Bob Swallow (seen above) has been in the ICT industry for more than 40 years, in the past 20 years holding board level roles including national and international sales leadership, general management and CEO positions for the likes of Siemens and BT. As a Trustee of Mental Health Associates, we asked him what ICT leaders should be aware of as pressures increase on sales teams during the pandemic…
How can you identify an employee struggling, possibly with a mental health issue?
As in all walks of life it is sometimes very difficult to recognise when someone is struggling with mental health. People who don’t want others to know will develop an ability to appear fine. Sales people are particularly good at this, but very few survive putting a brave face on. My experience is that talking things through is much more productive. So it’s important for leaders to develop observational skills and spot people with potential issues.
Do you have any personal experience of people that have 'gone over the edge'?
Sadly, over the years I have seen many sales people suffer from extreme pressure. Often it is created by the individual themselves from fear of failure, or even from peer or partner pressure. With the constant drive for growth or greater profitability from various types of ownership, the scrutiny on performance builds pressure.
What is the impact of unrealistic targets on sales people?
Unrealistic target setting is poor sales leadership. Sales people are well rewarded if they are successful and some believe that because of this, any amount of pressure is OK. If the quality of leadership is good, then they will identify quickly where someone isn’t coping. It is so important for the welfare of the individual, as well as the ethical reputation of the business, that leaders are more aware of peoples’ mental health. This has never been more important than now when our people are working remotely, with little physical interaction and potential feelings of total isolation. These things add to any feelings of foreboding that already exist.
How important is a ‘talking post’ for people who might be struggling?
It is the first and most important step to getting them the help and care they need. Sales people tend to be confident, bordering on arrogant, and therefore not in any need of support. We know that this isn’t the case, and they often struggle to discuss their issues.
How can people in our industry help?
We need funds to create and man a dedicated helpline and provide training and awareness courses for organisations to get the message out there that there are people you can talk to, who have real empathy and who are trained to help people with problems.