A Stunning Display of Poor Leadership

A Stunning Display of Poor Leadership

The article is titled “Oracle Blames New Sales People for Missing Targets.”

“What we really saw was the lack of urgency we sometimes see in the sales force, as Q3 deals fall into Q4,” Chief Financial officer Safra Catz told analysts on a conference call. “Since we’ve been adding literally thousands of new sales reps around the world, the problem was largely sales execution, especially with the new reps as they ran out of runway in Q3.” CNBC

“A good leader is a person who takes a little more than his share of the blame and a little less than his share of the credit.” — John C. Maxwell

I am certain that the sales force missed their targets; it’s right there in the numbers. I am certain too that the new salespeople didn’t put up the numbers that they will put up when they’ve had more time to build relationships, to build a pipeline of opportunities, and to become fully productive salespeople. Oracle is no slouch when it comes to running a sales organization and putting up numbers.

A Great Leader Owns the Failure

My experience tells me that the deals didn’t slip from Q3 to Q4 due to a lack of urgency on the part of the new sales force. My experience tells me that those deals should never have been forecast for Q3 in the first place.

My experience also tells me that the statement above is an enormous leadership mistake.

If the sales force failed to put up the number, it’s leadership that is to blame. Who’s plan was it that the sales force was executing against? Who had the power to question the plan to reach the number with 3,000 new salespeople? Who hired the sales force? Who trained the sales force? Who managed the sales force? Who had the power and the resources to do something to change the outcome?

Each individual salesperson is responsible for making their number. But leadership is responsible when the whole company doesn’t make their number.

Confidence in Failure

Ms. Catz made a mistake as a leader. She should have stepped up and taken responsibility for the failure; she owns it. She might have said, “I overestimated the impact our new sales force could make in this short of time.” If she wanted a different outcome than the one I imagine she is getting from the sales force now, she might also have said, “I am confident in my team, and I have the utmost confidence in our new sales force. This is an excellent group, and they will succeed like the rest of the Oracle sales force. I should have given them more time.”

We have confidence in leaders that admit their failures and take responsibility. The fact that they are willing to be accountable is part of what makes a great leader. We lack confidence in leaders that blame others and make excuses. It reeks of a failure to be held accountable … “It wasn’t my fault; it was the sales force.”

I might remedy this mistake as publicly as I made it. I’d want my sales force to know that I believed in them. And if they really showed a lack of urgency (doubtful), I’d do something about it.


When an organization fails, is it the fault of the employees or leadership?

Who is accountable for the failure?

If the organization needs to change to reach their goals, who has the power to make those changes?

Can the individual be responsible for their failure and leadership responsible for the organization’s failure?



  • Jay Oza

    Why couldn’t the problem be that they didn’t meet the needs of their customer base? The problem is much deeper than new sales people. I am not sure if this even true, but if it is I am sure they were mostly inside sales people. I hear the ratio if inside to outside is growing.

    Also, cloud has changed the game and Oracle is kind of late at the dance and their margins are being squeezed. They have a problem with their business model. If they fix it, I think the margin problem will still remain.

    • http://www.thesalesblog.com S. Anthony Iannarino

      I believe missed numbers are always multi-factorial, Jay. But this post was about the leadership lesson more than the missed numbers.

  • http://twitter.com/CoachLee Leanne HoaglandSmith

    Failure within an organization begins at the top as you noted Anthony. One may have the best salespeople or other employees but if the executive leadership has misalignment between strategies, structure, processes, rewards and people the results will be less than desirable. I wonder if this is a reflection of our overall culture where personal responsibility appears to be lacking from the top down?

  • http://twitter.com/txglennross Glenn Ross

    I fully agree. Obviously, she’s not a “people” person. On several levels.

  • http://twitter.com/MrCommissions Nick Moreno

    You hit the nail on the head!
    Sounds like a leadership and training issue to me.

  • http://twitter.com/CharlesHGreen Charles H. Green

    Interesting point, Anthony. It made me think, “If I were a salesman at Oracle, how would I feel?” Hmm… let’s see….

    How would I feel if my company badly missed its projections to Wall Street (in a time of slack demand and lowered spending by government units), and the CFO chose to publicly blame – the salesforce.

    Worse yet, to be characterized as chronic malingerers: quoting from the article you reference, “What we really saw was the lack of urgency we sometimes see in the sales force.”

    It’s one thing to be thrown under the bus. It’s another to be blamed by a CFO for failure to meet a financial target the CFO had forecasted to Wall Street; and it’s still another to be denigrated by said CFO (who most likely knows little of selling) as morally prone to slacker-itis.

    If I were sales leadership at Oracle, I’d be livid. I’d be struggling with blood pressure problems as I weighed the need to be a good corporate citizen and back my CFO, against being perceived as a complete sellout and turncoat to my sales team. It wouldn’t surprise me to see a resignation or two, or some internal blowups. And I’m sure CFO Catz will hear an urgent thing or twenty from the folks who showed “a lack of urgency.”

    Public humiliation of the folks from another department at one’s own company? In a lot of companies (though probably not at Larry Ellison’s) that would be cause for dismissal. It’s bush-league blame-throwing, and bad for morale.

    Poor leadership? You betcha it is.

    • http://www.thesalesblog.com S. Anthony Iannarino

      I’d be livid if I were in sales leaderships. But I might be something more than that if I was a newly-hired salesperson. One can hope she addressed them directly after this story broke.

  • http://www.smartsellingtools.com/ sellingtools

    Wow, in my view, she gave the financial analysts some real cause for concern while she was throwing others under the bus – I mean – while she was explaining why she was off in her guidance. When she says “What we really saw was the lack of urgency WE SOMETIMES SEE IN THE SALES FORCE.” – it makes it even worse implying that this isn’t unusual. So let’s see, you gave poor guidance to the markets but not only that, you don’t have faith in your sales team.

    Now, I’m not a financial analyst, but if I were, I would wonder whether Ms. Catz let the cat out of the bag – that there are issues with the sales organization that are negatively affecting Oracles ability to compete. My first and perhaps only question would be “What are you doing to solve the Sales problem at Oracle.”

    • http://www.thesalesblog.com S. Anthony Iannarino

      Thanks, Nancy. I always believe missed numbers are multi-factorial. I think she could have addressed the issue in a way that demonstrated leadership’s accountability and created a sense of urgency–without causing damage to the sales force.

  • http://www.arielmarketinggroup.com/ Amy McCloskey Tobin

    When my old company began to fail in a HUGE way, many people were let go, and eventually the President and Exec. VP who WERE responsible for the massive change in direction that led to the company’s decline. The Exec VP still, to this day, repeats the mantra “If only the sales people had bought in and shown a sense of urgency.” Reminds me of Ms Catz.

    • http://www.thesalesblog.com S. Anthony Iannarino

      If only . . .

  • http://www.websitedoctor.com/ Alastair McDermott

    The solution (blame someone else) is far worse than the problem (the bad numbers). Incredibly bad leadership to make that statement without considering the knock-on effect on morale and how it’s perceived externally.

    • http://www.thesalesblog.com S. Anthony Iannarino

      That’s exactly how I felt when I read it, Alastair. Oracle is a tough sales organization though. They’ll bounce off of this.