ImageMy Journey with Norwex

2010 was a year charged with change.  My husband had accepted a job working for a school district in Wisconsin and we would be closing the computer business we had owned and operated for the previous 10 years.  This would require a five month transition process of our family living between two households in two states.  While I remained in Minnesota to close our business, my husband would start his new job and rehabilitate our new home in Wisconsin.

I had begun applying for jobs in Wisconsin starting in the fall of 2009.  The recession was in full swing and jobs were scarce.  I was fortunate to land an interview with each company for which I had applied, but could not secure a position.  As our transition time approached I began to feel uncertain about how I was going to financially contribute to this enormous journey our family was about to embark.  This is when I was introduced to a direct sales company that was relatively new to the United States, Norwex.

This was not my first encounter with network marketing.  Shortly after graduating from college, I had worked as an Avon sales representative.  I enjoyed meeting new people and making connections, as well as the freedom that came with being self-employed.  However I didn’t have the same passion for cosmetic sales as I had for my field in the performing arts, and there was no sense of purpose linked with the products I was sharing with my friends and family.  It did not take long for me to move on to where my passion resided – on the stage.  I did not see myself working in network marketing again.

            Perhaps the timing and circumstances were right, but when I was introduced to Norwex at a home party it seemed the perfect fit.  The Norwex mission is to improve the quality of life by radically reducing the use of chemicals in personal care and cleaning (Norwex, 2012, p. 8).  The company’s mission statement resonated with the 2010 Franciscan Living Challenge to clean green, which I had been called to focus on as an affiliate of the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration.  I was also impressed to learn the company’s core values were integrity, trust, and respect.  With an ideology to “strive to improve quality of life rather than standard of living” (Norwex, 2012, p.5) this multi-level marketing (MLM) company was obviously working from a different paradigm than any other direct sales company I had encountered.

For the last two and a half years I have been a part of the Norwex team as an independent sales consultant and during that time I have shared the Norwex mission with hundreds of people.  I have gathered other like minded people to my sales team, advancing to the team coordinator level, and am poised to advance to the sales leader level should I be able to support my team in achieving consistent sales.  Additionally, as I had hoped, I was able to financially contribute to my family’s move to Wisconsin.

One of the Norwex sales mottos is “Part-time, Full-time, Big-time!” (2012, website).  It was never my goal to go “big-time” with Norwex.  I simply wanted to use it as a career bridge from Minnesota to whatever was in store for me in Wisconsin.  At times it was a full-time endeavor, and as of late it has become very part-time as I work toward my graduate degree.  I had been intending to “phase out” my Norwex business as I move on to the new opportunities lying ahead of me after graduate school; however I am finding it difficult to do so because of the amazing connections I am making in my studies between servant leadership, ethical organizations, and network marketing.  This is particularly so with Norwex because of the unique purpose they have claimed for their company and its consultants.

I believe the next opportunity lying ahead of me is as a business consultant to network marketing companies in building the foundations of ethical leadership within their organizations by emerging servant leaders on multiple levels through structured training and mentor/coaching.  Following is an outline of how this training process would look.  My intent is to provide a basic overview, not a detailed outline, of how I would implement such a program.  I will use specific references to how this training could be applied to my Norwex team for illustrative purposes.

 

Building the Foundations of Ethical Leadership within a Networking Marketing Organization

            C.S. Lewis writes, “every time you make a choice you are turning the central part of you, the part of you that chooses, into something a little different from what it was before.  And taking your life as a whole, with all you innumerable choices, all your life long you are slowly turning this central thing either into a heavenly creature or into a hellish creature … Each of us at each moment is progressing to the one state or the other” (as cited in Hunter, 2004, p. 125).

In order to build the foundations of ethical leadership within an organization you must support as many people as possible in turning into “heavenly creatures”.  In terms of servant leadership, this is necessary on multiple levels – not just among ranking leadership – in order to create an ethics-based culture.  Because “the servant-leader is servant first” (Greenleaf, 2008, p. 15) and everyone has the ability to serve, all members within an organization have the capacity to lead.  In order to develop a strong servant led culture within a business, every person needs to accept their responsibility to support one another in achievement and ethical decision making.  The first goal of a quality leadership training program should be to provide each team member with basic servant leadership and ethical decision making concepts.

