On The Right Track For Management

By Malcolm Fleschner

What’s the quickest way for an ambitious young pharmaceutical sales representative to get noticed as a potential management candidate? The answer to that question has always been pretty simple – just sell like crazy. In virtually all industries, top sales performers have always been the first to be considered for coveted promotions into management. But as Ian Wilcox, vice president and pharmaceutical practice leader for the Hay Group (www.haygroup.com), a global organizational and human resources consulting firm, notes, the fact is that sales performance is not a very reliable indicator of effective management potential.

“One reason is that high performing reps may not like management,” Wilcox says, “because the most successful reps are often wired around achievements and being goal-focused. It’s not that managers aren’t goal-focused, but the goal that they’re focused on is achievement through others. Managers who are all about selling end up very frustrated and can also be experienced by the salespeople as micromanagers.”

Good managers are, in fact, terribly difficult to find, says Wilcox. That’s why he suggests that pharmaceutical companies be on the lookout for candidates who already demonstrate managerial abilities. This boils down to what he calls the “10 percent rule.”

“When you recruit individual contributors, and people who are going to be great sales reps, look for 10 to15 percent of those you hire to have management potential,” he says, “Conduct talent and capability planning up front in your sourcing strategies. Understand from the beginning that not every one of these folks will be in the top percent of sales performance year after year. Be comfortable with that, knowing that you’ve thoroughly tested candidates with a long-term strategy in mind to fill managerial roles.”

For reps hoping to get noticed for more than simply their great sales numbers, Wilcox recommends a thorough and accurate self-assessment that includes real-world experiences.

“For an accurate self-assessment,” Wilcox suggests, “you need to gain experience in coaching and get feedback to discover first and foremost how you impact others. The best managers have a high degree of awareness about that concept. Bad managers have no concept of impact versus intent: ‘I intended to cause X but it impacted you Y.’ ‘I thought that leaving you this nice message telling you all the nice things you did was going to be motivational but the impact was negative because I talked about your numbers, but not about the impact you had on customers, which is what really would have been motivational for you.’ That’s typical front-line management folly – talking about numbers and not impact. If you don’t get that early on, you’re working from what you think it means to be a manager rather than what the people working for you need. That concept is one you have to get wired into pretty quickly or you’re not going to be a very effective manager.”