish them before that information is requested by the tech," said Smith.

  • Anthem - This simply means repetition. "Have some theme music or an anthem to march to at all time, so that your employees know what you're about."

  • Regular shop meetings - "There is ample subject matter available for weekly meetings," he said. "I suggest you use every moment you can spare to get to know your people and what moves them."

  • Individual weekly or bi-weekly meetings on statistics only - "Many of you skip this step altogether," said Smith, "and you are robbing yourself of productivity and robbing your tech of the development they are entitled to."

  • Be interested in Generation X and Generation Y - "Many times it is a struggle for ‘old school' and ‘new school' to communicate effectively," he said.

    "Be curious about their interests away from work. Get them to talk about themselves. When they talk about something you don't understand, write it down - and then make a point to educate yourself about the topic."

  • Selling contests - Smith noted that one should be careful to create contests that encourage everyone to play and give as many people as possible a chance to win.

    "If the superstar always wins the game, soon he's the only one playing. The object of a selling contest is to increase revenue, not to buy you personal popularity."

    Publication date: 12/13/2004