What change is doing to sales forces

May 1, 2001
Mark Vitello

Pharmaceutical Representative

And what you can do about it.

The more things change, the more they stay the same." How many times have you said or heard this in the last year or two? The pharmaceutical industry experiences significant change almost weekly and in a number of different areas. Companies merge or are bought out, customers redefine their business or markets, and sales forces expand or contract. For employees, nothing is ever the same after these changes occur.

Consider the impact of a merger, acquisition or marketplace shift on a far-flung sales force. The effect on morale and performance begins long before any change actually occurs. Volatility in the workplace is constant, and employees tend to make their own interpretations of the rumors, information and facts that come their way. As the pace of change increases, the more unnerved employees become, and the more likely they are to seek change in their professional lives before change overtakes them.

Some employees may make knee-jerk decisions about employers or careers. They may seek out more stable opportunities, or switch to a less frenetic marketplace. In both cases, the lost head count represents a void to the employer, resulting in lost revenue and additional expenses to fill the position.

To management, an acquisition or merger is a good time to consolidate sales forces, cut non-performers or promote rising stars. Employees sit in the field, feeling that they are considered valuable assets to the team and therefore indispensable. Reality, of course, dictates otherwise; in corporate America, everyone is expendable.

Training for change

What is the best course of action for employees and employers in this era of change?

John Kotter, professor of leadership at Harvard Business School, writes in his book, "The New Rules: Eight Business Breakthroughs to Career Success in the 21st Century," that it is essential to actively seek learning opportunities at work. The goal is not only to maintain job satisfaction, but also to improve employability in a turbulent economic environment.

Employers who provide opportunities for learning are more likely to retain employees longer and to make them agents of change, rather than employees who fear change.

In her book "This Isn't the Company I Joined: Seven Steps to Energizing a Restructured Work Force," Carol Kinsey Goman proposes developing a change-adept work force. Employers need to expand training opportunities to help employees thrive on change instead of fearing it. Then, to maintain a culture that supports change, management practices that promote change adeptness need to be employed throughout the organization.

Jeffrey Pfeffer, a professor at Stanford's Graduate School of Business, argues that people and profits are intimately connected. "Maintaining training signals a commitment to an organization's people in a tangible way," said Pfeffer. "It says, 'We value you enough to invest in you even when times aren't the best.'"

It is the responsibility of employees to take advantage of opportunities when they exist. Very often, a high performer considers training to be for the underachievers, or prefers to spend valuable time on sales calls and closing deals. It is important to remember that learning needs to take place throughout a career, not only to prepare for personal career advancement, but also to remain in step with new technologies, shifting markets and changing customers.

Richard Koonce, author of "Career Power! 12 Winning Habits to Get You From Where You Are to Where You Want to Be," provides a number of steps that employees can take to be life-long learners:

1) Dedicate yourself to being the best professional you can be. Create a professional identity for your current job and its responsibilities, and then develop a work ethic that exceeds expectations.

2) Continue to push the envelope of your skills. If change is occurring daily, it is likely that new skills are constantly required.

3) Set high self-development goals. Even if your workload is heavy, remember that employability is more important than current employment.

Change places a premium on time and activity, but one thing is very clear: Both organizations and individuals can better prepare for change by initiating educational programs that ensure growth. Delay will lead to lost opportunities and decline, and in a world where "the only sure thing is change," neither employers nor employees deserve to be left behind. PR

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