Land of the Donut-Eaters

“They started at once, and went out among the Lotus-Eaters, who did them no hurt, but gave them to eat of the Lotus, which was so delicious that those who ate of it left off caring about home, and did not even want to go back and say what had happened to them, but were for staying and munching Lotus with the Lotus-Eaters without thinking further of their return”.

From The Odyssey, by Homer

If you are familiar with the works of Homer, then no doubt you are familiar with the story of the Lotus-Eaters. These lazy derelicts were a tribe of people who lived in ancient times on the North Coast of Africa. According to the legend, they were fond of eating a certain type of lotus petal that induced a perpetual state of apathy, and thus they lived out their days in happy, listless indolence.  In ancient times, both the Greek and Roman cultures used the expression “to eat the lotus” to denote laziness and forgetfulness.

In our modern society, it has come to my attention that our culture, also, has discovered (or rather, manufactured) a food product that seems to induce exactly the same state of perpetual listlessness as the Homer’s infamous lotus. I refer, of course, to the common donut.

My conclusions are based on the behavior of certain sales people who have attended corporate programs that I have delivered over my career as a speaker. Allow me to explain.

High-carb, void-of-nutrition breakfast foods such as cruellers, twinkies, sweet rolls, and this genre’s Nuclear Option, the notorious apple-cinnamonbear-claw, are standard morning fare at seminars and conventions. Like the legendary Lotus, these sugary creations cast a mysterious, zombie-like spell over those poor individuals who have at some point in the past partaken of their sweetness and, consequently, have come under their sinister influence. By ignoring the siren-song of the donut table, I have had ample opportunity to observe, with a measure of pity, the addiction of the poor Donut-Eaters.

The Donut-Eaters are easy to spot in a room full of seminar attendees. As they shuffle into the room, among the last to arrive, it is obvious from their demeanor that the only reason that they are in attendance is because they were told by a supervisor to attend. They are about as interested in improving their business skills as in getting a root-canal. It’s a safe bet to assume that, were it not for their mandatory attendance, they would rather be doing something else. Like playing video games, for instance.

A profound transformation takes place in their demeanor, however, when the sensors in their nasal passages pick up the unmistakable odor of fried, sugared bread! Previously sullen eyes suddenly light up and scan the room with a silent, urgent yearning. Once visual contact has been made with the donut table, the rest of the world fades to black. FREE FOOD! All possessions are dropped in the nearest chair; the listless shuffle noted earlier is now a brisk, energetic burst of motion. Now, we have a highly motivated sales person! If only the Donut-eater could channel their enthusiasm for the Donut into an enthusiasm for career success. Instead, the Donut-eater loads up a cocktail napkin with a stack of goodies and returns to their seat, where, like their counterparts the Lotus-Eaters, they much away in happy, catatonic solitude.

The issue that we are addressing here is, of course, that of motivation. Surely the most common complaint that I hear from managers is the frustration that they experience in trying to motivate their Donut-Eaters. This is a problem that is no unique to sales people. It is a people issue, not a sales issue. However, because sales people’s performance is directly tied to business production, Donut-eaters tend to cause more acute problems in sales than, say, accounting or inventory management. That said, here are a few observations that I can make management’s role in motivation of the sales force:

1)     Your job as a manager is not to motivate your people; motivation comes from within. Your job is to create a positive, supportive working environment where motivated people get the coaching and training that they need to be successful.

2)     Managers can be highly effective at de-motivating people. If you rely on negativity to motivate, you will fail.

3)     Only twenty percent of the sales people in the marketplace today are committed to personal excellence, and have the motivation required to attain outstanding results. Sixty percent are just making a living. The bottom twenty percent are the Donut-Eaters.

4)     This also means that 80% of all hiring decisions are mistakes.

5)     The best way to avoid problems with Donut-Eaters is to avoid hiring them. This is why interviewing skills are critical to your success.

6)     Because sales people control their own income, it is paramount that you hire people who know what they want financially. If a person cannot tell you what their financial objectives are, what possible motivation would they have for earning a high income?

7)     Hire for the heart, not for the head. You can train your new hire on your products and services. You cannot train a Donut-Eater to be motivated. Stop making “industry experience” a requirement for a job.

8)     Be thorough in your interviewing. You are going to be living with this person, every day, for years to come. Can you afford to take this decision lightly?

9)     Want to meet the “real” person you are interviewing? Take the job candidate out to dinner with their spouse or significant other as a part of the interview process. You may be in for a surprise.

10)  Be patient. You may have to interview twenty people to find the one worth hiring. The effort will be worth it.

I have to believe that, somewhere in the Mediterranean, their still exists a lonely, wind-swept island where people lay like walruses upon a rocky shore, just as they did in Homer’s time. The only difference is that, instead of eating Lotus petals, they are gobbling down Krispy Kremes.

One Comment

  1. Posted January 25, 2011 at 3:51 am | Permalink

    If you are open to having a guest blog poster please reply and let me know. I will provide you with unique content for your blog, thanks.

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