Managing Employee Performance Variability

In case you missed it, here’s an re-post of my article that appeared this week in Plastics Technology as well as other publications in the Gardner Business Media family.

Less than a year after Steve Jobs’ exit, the iPhone 5 rolled out with a defective maps application. Apple stumbled. The map fiasco wasn’t a technical problem, process breakdown or the result of a natural disaster. Simply, it was an error in human judgment.

There’s No Escape from Natural Cycles

Companies experience numerous life cycles over the duration of their existence. The manager’s job is to propel the company upward in the cycle (ascent) while preventing the early onset of decay (descent).

Declines in organizational performance can be precipitated by poor quality, no sales, product obsolescence, poor decision making, cost overruns, inefficiencies and/or a combination of these factors; but, invariably, the root cause is almost always people. The probability and frequency of performance failures increase with head count. Managers in big companies likely spend more time and energy forestalling descent and too little time fueling ascent.

Murphy’s Law

Entropy is “a process of degradation or running down or a trend to disorder.” Innovation, risk taking and vision are critical for success, but managers who are exceptionally proficient at managing variability and building fire walls that inhibit entropy thrive. We non-scientists call this “Murphy’s Law.” Well, Murphy only shows up where’s he’s invited.

While seldom malicious, entropy is insidious. It starts with an unmotivated or untrained employee; a salesman who can’t ask for the order or hold margin; a trusted associate who bottlenecks workflow and succumbs to time pressure; a key manager who avoids or takes too long to make important decisions or who takes on too much work because he/she can’t or won’t delegate. It can be the likeable supervisor who refuses to enforce work rules on the shop floor to avoid confrontation.

Is this a too negative view of how things work? How did you spend your time and energy last week? Were you able to concentrate most of it making forward progress or just kept from sliding back? Our experience tells us that managers who spend most of their time backfilling and fixing are very likely hiring the wrong people and/or managing people the wrong way because they do not have all the data they need to recruit, select and manage differently.

The Flip Side of Variability: Predictability

Metals are measured, weighed and assayed. Machines are dialed-in. Shopfloor environmental factors are finely controlled. Much applied science is used to ensure predictable performance of materials and machines; thus, managers can reliably measure their working properties and predict how they will perform under a given set of conditions.

People bring differing and changing levels of intelligence, education, culture, maturity, values, language skills, physical abilities and attitudes to the job. That people are not as predictable as materials and machinery is an understatement. Managing people optimally requires wisdom, patience and goodwill, and, applied science.

Predictive Index® (PI®) is the applied science thousands of managers use to reliably predict how a person will act and react in the work environment, uncovering if each person is technically or socially oriented; has a sense of urgency or operates in a methodical mode; and is either strategic or tactical; and much more.

Using the Performance Requirements Options (PRO) form, managers can “spec out” a job scientifically to reveal the behaviors it demands before starting a candidate search. Knowing how the job requires the person to behave using the PRO and how a person works using the PI Organization Survey, managers can make a better match of the two. It lets managers task people to do work that meets their needs and that drives out unwanted variability.

PI provides an informed glimpse into the future so managers can make informed decisions about operators, managers and sales people. For 57 years, managers have used PI to accelerate growth and as a fire wall/early warning system to provide lift and prevent performance degradation in the talent management pieces of their enterprises.


3 Tips to an Even Better 2011!

What does it take to improve?  I mean, how do you become a better boss, employee, sales manager – whatever – in 2011?  Maybe, you are just getting started on a personal plan.  Or,  have been wondering for awhile, why isn’t our strategy working?  Consider this:

1. Don’t underestimate the importance of motivation. – This could be in reference to your personal motivation if you are trying to improve or that of your employees.  People must be motivated to make any changes or improvements you are seeking.  Are there obstacles that can be removed or minimized to prevent interference?  Is there an emotional appeal to this improvement or is it “just because”?  That tends not to be enough when presented with a better offer, like a beer with friends or a round of golf.improvement

2. Who wants it? - This may seem like a silly question…at first.  But, when we face changes that are made based solely on the observation and motivation of others (see #1) we tend to give up at the first sign of adversity.  Managing difficult people is part of managing people.  Constantly improving sales skills is part of selling.  You get the idea.  And, if they derive work satisfaction from their role as a whole, then this is feasible – if not always fabulous.  Predictive Index® is a personality assessment that can help increase the likelihood of hiring the right person for the right job.

3. Small bites are best.
– Taking on a big project for improving sales performance or employee development programs is great if you’ve successfully completed one previously.  If not, seek assistance from a professional and plan it in phases.  Feeling overwhelmed and worrying about writing a new leadership development curriculum and how you will appear to colleagues is not a good idea, even if your intentions were noble.

Driving to Better Sales – 5 – Matching People to Work (C) Fit/Gap Analysis

The “Driving to Better Sales” video series focuses on improving sales performance through systematic sales manager training through construction and use of a Sales Performance Dashboard.  The Dashboard contains the critical information necessary for sales training coaching. 