According to Jim Hunter (2004, p. 174) in his three-step leadership improvement process, the first training session should focus on identifying the standard and setting the bar for quality leadership, as well as provide a general orientation to the training program in its entirety.  In order to provide a good foundation for ongoing training, I would cover an overview of leadership styles, an introduction to servant leadership, the basics of virtue ethics and the Four Way Method to Ethical Decision Making, and a synopsis of the ongoing improvement process.

Everyone has a different idea of what it means to be a leader and, more importantly, what it takes to be an effective leader.  A quick survey of the Internet brought up at least seven commonly identified leadership styles, and an Amazon.com search of “leadership books” brought up a staggering 89,079 results!  I would begin the session with personal introductions and welcoming exercises followed by an exploration into the training group’s current understanding of leadership.  This will enable us to gather a diverse understanding of leadership and focus it towards what I identify as the way to authentic leadership – servant leadership.

Prior to this first training session, I would have the group read Robert K. Greenleaf’s essay, The Servant as Leader.  At this training session, I would introduce the basics of servant leadership as outlined in the essay, and apply Greenleaf’s servant leader test to discover the servant leaders in our lives.  This discussion will lead to the understanding that everyone has the potential to be a leader in their own circles of influence, regardless of their current role or position, including within a network marketing company.  With leadership comes responsibility and if everyone is a leader in their own right, then we are all bound to ethical behavior in an ethics-centered organization.

There was a time when business and ethics were thought to be mutually exclusive.  In recent years, scandals involving Enron and the banking industry have proven the need for business to be inclusive of ethical thinking in decision making.  This would be the focus of the next part of the first training session.  We would take the MLM’s existing mission and vision statements, core values, ideology, and goals and discuss them in terms of the virtues they support.  For instance, the Norwex (2012, p. 6-7) core values are integrity, trust, and respect.  Hunter (2004, p. 90-109) identifies these virtues as essential traits to effective leadership. I would lead a discussion defining these virtues and how they can be lived out in our Norwex businesses.  I would also introduce Dr. Richard Kyte’s (2012) Four-Way Method to Ethical Decision Making and give the group an opportunity to apply it to a real life ethical dilemma or one from the business fiction anthology, Minding the Store (Coles & LaFarge, Eds., 2008).  These practical exercises will help lift away the awe and mystique surrounding ethics and present ethical thinking in a tangible manner.

The final part of the first training session would be preparation for the ongoing leadership improvement process.  I would wrap up by introducing the concepts of authenticity, purpose, and community, and how these are expressed through our work in the network marketing organization.  I would also emphasize the necessity for continuous honing of leadership skills through feedback in a group setting and friction with a mentor/coach to provide for accountability.  This is the process of the emerging servant leader.

 

Emerging Multi-Level Servant Leaders

Once the foundations of ethical leadership are built on the hearts and in the minds of a network marketing team, we can begin the work of emerging servant leaders throughout the organization, at whatever leadership level a consultant is positioned.  Hunter (2004) recommends the second step in the leadership improvement process “require participants to clearly understand their personal deviations from the high standard of servant leadership and their current leadership skills.  Simply put, we must identify the gaps between the set standard and current performance” (p. 174).   The second leadership training session for MLM teams would focus on discovering authentic self, defining purpose, and working within the context of abundant community.

We would begin with an exploration into authentic self, who we truly are as opposed to who we think we are or how others identify us.  The discovery of true self is an ongoing, never-ending process that will not be accomplished during a single training session.  The objective here would be to introduce the notion of authenticity through an exploration of strengths.  Through a variety of reflection exercises we would compare our perceived talents to the strengths others see in us, enabling us to identify the gifts we possess for further development. 

