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ATD Blog

How Are You Doing? Really, Really Doing?

Wednesday, December 2, 2020

Conversations around the Zoom Bar are turning positive. Most companies are well into business as usual—pandemic style. Virtual meetings are the norm, customers are getting comfortable purchasing again, and the sales team is hustling. While the COVID-19 pandemic still looms over us, we have adjusted and become productive once more.

While the situation has improved significantly from earlier this year, there is a negative ion called “corporate burnout” or “work burnout” circling this positive energy that gains momentum when ignored.

A few weeks ago, I was reviewing the pipeline with a vice president of sales and marketing, and we saw a couple of reps who were strong performers pre-COVID-19 now significantly below where Sean knew they should be. Simple mistakes were being made that frustrated Sean because he knew these reps were capable of better. We prepared for a “let’s fix this so you can get your head in the game call” to knock down any issues and get back to business.

At the beginning of the virtual meeting, Sean opened with the usual, “Hi, Matt, how are you doing?” Without waiting for a response, Sean launched into his pipeline review. The more Sean pushed, the more Matt retreated and responded with short, noncommittal answers. Something was wrong. Sean stopped for a moment to let the silence reset to a calmer tone then asked Matt what he was thinking. How was he really doing with all this COVID stuff? The tension we could see on Matt’s face gave way to telling us things were not great at home. To keep his mind off his family issues, he worked long days, ate a ton of junk food, had stopped exercising, and had disconnected from friends and family. His sales calls had turned into one-sided therapy sessions where prospects and customers ranted endlessly about issues with COVID-19 as he struggled to bring conversations around to a positive point where he could find a way to help. He had lost his confidence and optimism. Sean and Matt had worked together for several years, and Sean felt he had let down one of his team members.


Eagle Hill Consulting reports that national polling of the US workforce indicates 58 percent of employees have burn out. That number is up from 45 percent in the early days of the pandemic


While corporate burnout or work burnout issues seems to fall to human resource departments, more success is coming from out-of-the-box ideas generated and implemented by sales and marketing leadership and enablement employees responsible for the “care and feeding” of the sales and marketing teams.

Here are some of the best practices to address get rid of this negative ion:

  • Accenture North America managers begin all meetings with genuine emotion by asking “How are you really, really doing?
  • A Seattle construction company created a sales newsletter filled with personal and sales-related events that had happened that week. Option to reward the employee with the best story with a gift card or just recognition for a job well done.
  • Dell has created a buddy group with scheduled meet times. Members share if they are above the line, which means they are OK and can help, or below the line, which means they are struggling. Above the line asks, “OK, what can I do?” It is up to the member struggling to decide how much to to share or not. Set a time limit for the meeting.
  • Truist Leadership Institute has a short, one-topic Self-Care for Leaders podcast available to anyone on their favorite service.
  • Schedule lunch & learns in which everyone dials in from a favorite place (backyard, park, or so forth).
  • Celebrate wins.
  • Managers should set aside time to call reps. Emails are too impersonal.
  • If you tend to be a consultant, resist the tendency to jump into a situation and become a problem-solver. Listen and validate—no judgment is required but direct others to resources if needed.
  • Provide pandemic-specific peer groups. Virtual groups with commonalities such as child care, pandemic isolation, and so on. Members can multitask if it goes unnoticed. For example, a member made a batch of brownies during the meeting. If member is multitasking but not distracted, then others should have permission to do the same.

We tend to think of burnout as an individual problem solvable by “learning to say no.” It is rather a problem of the environment and workplace and must be solved by those closest to the individual.

About the Author

Mary Kay (MK) is a Principal Consultant in sales and marketing for MKH Associates. Over the last 27+ years, she has been involved in more than 200 sales and marketing transformation initiatives, working with her clients’ executive leadership teams, Board of Directors, and private equity stakeholders.

She has helped grow sales organization's productivity and revenue (including several members of the Inc.100) as well as aligned and strengthened their marketing efforts to increase market share collaboratively with sales efforts. Prior to her experience at MKH, MK worked in sales and management carrying individual and team quotas and was consistently recognized as a top performer.

Connect with Mary Kay on LinkedIn or at [email protected]

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