A client asks, "I am a sales manager at a small start-up company. Our office space is tight and we all sit in cubicles. No one has a private office. Because of this, there is a very casual style of communication. Virtually the entire office eats lunch together every day. I sometimes find it hard to feel like a sales manager or much of an authority figure at all. Any suggestions?"
You are wise to observe the problems that very small office accommodations can cause. Let's look at a few changes you can make to separate yourself a little bit from the people that you manage.
Hold Regular Meetings
Many of my clients who work in offices similar to the one that you describe forgo regular staff meetings because they don't have any place to hold them and "everyone hears what’s going on anyway." This leads to people misinterpreting what has been said or making their own rules. Either way, it isn't good.
Hold a regular weekly staff meeting with a formal agenda at a regular place and time. If there is no conference room, talk to your building manager and ask if there is a common conference room available for tenants or see if another company would let you borrow theirs for a nominal fee. If neither of these suggestions work, pull your chairs together in a corner. Somehow make it a separate and distinct event.
Find a Place for One-on-Ones
Similarly, there are many times a sales manager needs to have a one-on-one conversation with a salesperson. Find a location where you can have these talks when needed.
Curtail Cubicle Shouting
If someone shouts a question at you, resist the temptation to shout the answer back. Instead, ask them to come to your cubicle to discuss it. Say something like, "That's a great question. Come on over for a minute and let's chat about it." If possible, keep a chair or two by your desk to encourage this.
Set Policies and Procedures
Anxious to bring on new business and sometimes hesitant to foist too much of a stuffy corporate culture on the organization, many sales managers at start-ups resist having a policies and procedures manual for the sales organization. While a notebook-sized document may not be necessary, some guidelines are appropriate, especially when it comes to such topics as pricing, discounts, terms of payment, renewals, territories, leads, inbound calls, and commissions.
Having a "make it up as we go" culture undermines your authority by leading sales representatives to believe that if they present you with a compelling enough argument, anything can be negotiated.
If you managed 7 or 8 sales representatives, had lunch with only 2 or 3 of them on a regular basis, and other salespeople felt excluded from this activity, you would be perceived as showing favoritism. However, if the whole office eats together, the atmosphere is fairly collegial and the topics of conversation are appropriate, I wouldn't worry too much about it.
Working in close physical proximity to the employees you are charged with managing can have its complications. By following these suggestions, you will feel like you have created a little space (figuratively) and have regained your authority.