This fifth video describes how the Dashboard assists with assessment and selection decisions, not only with pre-employment assessment but also career pathing with incumbent salespeople.

Driving to Better Sales – Video 2 – Begin with Actual Sales Results

The “Driving to Better Sales” video series focuses on improving sales performance through systematic sales manager training through construction and use of a Sales Performance Dashboard.  The Dashboard contains the critical information necessary for sales training coaching.  This second video emphasizes the importance of starting the program with a thorough understanding of current sales performance on an individual level with your sales team.  Improving sales performance requires ongoing tracking, as well, and a systematic approach to this is crucial.

Driving to Better Sales – Video 1 – Overview

The “Driving to Better Sales” video series focuses on improving sales performance through systematic sales manager training through construction and use of a Sales Performance Dashboard.  The Dashboard contains the critical information necessary for sales training coaching.  This first video provides an overview of the sales assessment and sales team training methods which are central to ADVISA’s sales performance program.  The use of a personality assessment for how to motivate employees becomes a key element of our sales leadership approach.

Driving to Better Sales Team Training – Using a Dashboard for Coaching

Creating a sales assessment which combines actual sales performance with skill evaluation and personality assessment test in one easy-to-read sales dashboard provides leaders with the key knowledge necessary to “Drive to Better Sales” through targeted coaching strategies that highlight how to motivate employees based on each individual’s situation.

Below is a greatly simplified dashboard that exemplifies usage for an individual named “Top Performer”:

Name Sales Skill Level Individual Personality Ideal Personality Target Actual Sales
Top Performer High Strong Goal Orientation, Highly Analytical, Risk Taker Persuasive, Goal Oriented, Risk Taker High

Coaching Recommendations

Based on “Top Performer’s” Sales Skill Level and Actual Sales Results we can classify this person as a “Leverage” opportunity (described in an earlier blog post).  We want to remove any obstacles from even greater success.

With knowledge of “Top Perfomer’s” personality pattern we know that the following program will maximize motivation for Top Performer to achieve even better results.

  •   Remove caps on income potential.
  •   Assign them to difficult challenges.
  •   Eliminate oversight and guidance as much as possible.
  •   Provide competitive opportunities to win.

Even A Bad Plan’s Better Than None, A Good One’s Better

Have you made your plan for next year yet?  I mean, is there a strategic planning framework for how you intend to do business?  As we head into the holiday season and buisness slows down, before you begin 2010, now is the time to reasess your organizational design structure.  Take a look at these two areas – whether you actually own the company or manage the sales team.

  1. Organizational Alignment - When you have this, the company is working as a unit composed of many moving parts, all towards a common goal(s).  You cannot have this without a strategic plan and everyone knowing what their role is and what the goals are.  If you need help creating a plan, take a look at our organizational plan outline on our website.
  2. Sales Assessment - Take a look at your sales team(s).  If the only strategy is “sell stuff”, it’s time for a plan.  What is assessment and selection like when it comes to your salespeople?  It’s not all economy.  Consider a sales assessment and behavioral interviewing to hire more like your top producers instead of your bottom producers.

Basically, create a plan of some sort if you don’t have one.  A bad one is better than none at all.  Better yet, get help and create a good one.  If there isn’t room in your budget, improve you sales team to increase revenue.

Driving to Better Sales Team Training – Measuring Actual Performance

Actual Performance Sales Assessment

The first step in creating the Sales Dashboard is Actual Sales Performance because:

  1. This is our ultimate metric and establishing individual performance results is the foundation for all that follows.
  2. We validate our behavioral target for the “Matching People to Work” phase with actual individual performance results.
  3. Individual performance results are the basis for sales manager training on performance coaching.

Typical performance measures include dollar revenue and margin percentage.

I recommend rigorously identifying different performance levels in your team. Your coaching approach for your top performers has to be customized to maximize their motivation and build on their success while weaker performers require more work to identify the best approach to turn around results.

Driving to Better Sales Team Training

Leaders can truly control only ONE THING in an effort to improve results from their sales team – that ONE THING is a manager’s own behavior in the interaction to improve sales skills with their salespeople.  If we call that interaction “coaching,” then effective coaching is the key to successful sales team training.

Effective coaching is built on four fundamental elements:

  1. Actual real-world individual sales performance
  2. Selling skills (Assessment of current skill level and sales team training, as necessary)
  3. Matching People to Work (Personality “fit” with the job, the best way how to motivate employee)
  4. Motivation and Drive (of both the Coach and “Coachee”)

The Sales “Dashboard”

Just like when you are driving a car and you rely on your dashboard to provide critical information, ADVISA’s sales dashboard summarizes the fundamental elements described above in a single place for your successful sales “drive.”

The Sales Dashboard is a table that shows this information for each individual:

Sales Skill Level for Sales Team Training Matching People to Work Actual Sales Performance
Open Investigate Present Confirm Position



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