A widespread belief exists in the world of performance management that the assessment of revenue-generating roles should be pretty cut and dry. You are either hitting your targets or you aren’t. And if you miss them too many times, you are out.
I agree this perception is true, and, often leaders aren’t digging deeper to understand the root cause of the performance issues within teams. I am not advocating that we stop holding the bar high, nor am I suggesting we keep poor performers beyond the appropriate period of their performance assessment. I am suggesting there are common pitfalls that front-line leaders, especially those newer in their roles, can succumb to when evaluating revenue-producing roles. Failing to reach this deeper level of understanding can become costly, resulting in everything from excessive turnover to missed conversations.
Traditionally, revenue-producing roles have been associated with the sales function. However, as business models evolve, so too are roles that are responsible for generating revenue. No longer is performance management of this nature solely a sales discussion. The breadth of roles driving revenue continues to broaden, and with that comes the need for leaders to avoid the common pitfalls that many succumb to when performance begins to stagnate. Here are the three I see most often surface, and they can position a leader in an unaccountable frame of mind if the root causes aren’t unearthed.
• The System is Broken: Being so close to the front line and often having sat in the shoes of their team, leaders might believe that the system or model is broken. In our work, we are always evolving different aspects of our business. However, the key is to have solid data to pivot on. More on that in a moment.
• Do it My Way: There is a tendency for newer leaders to believe that everyone should do it their way because that is how they were successful. The challenge with this is that every person is different, and although we can set up procedures for everyone to follow, expecting everyone to approach business the same way isn’t scalable and is a recipe for frustration.
• The Market is Changing: Without a deeper understanding of what your target market is doing or saying, small comments can be misinterpreted as overarching trends. The reality is that change is constant. Evaluating market forces is best achieved with cross-functional collaboration internally between teams so that the voice of the customer can be best represented.
This is not to say that there may not be truth in one or all of these. The key is to be able to look at performance with a refined lens by following these tips in order to truly understand what the issue is and how to address it:
1. Look Inward First
It is important to stop and ask yourself: what beliefs, attitudes, or biases might I have around this situation? Taking a step back and evaluating your leadership style and skills first, as well as those of your team, is important before looking at outside forces.
2. Consistency is Key
I can’t stress enough the importance of consistency in the collection and recording of revenue-generating activity. It’s easy for blame to be placed outside of oneself when the view is 10,000 feet. However, in revenue-producing roles, there must be consistent steps taken in order to know what triggers engagement or disinterest. Without a predetermined process that everyone follows consistently, it is impossible to pinpoint the heart of the performance issues. Be sure to look at the detail of process with a fine-tooth comb. Ask questions to assure everyone not only understands the steps involved, but also why it’s important to follow them as prescribed.
3. Be Able to Defend Your Data
This is perhaps the area I see as the biggest pitfall for many leaders. Data is only as good as you can defend it. If you are looking at data of any sort to make decisions or influence others to your point of view, it is imperative that you defend that data. This means you have to be completely solid in the what, why, and how of what is being presented. Specifically, be solid on what it is you are presenting, why it is significant to the audience, and how it was collected in order to show a clear understanding of what you are assessing around performance. This isn’t to say it won’t be challenged, but the key is for you to be able to defend it on solid ground. I was working with a team once that presented several pieces of data around client acquisition. As soon as I looked at the data, I knew it was incomplete. I asked the questions: “What trends do you see in the data? What is it telling you?” They couldn’t answer me, individually or collectively. By not being able to explain what they saw or why they presented it, credibility was lost immediately. Always be able to defend your data.
4. Assess Individual Skill Gaps
When performance is an issue, it’s important to evaluate what skill gaps are contributing to the issue. The culprit could be something that is tactical, strategic, behavioral, or attitudinal. It does take time and effort to dig in to the nuance of what might need to be refined, and what you find may not be easily resolved. The point is, look beyond the numbers to see if there is something that with a little attention can be adjusted before assuming this person is no longer fit for the role. I have found on many occasions that reviewing workflow with the individual and asking questions around decision making can positively shift performance. This level of attention can also enrich a relationship, allow someone to truly be seen by you, and can even help you identify an issue that you wouldn’t have been able to see from surface-level performance conversations.
Digging deeper for the root cause of performance issues in revenue-producing roles will enable a front-line leader to avoid the common traps that often result in misdiagnosis. Instead, take a step back and think through the tips here as a means for getting to the heart of the issue:
• Have I looked internally to what beliefs, attitudes, or biases I may have that are impacting performance?
• Do I model consistency in all the critical processes and procedures needed to drive exceptional performance?
• Am I firmly grounded on the data driving these performance outcomes?
• Have I looked individually and collectively at the skill gaps that may be the key to achieving the desired results?
By following these tips to understand performance, you can improve communication, accountability, and understanding around the expected outcomes. And who doesn’t want more of that?