How’s Work Going?

Last week a client meeting prompted me to revisit a 2015 Forbes article written by my friend Ken Krogue. It’s full of great insights, and in particular the part of the story that resonates for me right now is the list he shares (provided by Paul Allen, Chief Evangelist at Gallup) of “questions your employees ask themselves.”

At the top of the list is, “Do I know what is expected of me at work?” If most employees are answering, “yeah, sure, pretty much” then that’s what we would have expected; everything’s fine and we can move on. But it has been my experience (as well as a McKinsey finding from several years ago) that an astonishing number of people in the corporate workforce really don’t know what is expected of them. Not only that: They don’t know how they’re doing.

You might think that sales organizations – certainly sales reps – would enjoy complete clarity on this point. They don’t. When I say this to people, they immediately object: Isn’t quota the perfect yardstick? Don’t all salespeople know exactly how they’re doing? Not exactly; quota tells you how you’ve done. Past performance is important, but not as important as present and future performance.

“Do I know what’s expected of me at work?” I would argue that it’s the sales manager’s job to ensure that every member of the team can answer with an unhesitating “yes.”

The following performance management grid, originally developed by my friend Tom Mullholland, provides a basis for organizing your sales team and determining which metrics are appropriate to managing and improving their results. It gives the reps clear expectation and a well-marked path to productivity.

Quadrant 1: Setting clear expectations means spelling out not only the results that are expected but also the behaviors that are appropriate. In sales this can mean levels of customer relationships, account management, relations with peers and managers, planning, and problem solving. These should relate to and be in support of corporate goals and values, leverage best practices, customer demands, and recognize competitive and peer pressures.

Moving to Quadrant 2, feedback is not only a universal driver of performance improvement, it’s the definitive answer to “How am I doing?”

Quadrant 3: If current performance does not equal expected performance is it a system problem or a training problem?

If a rep says, “I can’t,” that’s a training problem. If they say, “Hold it, do you want me to prospect new leads, shepherd this deal through purchasing, or set up the executive level meeting you requested?” that’s a system problem. It’s not that they don’t know how to do the things expected, they simply do not know the order or priority for doing them. This is where sales process and CRM technology contribute and provide the basis for management coaching and mentoring.

Finally we come to Quadrant 4. What happens (good or bad) if I do—or don’t do—what’s expected of me? Surprisingly, the answer is often the same: “Not much.” As long as reps make their number, sales management may be too willing to look the other way with respect to the quality of relationships, history of customer problems, hard feelings among internal team members, and/or unauthorized discounting, to name a few. As the saying goes, “Nobody ever got fired around here for making their number.”

Nobody gets fired for making their number, but too many good people make their number and still move on to a new job, because the recipe for job satisfaction includes other ingredients besides the number. It includes strong, clear answers to the questions, “What’s expected of me?” and “How am I doing?”


Adapted from the whitepaper, Metrics Not Hunches

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