Caveat Venditionesque Pice (Beware The Sales Pitch)

Shared Leadership Carol AndersonNOVEMBER HR Magazine’s Point/Counterpoint column (pp. 22-23) takes on emotional intelligence, asking “Is emotional intelligence a good measure of leadership ability?” On one side, the vendor who provides emotional intelligence tests and training, said “Yes.” The counterpoint: a professor of organizational behavior said, “No.” Who to believe?
Conflicting evidence and claims abound in HR circles these days. Human Resources has become big business, and consultants and technology vendors are jumping on the bandwagon with products and services to help HR become strategic. After all, that is what CEOs say they want from HR, and what HR says we want to be. Vendors need to sell to remain in business, and they become very good at their sales pitch.

In this column on emotional intelligence, the professor warns that “the science is not clear about what emotional intelligence actually means and whether it is a valid concept […] or, it is a hodgepodge of abilities, skills, traits, attitudes, self-motivation and so forth?” He goes on to ding consultant products for not disclosing their evidence that emotional intelligence really does translate to job performance.  The consultant touches that part in us that believes in respect and courtesy; it’s just the right thing to do.

I suspect you could probably find a similar Point/Counterpoint argument for any theory that forms the foundation for HR products and services. After all, given the great number of variables that make up the people in any workforce, generalizing research is difficult, if not impossible.  Both sides hopefully believe in the integrity of their claim, but the differences may lie well below the surface and the answer to the question “will it work,” is almost always “it depends.”

How then can an HR team source, vet and select the right solution for their needs when faced with top notch sales and marketing? Here are four actions that will help HR look below the surface and more clearly understand the advantages and disadvantages of a proposed solution.

Start with the problem, not the solution

Vendors can really wow us with cool new toys that will “solve our problems.”  And the problems that they describe are probably problems we really do have; otherwise the sales pitch wouldn’t have grabbed our attention.

Here’s an example. You are dissatisfied with your current employee survey process because the action planning is not automated.  You cannot monitor progress and you believe that managers don’t always follow through to completion.  A new vendor has created an automated action planning process that managers can access to develop and report progress. Additionally, the automated process provides HR and executive leadership with a dashboard that shows progress on the action plans.

This sounds great. The dashboard will give you the answer to the question whether or not the managers are fulfilling their obligation to create and complete an action plan in response to the employee survey feedback. You know this is important because employees are looking for both feedback and change.

Let’s step back and look closely at the problem. Is the presenting problem – that managers are not in compliance – really the right problem to solve?

Define the desired outcome

Do you really want to achieve compliance, or do you want to improve the organization’s performance by creating a committed and engaged workforce?

If, indeed, you want a committed workforce, will the automated action planning solution achieve that outcome? It is doubtful that managers will be any better at action planning simply because the process has become automated.

Do your research

But now that you are clear about the desired outcome, it is time to invoke your own Point/Counterpoint.  Ask good questions that get to the “why.” Why are managers not completing the paper process? Talk to them – those who get it and those who don’t. Listen carefully.

Perhaps it is that they are too busy. Perhaps they don’t see the value in the process. Or perhaps they don’t have the skills to make the improvement.

If these are the problems, will an automated solution really help?

Consider the solution in context

Most solutions work well within a specific context. An automated action planning system may be quite effective if leaders have the will and skill to really engage a committed workforce. If that context is not present, will the solution still work?

Beware the sales pitch

If you have completed these steps, and the answer is still the solution that the sales person is pitching, great! If you are not sure, you have some foundational work to do. But that is a good thing because you have a clear understanding of the problem that will lead to improved organizational performance.

There is always another side to the story – the counterpoint, if you will – and that include the sales pitch. Be a good steward of your organization’s resources; investigate both the point and the counterpoint, do good research, and solve the right problem with the solution that is right for your organization.


Carol Anderson
Carol Anderson
CAROL is the founder and Principal of Anderson Performance Partners, LLC, a business consultancy focused on bringing together organizational leaders to unite all aspects of the business – CEO, CFO, HR – to build, implement and evaluate a workforce alignment strategy. With over 35 years of executive leadership, she brings a unique lens and proven methodologies to help CEOs demand performance from HR and to develop the capability of HR to deliver business results by aligning the workforce to the strategy. She is the author of Leading an HR Transformation, published by the Society for Human Resource Management in 2018, which provides a practical RoadMap for human resource professionals to lead the process of aligning the workforce to the business strategy, and deliver results, and writes regularly for several business publications.

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