HAVE YOU CONSIDERED? : Puzzled over Performance

We have recently introduced performance review system into our organisation which seems to be working well – but I’m not sure how often we should carry them out. The gap between annual reviews seems too large. Can you advise please?

First up, you need to look at the purpose of performance review, which is all about linking individual aspirations and achievement with the organisation’s long-term strategies, annual business plan and the short-term goals needed for flexibility. Today, reviews tend to be tied in with coaching and recognition rather than being used as yardsticks for individual performance.
It’s sign of changing times. To be competitive, companies have to call on the innovation and ideas of all their employees – which means the latter need to feel sense of engagement.
An annual performance review actually works against these objectives.
The year-long gap is just too big which means neither reviewer nor reviewee have enough practice to handle the process confidently. It also makes it harder to remember specific issues or events.
So your concern about yearly reviews is justified. Better to conduct them six monthly, three monthly or monthly. My advice would be monthly. It may seem over the top at first but the long-term benefits can be enormous.
The frequency helps change the nature of review from some kind of performance test to an ongoing coaching relationship. Both parties become more experienced in the process and can deal with issues while they’re still fresh – hence gaining deeper insights. The meeting doesn’t need to be very long and can focus on what happened in the previous month. What went well, what didn’t, how can things be improved, what are the options for personal growth and development?
This regular process helps both the manager and the employee keep things on track in relation to overall goals and at the same time provides the employee with excellent coaching feedback, support and recognition.

I am the marketing and sales manager in medium-sized services company. We have four sales consultants who do pretty good job overall. My problem is being able to assess their individual performance as they tend to act as team. While each individual has accountability for selection of customers and products, it’s not easy to see who actually delivers the sale. Can you help please?

Selling services is more challenging and less concrete than straight product sales. Because the service may not be clearly defined in prospect’s mind, successful sales depend on the salesperson listening to what’s needed and tailoring solution to meet those needs. It’s closer to consulting than straight selling – something you evidently recognise by referring to your sales staff as consultants.
It’s process that involves range of skills – including good understanding of the customer’s business; an ability to write good proposals; and the skill to present these in way that is not only credible but adds real value for the prospective customer. Because these abilities are not necessarily rolled up in one person, team approach makes sense but does make it more challenging to measure individual contribution.
The starting point is to do what you have already done – ie, make sure each sales consultant has specific accountability for set of customers and/or products with appropriate business targets. This provides focus for individual performance and achievement. However, on the broader front, you need to be able to assess individual contributions to the overall sale.
The only really effective way of doing this is to meet regularly with all those involved in sales project so you understand their roles and input. This is helpful for the sales consultant as your involvement provides an independent viewpoint which helps ensure issues are identified and addressed.
The way to approach meetings like this is to get the sales consultant to take everyone on ‘structured walkthrough’ of the sales project. This helps them to both understand what’s happening and contribute to defining forward plans or actions.
Get too specific about measuring individual contributions and you risk breakdown of the effective team approach you currently have. If tied down too much, people will tend to jealously guard their clients. The result: reduced cooperation and internal barriers that deliver less innovative environment and fewer sales.
So sales management in your environment is about understanding what’s happening with each sales project in some depth and being involved in the process so you can assess the contribution of all involved.

• Kevin Gaunt, FNZIM, FAIM, is CEO of NZIM Auckland and has been senior executive with, and consultant to, some of New Zealand’s largest companies.

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