Performance Management

Apr 6, 2021

As leaders, our jobs are to maximize the performance of each individual and the organization. But, too often, we don’t take the time to really understand performance and what drives good/bad performance.

Instead, we manage by the numbers or dashboards. If the numbers aren’t measuring up, we take action. It may be going to people saying things to the effect of, “You aren’t making your numbers, do more!” Or what we are doing isn’t working, so we do something else. Perhaps we read a blog post or attended a webcast where some guru offered a miracle cure: “If you just do this, all your problems will be solved…” Or we just change to anything, thinking doing something different will have an impact. Or we churn our people, firing people that aren’t hitting their targets, replacing them with someone else.

Generally, we have our canned responses to addressing performance issues. They are:

  1. Do more!

  2. Do something different, try this new thing!

  3. Change the people!

Sometimes those approaches work, but seldom are sustainable. And the data shows us this. We have declining percentages of salespeople achieving plan. We have declining job tenure at all levels – trending to less than 16 months. We have skyrocketing turnover/attrition. We are spending at higher levels for tools, programs, and training, yet not seeing the results, so we invest in new tools, programs, training.

So how do we identify and address performance issues? How do we get things back on track?

First, on any performance issue, individual or organizational, we have to get below the numbers. The numbers just tell us something isn’t working, they don’t tell us why things aren’t working. We have to drill down to understand why we aren’t getting the performance we had expected.

If we don’t do that, the strategies of “do more, do different, change people,” are just wild guesses and won’t drive sustainable performance improvement. In fact they could hurt us more!

Then as we look at performance problems, there are generally two categories of performance issues: Individual performance problems, organizational performance failures.

How do we address individual performance problems? The issues are different with each person. As managers it’s our job to drill down and diagnose them, then help the individual fix them.

There are a number of categories of individual performance issues:

  1. The wrong person. This is less a failure of the individual and more one of management. We’ve made a hiring error. Having disciplined hiring processes, strong onboarding, and ongoing coaching/development should minimize or even eliminate these.

  2. They don’t understand their job or performance expectations. Too often, we hire them, take them through some level of training, then say, “Here’s your territory/accounts, here’s your quota, go off and conquer.” Managers are accountable for making sure they have real clarity around the expectations. This is not just what the number is, it’s how we get things done, how we want to present ourselves to the customer, how we win, how we work with each other, where to get help, and so on. Sales enablement supports managers in doing this, but managers must continually reinforce this in their coaching sessions. Where this goes most off track is when the organization is going through major change activity. People may not understand the changes and what they mean for how they do the job. They may not understand what they should change, what they should be doing, what they should stop doing. Management needs to coach and teach by example. Again, sales enablement can support management.

  3. They have skills problems, and they aren’t leveraging the tools, systems, processes, and programs effectively. This is probably the most common individual performance issue. And every salesperson, at many points in their careers face these, even top performers. Here, managers must diagnose and understand the specific issues. Then they must work with the sales person helping them understand the issue and its impact on performance, coaching them on how they might change and improve, then agreeing on next steps.

  4. They have attitude problems. Attitude problems are toxic. Usually they are manifested by people who are uncoachable. It’s the manager’s job to help the person understand the impact of their attitude on the rest of the organization and on their performance. If they don’t change, they probably need to be moved.

“No human being is good by themselves, we need each other to achieve the highest levels of performance and our potential.” If we expect the performance of our people to change, it is management’s responsibility to help them understand, learn, and improve. (Thanks Simon Sinek for allowing me to adapt your quote.)

But there is another category of performance issues, and these are more catastrophic. The poor performance of any individual is not likely to have a huge impact on overall organizational performance.

But systemic performance issues impact the performance of many people in the organization, and the organization, as a whole. While we see these performance issues in individuals, we see the same things across many people and many parts of the organization.

These systemic performance issues are less issues of individuals and more issues of management and leadership. They can be caused by anything: lack of consistent/disciplined execution of the sales process, ineffective engagement strategies, targeting the wrong people/organizations, inconsistent communication of the value proposition – or no value proposition and on and on. They may sometimes be problems outside sales for example, product/product fit, customer service, and other problems.

Sometimes, particularly with weak management teams, they don’t recognize these systemic performance issues. Instead, they think it is on the individuals and start churning the sales organization – never identifying and diagnosing the real issues, and most likely going down a death spiral of performance. Usually, I don’t get involved with these managers. I am usually dealing with their successors.

Systemic performance issues have to be addressed with a high sense of urgency because of their organization-wide impact. Inevitably, these problems are very complex. They are never answered by “do more”, miracle cures, or “change the people”.

Systemic performance issues are the result of mistakes or wrong assumptions we have made as a management team. We have to acknowledge that and immediately begin to address them. We seldom solve these alone, we seldom can diagnose them and get to the root problems by ourselves – again, these are usually complex problems. We need to engage our teams, working together, leveraging our collective experience to diagnose and begin to develop and implement solutions to these systemic performance issues.

The solutions to these usually involve significant change-management challenges. We have to be attentive to those challenges, making sure we are achieving what we want, not compounding the problems that we are trying to solve.

As we look at individual and organizational performance issues, the common denominator is management. Too often, bad managers blame these on their people, but the reality is they persist because managers aren’t doing the things critical to addressing these issues.

And that’s a performance problem.

by David Brock