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Keeping Score

by David Brock on January 8th, 2014

I’ve been having a number of conversations that, to be honest, have surprised me a little.  They’ve focused on winning, losing, competing, and accountability.  I suppose I’m really a hardliner on the issue of performance and accountability.

Selling is an outcomes focused profession (frankly, I think most jobs are or should be outcomes focused).  Results count, we are accountable for producing results for our companies and customers.  In the end, we either achieve the results we have committed to achieve or we haven’t.  And we keep score.

We’re measured in the outcomes we produce by quotas, revenue targets, or something similar.  We are committed to achieve the targets that have been assigned–while we may disagree with a quota assignment–by working for the company and accepting a paycheck, we are obligated to meet the goals that have been assigned to us.  There can be no passive aggressive behaviors, “Those SOB’s in corporate don’t get it, I’ll do the best I can, but I don’t buy the quota.”  If you have accepted a job and a paycheck you have a commitment to perform to expectations and meet goals.  If you don’t like it, go some place else.

That doesn’t mean the expectations are fair or realistic.  I’ve been involved in many situations where the expectations have been very unrealistic.  It’s our responsibility, particularly, if we are leaders, to do everything we can to make them realistic, to assure we have plans in place that enable us to be successful.  But in the end, if those expectations prevail, it is our obligation to be 200% committed to their attainment.  We don’t get to opt out and still accept a pay check.  If we feel strongly enough about it, we need to find another job.  By staying on, not being totally committed to achieving the goals, we are doing our colleagues and our employers a disservice.

We sometimes fail to achieve those goals and expectations.  It happens to all of us.  What’s important is understanding why, figuring out what we could have done better, differently, whether the goal was appropriate or not.  We need to develop strategies based on what we’ve learned and move forward.  Without failing, we won’t make progress, we won’t learn, we won’t improve.

Each deal we qualify and choose to compete in, someone wins, someone loses.  The customer selects the solution they believe best enables them to achieve their goals, or chooses to do nothing.  We do the best we possibly can, but someone wins or loses.

If we lose, as all of us do, we need to feel bad and disappointed.  We need to be pissed off–not at the customer, but that for some reason we weren’t able to present what the customer considered to be the best alternative.  But if we lose, the most important part of losing is what we learn from it, how we change and how we improve.  Assigning blame has no place in this analysis.  Blame doesn’t help us improve, it just falsely absolves us of responsibility.

We may have made some mistakes.  Everyone does, we need to learn and improve.  We may have executed perfectly, but there was something about the alternative chosen by the customer that was more compelling.  We need to learn from each of these and assess how we improve.

Being outcomes focused means we don’t get measured on effort.  Trying hard doesn’t count  (I’m feeling a little like Yoda at this point).

Perhaps the most destructive and dysfunctional behaviors I see in organizations aren’t the big things like meeting our goals or winning a deal.  It’s what happens every day in meetings.  It’s not being present or engaged–physically being in the meeting, but spending time on email or with our devices, or having our minds being somewhere else.

Or even worse, it’s not being aligned and committed to the decisions reached in the meeting.  It’s agreeing on the action plan in the meeting, then leaving and doing what we had intended to do anyway.  It’s passive aggressive behaviors that destroy the ability of the organization to execute and achieve it’s shared goals, because we haven’t committed to the outcomes of the meeting.

So, I’m pretty much a hardliner.  We are expected to produce outcomes.  If we are to do this, we have to be totally committed to the achievement of those outcomes.  We have to be aligned within our organizations.  We have to recognize we will fail, but we must learn, improve, re-commit and move forward.

Anything else is a waste of time.

I suspect, these views may not be popular.  I’m looking forward to a spirited discussion in the comments.

This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. I’ve been compensated to contribute to this program, but the opinions expressed in this post are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.

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2 Comments
  1. Absolutely right on all counts, Dave. Well said.

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