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Whose Performance Problem Is It?

by David Brock on June 17th, 2015
Business accusations

A while back I was involved in a discussion about performance.  For some reason, a specific individual had drawn the attention and ire of a top executive—rather an account that individual was responsible for was drawing the ire of the executive.

The issue was real, the account–a major channel partner–wasn’t performing, in fact it was creating problems for my client.

It’s reasonable to hold the sales person accountable for addressing this issue.  The sales person may have needed support in addressing the issue, but it is the sales person’s responsibility to manage the relationship, manage the shared expectations, and help the channel partner meet these shared expectations.

However, the problem was not that simple.

The sales person did not know his and the account’s performance weren’t meeting expectations.  The sales person was “managing” the account.  It was producing the expected amount of revenue, but there were other issues making the relationship with this particular partner very difficult.

After looking into the situation, it became clear the sales person didn’t understand management’s expectations in managing the relationship.  He’d been focused on the number, since he was making the number he thought he was performing well.

Somehow, there had been a disconnect between this individual and his management–the whole management chain.  Over time, expectations of channel partners had changed, yet those expectations had not been translated into specific performance expectations for the sales person.

While the sales person wasn’t meeting top management’s expectations, it really wasn’t his fault.

It’s not an uncommon problem.  Too often, managers aren’t having the right discussions with their people.  Managers aren’t being explicit in defining expectations and setting goals for their people.  Conversations are held in the abstract, passing comments are made, suggestions are made, but these aren’t translated into specific expectations for sales people.

Too often, things change over time.  Expectations evolve as business conditions change.  What we may have defined well several years ago has evolved and changed.  We think our people have somehow changed, as well.  But until we have the explicit conversations setting goals and metrics, it’s unfair to expect our people to change.

We can’t expect our people to read our minds, intuiting what is expected.  We need to sit down periodically to review performance expectations, we need to make sure our people are on the same page as us.

It’s not their performance problem if they don’t know–that’s our performance issue.

It doesn’t become their performance issue until they clearly understand.  Even then, we need to continue to reinforce the priorities, coach them on what high performance is, and support them when they need help.

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  1. PJ Murphy permalink

    David – very good article and one that I can relate to on both sides of the spectrum. While management makes decisions within the boardroom they must articulate the changing expectations and vision of the company. It’s not unlike a growing family where the kids are getting older and things change – expectations are different. To your point these have to be communicated and expectations on both sides need to be adjusted.

    • Thanks PJ–like you I’ve been on both sides of this, it’s critical we clearly communicate expectations to our people. Likewise, it’s critical we sit down with our managers (sometimes we have to force them) to make sure we understand their expectations of us. Thanks for the great comment.

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