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What’s Your Approach To Managing Performance?

by David Brock on September 11th, 2011

As leaders and sales managers, a key aspect of our jobs is to manage performance.  I find lots of different approaches people use, but at the core the approaches tend to reflect two completely different views of performance.  (Stuart Cross has an interesting perspective, looking at 4 views–we’re actually not far apart, I’d encourage you to watch his short video on this.)

I find managers who are problem solving oriented and others who are developmental oriented.

The problem solving oriented manager is focused on today’s performance issues and addressing them.  They look for shortcomings in current performance—someone not making their number, a person not making the right number of calls, a person needing sales skills development, enabling them to close more business.  They focus on addressing today’s specific issues and crises.   Their goal is to find and eliminate today’s problems.

Some of these problem solving oriented managers are terrible in their approaches—they don’t coach, they tell.  They berate the individual, sometimes telling them to shape up or ship out.  Other problem solving oriented managers can be very good coaches.  They sit with their people, seek to understand the challenges people are having, and work to solve or eliminate problems.  They work with each person on their team, knocking off each problem as it comes up.

There’s another approach some managers take to performance management, it’s a developmental approach.  These managers take a slightly different perspective of performance management.  Their focuse is not just on today’s issues–though that provides a foundation, but rather on developing the person to achieve their full potential — both in their current role and in future roles.  They actively look to develop the capabilities of their people so they can step into bigger roles, take on more responsibility.  Managers focused on a developmental approach to performance management seek to avoid problems in the future.  They try to find ways of coaching the person, getting them to develop themselves, to stretch, to learn, to grow.

Developmental managers are not just concerned about their peoples’ performances today, they want to see them reach their full potential–contributing in greater ways to the organization and to their own attainment.  They have a proactive approach to performance management–not only focused on great performance today, but sustaining and improving that performance over time. 

What kind of manager are you?  How do you manage performance?  Do you focus on today’s problems and address only the performance issues of your people today?  Do you look at today, and tomorrow?  Do you help your people identify and avoid problems?  Are you focused on helping them achieve their full potential–both for themselves and for the organization?

  1. Dave, are these styles black and white or is there a blending of the two types? Sometimes, for the sake of development, framing the daily picture within the big picture, long view is neccesary. Very often it’s many little faults that add up to performance failure. Don’t you think?

    • Gary, as you might guess, nothing is ever black and white. There are always shades of grey–the approach should be appropriate for the situation. Also, there’s an implication in your comment about focusing on faults — kind of the problem solving approach. The think I like about developmental approaches to performance management is that it can be used to improve performance of good performers as well as bad performers.

      Sometimes we tend to focus too much on bad performance (the problem solving bias), we miss the opportunity to take great perfoermers and have them make even better contributions. For example, we might take a good sales person, start coaching them to be prepared to step into a management role. That’s a key element of the developmental approach to coaching. Thanks for your comments Gary—as always you provoke even more discussion.

  2. Whether you are solving problems and or developing individual sales reps, if they feel that you genuinely have their best interests at heart, your sales reps will be more inclined to receive the coaching and take the constructive criticism sometimes required in addressing sales problems.

    The key here is that you need to be altruistic enough to really put their individual success ahead of your own personal success. If you do this with all the members of your sales team and they believe in you, they will put in the effort required to be successful and you will ultimately be successful your self…and for the long term.

    • Dave, thanks for the comment. I think i agree with most of what you say, but might position some things a little differently. First, performance management is probably the primary reason sales manager’s exist. Their goal is to maximize the ability of their teams to reach the goals. Being somewhat crass, coaching and managing performance has little to do with altruism, though genuinely being interested in the succcess of your sales reps is critical to your effectiveness in managing performance. Without getting each person on the team performiing to the highest levels, without addressing non performance issues, it is impossible for the manager to fulfill his/her responsibilities to the organization (and to their teams).

      One of the problems I see with “managers” who don’t understand performance management, is they end up trying to do it all themselves—they micromanage, they try to do all the deals, etc. This is impossible to do over time, these “managers” ultimately fail.

      So I tend to agree with your views, great managers are genuinely interested in the success of hteir people, likewise, people have to be open and willing to be coached. I just struggle with the altruism part of the discussion.

      I really appreciate your ideas and contribution. Hope to see you here frequently!

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