Performance Management — The Measured Mile


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In my last post, I talked about the importance for managers manage performance in their organizations, not ignoring performance issues. In this post, I want to go into establishing the performance improvement plan and putting someone on a “measured mile.”

The performance improvement plan is emotionally tough for everyone involved—the sales manager, the poor performing sales person, even others in the organization. It’s important, however, that everyone enters this with the same goal in mind, the objective of the performance improvement plan is a successful outcome.

Let me repeat this, the objective of the performance improvement plan is a successful outcome. Too often, performance improvement plans have the wrong focus—going through the motions HR requires to terminate the employee. This simply is a waste of everyone’s time and resource, and frankly, it is an indicator the manager hasn’t been doing her job.

By a successful outcome, I mean that the manager genuinely wants to get the sales person to get back on track, to meet the performance standards, and to be a positive contributor to the organization. Likewise, the employee wants to get back on track and maintain their performance at the right level.

In establishing the performance improvement plan, both the manager and the sales person must be committed to achieving a successful outcome. If the manager has totally lost confidence in the sales person and just wants to get rid of the poor performer, then there will be no successful outcome to the performance improvement plan, regardless how hard the sales person tries. If the sales person has simply given up or refuses to recognize the need to improve his performance, then there will be no successful outcome. All we are doing is wasting time, resources, and fooling ourselves.

If both the sales manager and sales person (and all other parties involved—for example HR) are not committed to a successful outcome, then don’t even try—find a way to terminate the employee or for the person to exit, without wasting anyone’s time. I know the HR people will cringe with this statement and start citing legal exposures. However, I think it’s better to address this issue straightforwardly, up front with the employee.

If everyone is committed to a successful outcome, then it’s critical to develop a plan that is realistic and achievable—otherwise we are just setting the employee up for failure, again wasting everyone’s time and resource. This doesn’t mean the plan is easy, but it means that we don’t set unreasonable goals. For example, probably one of the reasons a person might be on a performance improvement plan is they are hopelessly behind on their quota. To set a 90-day goal of getting on plan and at quota is probably unreasonable—if they are hopelessly behind up to this point, then it is extremely unlikely they will get back to plan within 90 days. If that is your goal, you might as well put yourself and the employee out of you miseries immediately. (Again, HPR people will cringe with this advice.)

Over time, you want the person to get back to quota performance, but in the measured mile, you want to set goals in a way that at the end of 90 days you and the person can see the path to getting back to acceptable performance. For example, setting some interim goals on number of pipeline opportunities, flow rate, improvements in win rates might be appropriate. Setting minimum activity measures that you know will help get the person back into the right level of performance, such as number of completed calls, number of customer meetings, or number of proposals, might be meaningful. Setting some goals for skill level improvements might be reasonable.

The plan must be arrived at jointly by the manager and the employee. While the manager will set strong guidelines and performance expectations, if it is not owned by the employee, they will not succeed. One element of this plan is defining the manager’s role in helping the person achieve the plan. If you put a plan in place then say, “come back and see me in 90 days,” the employee is likely to fail. A performance improvement plan requires major commitments from both the manager and employee. (Which is why if both are not committed to a successful outcome, it’s wasteful to even try).

The manager has to be involved in coaching, the manager will probably have to help the employee in developing new skills. The manager will have to help the employee understand the right behaviors and internalize them. The manager may have to lead by example.

At the end, hopefully, you will have achieved your goal. You have taken a problem employee and gotten them back onto a path of achieving acceptable levels of performance and sustaining that performance. Despite everyone’s best efforts, it doesn’t work all the time and sometimes you and the employee will fail and the employee will have to be terminated. But this is only after everyone has tried to do everything possible to recover.

The measured mile is neither easy nor pleasant for everyone involved. The only way this should ever be undertaken is if all parties involved are committed to achieving a successful outcome. If not, don’t waste the time or resource—find a way to terminate the employee, you will do yourself, the employee, and your organization a favor.

Reminder, at Future Selling Institute, this Friday, March 4, we will be continuing our Coaching discussion focusing on Effective Coaching Communication. This is a FREE webinar at a new time, 11:00 EST. Space is limited so be sure to Enroll.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Dave Brock
Dave has spent his career developing high performance organizations. He worked in sales, marketing, and executive management capacities with IBM, Tektronix and Keithley Instruments. His consulting clients include companies in the semiconductor, aerospace, electronics, consumer products, computer, telecommunications, retailing, internet, software, professional and financial services industries.


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