Once our strengths have been identified we can begin to explore how they can be best utilized within the context of the organization through discussion and assessment tools. Using myself to illustrate the objective, my top five strengths according StrengthsFinder 2.0 are connectedness, input, ideation, responsibility, and adaptability.  When I use my strengths together I am at my best, fulfilling my purpose.  Specifically, it is when I help others connect their talents, actions, and mission to enhance achievement.  I do this by researching information and sharing it with others, and I communicate this information best through presentations and written work.  In the context of my direct sales organization, this means that I may not be the best sales consultant or a great recruiter, but I do have the ability to motivate and train others to reach their full potentials as sales consultants and team leaders within my organization.  This is how I would best contribute my talents to the common good of the organization.

The final part of this second training session would focus on abundant community.  An abundant community is characterized by people of like-mind coming together to share their gifts and offer hospitality (McKnight & Block, 2012, p. 119).  This definition could also be used to describe a healthy network marketing organization such as Norwex.  When looking at the Norwex (2012) ideology, I can see people are attracted to the company because they share an “ecological approach that considers all living species and nature are interdependent” (p. 4), those who believe “we must find a way to provide for the needs of the present, without sacrificing future generations” (p.4), and those who care about the health implications of using chemical cleaners in the home (p. 5).  In terms of hospitality, it is a hallmark of the network marketing sales experience.  The bulk of sales are done through home parties where a hostess invites the consultant and her guests to come together around refreshments.  I would use this training time to explore the unique qualities of the MLM community and how each individual resonates with the association, as well as the important place hospitality holds in a servant led culture.  Abundant community is about people fulfilling their purposes together in order to affect positive change in the world.  We would conclude the second training session with the group brainstorming ways our teams could become actively involved in the company mission.

The group training sessions do not end here.  Hunter recommends quarterly training on a variety of foundational and leadership mastery topics as a catalyst for the third step of the leadership improvement process.

 

The Importance of Leadership Coaching on the Direct Sales Team

The final step in Hunter’s leadership improvement process centers on accountability.  He writes:

In order to create friction – a healthy tension, if you prefer – it is important for people to become convinced that the top leadership if fully committed to the process and is expecting to see continuous improvement in the form of growth and behavior change (Hunter, 2012, p. 176)

Hunter goes on to detail a friction process that includes meetings with continuous improvement panels, sharing SMART goals with peers and subordinates, and monthly small group meetings.  While this methodology works well in the context of a traditional business structure, it is not practical for the unique business structure of an MLM.  Each consultant is an independent contractor working out of their own home.  Sales teams may get together on a monthly basis and leaders may make support calls to their downline consultants, but there is no formal accountability structure built into the direct sales business.

            This is where I envision leadership coaching and mentorship playing a vital role in providing the accountability needed to catalyze growth.  It is important for each individual sales consultant and team leader to have a relationship with a mentor/coach with whom they can discuss their gaps and goals for self-improvement.  Hunter (2012, p. 178) recommends an ongoing training session occur immediately prior to accountability sessions for this reason.  Besides being a companion along the journey, a mentor/coach can be a general business resource as well as a challenger to put into practice the concepts being learned through training.

In terms of the leadership improvement training program I would like to develop, I would offer individual coaching sessions in person or over the phone in conjunction with the regular program as a way to support leadership development and growth within the sales team.

 

Conclusion

Where do I go from here?  I have a growing Norwex sales team of my own along with the beginnings of a solid leadership training program, and many connections within the direct sales industry.  My first goal is to develop the foundational training session this fall.  I plan to pilot the program with my Norwex team and another local team in an effort to work out the kinks.  If the pilot program is well received it is my hope the Norwex head office will hire me to offer webinar training sessions so the entire organization can have access to this valuable tool.  Once the program is solid I also hope to offer it to other network marketing companies through webinars, regional meetings, and conferences.

This is my contribution to Norwex and the direct sales industry.  The time is right to shift training focus from the microcosm of booking parties and recruiting to macrocosmic thinking which leads to widespread success.  I have already begun to feel the ripples of servant and ethical leadership positively affect all areas of my life since beginning my studies three months ago.  I want to share the abundance with all my communities, including Norwex.

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