Researchers in Kansas State University’s College of Business Administration have found salespeople with close relationships to their coworkers are more likely to work harder.
Marketing professors Edward Nowlin and Doug Walker researched relationships between coworkers in the sales industry, specifically by analyzing salespeople who work in business-to-business sales, to see which circumstances positively impact job performance.
To analyze their research, Nowlin and Walker applied five terms to the relationships. The professors looked at the “connectedness” between coworkers—or how well they fit into the work environment—as well as “internal volatility,” which measured the frequency of workplace changes. Frequent management changes meant high internal volatility, and a stable work environment meant low volatility.
The professors also considered “strategic implementation effectiveness”—the application of strategy to sales work—”selling effort” and “performance.”
The researchers found that in situations of low internal volatility, connectedness increased workers’ sales efforts, which positively impacted their job performances.
In other words, salespeople worked harder because they did not want to disappoint their coworkers, the researchers said.
In situations of high internal volatility, the researchers found that workers without consistent managerial direction relied on coworker relationships more frequently to implement sales strategy, positively impacting job performance.
Both researchers said they were not surprised by the results.
“We figured that isolation is the opposite of connectedness, which hurts job performance,” Walker said, “Therefore connectedness should help your performance.”
The surprise was finding that low volatility leads to selling effort and high volatility leads to strategic implementation effectiveness; there’s virtually no overlap of the two.
“(It’s) like a light switch,” Nowlin said. “It’s something that I had never before seen in my career.”
Although the research studied relationships in sales, the lessons learned from the results could be applied in different settings, such as college classrooms.
“A classroom is usually a low volatility situation,” Nowlin said, “so if you aren’t doing well and your classmates say, ‘Hey man, you need to pick it up, study more,’ you are more likely to do so if you are close with them and care what they think. That studying would then help your grade.”
Jacob Leikam, freshman in entrepreneurship, said he thought close relationships would negatively impact effort.
“If I’m very good friends with my coworkers I will enjoy coming into work, but might be easily distracted,” Leikam said.
While the study provides an idea for how to improve job performance, it is not a one-step solution, Nowlin said.
“It isn’t an ‘A’ equals ‘C’ situation,” Nowlin said, “It’s more of an ‘A’ equals ‘B,’ which equals ‘C.’ It’s important to understand how you get from one spot to the other and the changes that happen there.”