Transactional Analysis

by Len Horridge

A simple case study

We thought a case study may help you understand the effectiveness of TA in business.

This is a true story.

Some years ago, after only two years in the role, a salesman was promoted to sales manager. In his team, he inherited a successful salesman who was 15 years older than him and who had also had 12 years’ experience in this sales team.

The sales manager had been chosen for his logical approach to the role, his practical and pragmatic approach and his potential for the company. He wasn’t the most successful salesperson in the team, but had put in consistent performances in his two years and was a popular member of the team.

The older sales person was quite happy with this but, after three months, his performance had dropped quite considerably and he was way behind target, which was unusual for a salesman who was normally 20 per cent over target each year.

The younger sales manager went to his manager for help. The senior manager asked about the relationship between the two and then began to analyse it in terms of TA.

‘So, what problems do you think this promotion has caused?’ asked the senior manager.

The sales manager suggested that maybe the salesman was jealous of the promotion and wanted the role himself. Perhaps he resented the promotion of a younger guy, who he had had a part in training up just two years before.

‘Maybe,’ replied the manager, ‘but we didn’t see that when we talked to the team. In fact, he was more than supportive of you and thought you were the right man for the job.’

So, what was the problem?

In Transactional Analysis terms, the sales manager thought he was dealing with a parent, the older guy who liked to train and support people and his own approach, very adult, dealing with facts and not getting close to people, would therefore grate. He made the wrong resolution that a child-parent approach would help.

His manager put him right.

‘I know your salesman and here are the facts about him. He didn’t want your job; he wants to be a salesman and has wanted to be one since he started here. He’s been a salesman for twelve years and that’s what he likes. In the last twelve years, he’s been the number one salesman ten times; he’s won every incentive we have given him, and he is very competitive with our South West salesman - and you don’t have a problem with him.’

The sales manager argued that he thought the salesman simply didn’t like him.

‘No, I know he likes you personally, but I’d suggest that he doesn’t like your approach. Using TA, what state are you in with him?’

The sales manager realised that, as his state of choice, he was in adult mode most of the time. He commented that he had tried the child state but that hadn’t worked, either.

‘Well, I’m not surprised at that, but, if you’ve tried these two, what’s left?’

Parent? But, he again argued, that would turn the salesman into a child and he surely wouldn’t want that!

‘No, you don’t need to turn him into one, simply treat him as he’d like to be treated. He’s been in the same role now for twelve years and doesn’t want to take on any more responsibility than he’s got, but he likes the buzz of winning. He’s a child. He’s not a parent, despite his age and experience. Makes logical sense to me. So, what do you need to do?’

The sales manager wanted to say be a parent, but this appeared tricky to him, as he wanted to get into the facts, the figures, the performance – the things that really needed to be addressed.

‘Are they really the things that need to be addressed? He was performing well before you took over and now he isn’t. You’ve sat down and gone through facts and figures and, to be honest, it hasn’t worked. Just maybe it is your transaction with him that is impacting upon his performance. Maybe, by changing your approach, you can change his behaviour and performance. What do you think?’

The sales manager looked a little lost so, at this stage, his manager suggested some potential solutions.

‘You want an adult-to-adult meeting and conversation, which is admirable and right, but it’s the starting point we need to change. He likes praise. In TA terms, he is a child. He likes rewards, so, hey, why not praise him, give him a target to reach which you will reward above the company targets, maybe buy him a meal and, during that meal, get into the nitty-gritty that you want to get into? And end on a high.’

The sales manager shrugged, said why not and together they agreed the plan.

To cut a long story short, the new approach worked. The sales manager took the older man for a game of golf, pointed out all the good work he’d done for the company and adopted a parental approach for the first hour of their regular meeting. Then – and only then – did they sit down and talk about sales figures, doing this over lunch. At the end of their meeting, he patted the salesman on the back and told him how much he’d enjoyed this meeting and how he couldn’t wait for the next one.

They kept up their meetings. In six months the salesman moved from bottom of the heap to top again and his manager took him for a game of golf to celebrate.

And the sales manager thanked his manager.

‘No, it wasn’t me. It was down to you and changing your approach,’ he said.