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Are We Too Glib In Talking About Sales Performance Management?

by David Brock on January 27th, 2011

Let me make a confession up front.  I copped out on the title of this post, if I had really been honest and courageous, I would have titled this, “Am I Being Too Glib In Talking About Sales Performance Management?”  If you are a regular follower of this blog, you know I talk about this very frequently, tossing the term out as though it’s easily understood and implemented, if you just do a few simple and logical things.

We all tend to do the same thing, we tend to be glib in talking about it without really talking about IT.  Part of this is necessary, since performance management is a complex topic, we tend to break it up, talking about components in isolation.  It’s easier to talk about things this way.  So we can talk about coaching—the pipeline, deals, sales calls, whatever.  Or we talk about sales process, or we talk about recruiting, hiring, or we talk about strategy, or social selling.  It’s easier to understand and look at components.  We can dive into those deeply, and ignore everything else.

But in the real world, as much as we like, we can’t ignore everything else.  It’s kind of like poking at a balloon or a bowl of jello—when you poke in one place, something pushes out someplace else.  Performance management is really about defining and aligning a number of interrelated and complex elements.  It’s about managing sometimes contradictory things, dealing with ambiguity, uncertainty, and paradox.  It’s about risk.  Performance management cannot be reduced to a formula, no matter how hard we try and whatever sophisticated tools and analysis we can apply.

I think there are some major components impacting performance management that we need to constantly be aware of.

  • First, performance management can only exist in the context of a clearly defined strategy(ies), goals, and priorities.  It’s the leader’s responsibility to define, communicate, and constantly evangelize these.  In determining these, leaders must make choices.  Not only on what the organization will be doing, but what the organization will stop doing.
  • Second, it’s all about people.  The leader must work with their teams to determine what these mean to each individual in the organization. Do we have the right people in place?  What is their role?  What are their responsibilities?  How do they contribute and the importance of their contribution (remember, for the loss of a horseshoe, a kingdom was lost)   What are the expected behaviors?  How will they be measured and evaluated?  What’s in it for them (and it can’t just be a job)?
  • Third, we have to put in place the structures, processes, tools to enable our people to effectively and efficiently execute our strategies and achieve the goals we have established.  Do we have the right organizational structure to achieve our goals, are the organizations we need to support us and those we need to support in place? Do we have the processes defined to support everyone doing the their jobs as best possible—are those processes based on our best experience, do they work?  Do we have the systems and tools we need to execute with precision?
  • Fourth, we need to communicate, train, coach, evangelize, communicate, train, coach, evangelize……..  No, it’s not a typo, we must constantly work with our people to make certain they understand what needs to be done, to help them understand what high performance is, to support them in achieving those high levels of performance.  It’s never done.
  • Fifth, we must measure, adjust, recognize, reward.  We tend to forget this part.  Sure we have measures in place, usually it’s quota, but we need more metrics, forward looking metrics to help us understand when things may be going off course so that we can correct them.  Metrics that have meaning to each person and their role.  Then the big part–recognizing and rewarding.  Finding people doing things right, recognizing that, sometimes privately, often publicly.  Rewarding–not just monetarily.  These are critical in reinforcing and moving forward.
  • Six, aligning and adjusting.  As I’ve discussed, each of these things, by themselves, is difficult.  Taken together, they become very complex,  Keeping everything in alignment, tuning and adjusting so each component meshes smoothly with the other.  Recognizing that when one of these changes, it has the potential of impacting everything else.
  • Seven, going back and doing it all over.  The process never ends.

So all these things work together, as leaders we have to make sure it all “hangs together” and fits.  If we want to drive the highest levels of performance in the organization, we have to optimize all simultaneously.  But it’s more complicated than what I’ve described.  In the ideal world (as we often create in blogs), we get to execute steps 1-7 in sequence.  In reality, we never get to start at one then go through 7.  Sometimes we have to start at 2, so we have to build everything based on that.  Sometimes, we have restrictions in 3 – there are limitations on the processes, tools, systems, and structures–so we have to adjust everything else based on these constraints.

In reality, sometimes we don’t have everything we need.  Resources, funding, people, time.  We have to do the best with what we have.  We have to adjust everything based on what we can afford, or what we have available to us.

But it get tougher.  we can’t press “pause,” stop everything that is happening in the organization, with our customers, in our markets, with our competition.  We can’ t stop the world, put everything in place then start again.  We have to do all these things while moving at 200 mph (333 kph for my metric friends).  We optimize performance in a dynamic world–things are changing requiring continual adjustment and retuning.

This level of complexity is difficult to manage.  To survive, we focus on different components, work on those.  Then we look at the next.  It makes sense, we have to find ways of dealing with the complexity or we do nothing–which is unacceptable.  It’s just important, that while we are dealing with one set of issues, we need to be conscious of the other impacts.  We can never achieve perfection, sometimes just good enough is all we can achieve.  But we can never stop improving.  Continuous improvement has to be the mantra of every leader.

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2 Comments
  1. Yes David, continued improvement and the ability to measure improvement are essential. The recognition that we never reach performance nirvana and never will, but only brush the summit occasionally, is a driving force for me – optimistically of course.

    “Take away my factories, but leave my people and soon we will have a new and better factory.” Andrew Carnegie was an expert at “communicate, train, coach, evangelize, communicate, train, coach, evangelize…”

    Your post makes performance management a package we can get are arms around.

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