Perform or perish – Part 1

I interviewed with a manager from a medium size pharmaceutical company. The DM spoke of sales success as a ruthless priority. There was an intolerance of mediocrity. If your performance was “subpar and under the bar” you were in trouble. He looked at me intently and uttered that familiar phrase, around here, “Money talks and BS walks.”  I had heard the phrase many times before and being quick on my feet, I responded, “What’s the use, if you don’t produce.” I wanted him to know I could swim in shark infested waters and that I was the person for the job.

In research circles and the halls of academia, researchers and professors are told to publish or perish. In sales and marketing organizations all over the world, a variation of this battle cry can be heard. We are in a constant struggle to prove our value by selling our products and services and competing for our jobs. We “fight extinction with distinction.” Our existence or extinction is governed by our ability to meet or exceed the demands of the marketplace. If we are to be successful, we must accept the ultimatum to perform or perish.

Many companies are in a reduction mode; reducing the size of sales forces and other resources. Some good representatives are displaced in the process, but an effort is made to keep the top performers. Territory performance is evaluated and the under performing ones are eliminated, left vacant or absorbed into adjacent geographies. It is imperative to understand how performance is measured, exceed expectations and ensure that management is aware of your full contributions to the bottom line.

How is performance measured?

Everyone should understand how performance is measured in their organization. Sales teams rely heavily on objective factors such as, market share growth, new customers, satisfied clients, new prescriptions, total prescriptions, customer satisfaction or engagement scores, pieces sold, number of calls made, customer conversions and documents or people processed. There may also be subjective factors such as, behavioral traits, competencies or success factors which represent how the employee achieved their goals. 

Performance is captured and referenced in performance reviews, (formally once or twice a year) and coaching discussions on work days and other interactions with the manager. Frequent performance discussions against objectives will eliminate surprises at the end of the year and ensure that the latest document accurately reflects your results. You may want to initiate these fireside chats if your manager does not do this routinely.

Understand the evaluation system

Many companies will force rank their employees based on their overall performance. If there are 10 people in a District, they are ranked from 1 – 10, with the top representative occupying the #1 position. This process is helpful in distributing performance ratings, merit increases and incentive compensation. This process may also be used to determine the lower 10% of performers. Some companies will remove the lower performers if they are at the bottom of the list two years in a row.

Companies may categorize employees as A, B or C players. Thomas DeLong and Vineeta Vijayaraghaven in their Harvard Business Review article defined A, B and C players as follows:

A’s are star performers. They are employees who put their professional lives ahead of their families and personal lives because they are striving to accomplish more or move upward in the organization. They are the risk-takers, the “high potentials,” and employers enjoy finding and hiring them. They are also the players most likely to leave the organization for opportunities elsewhere.

B’s are competent, steady performers who balance their work and personal lives while still doing the bulk of the work of the company. They tend to stay put, don’t require a lot of attention, and they get the job done. Because they stay, they tend to carry the corporate history with them.

C’s are performers who are not achieving enough to satisfy their employers and are most likely to be asked to move along.” In hard times Companies try to keep their A & B performers.

There are other variables in assessing your performance and that includes comparing it to your peers who may work for other managers. Calibration is a process used to discuss employees in an effort to measure employees against their peers. There are some managers who are hard on their people and therefore distribute lower ratings and incentive payouts, but they have stuff standards. Other managers have been known to be easy on their people and rate them higher and reward them with higher incentives whether they earned them or not. To even the playing field a process of calibration was established. This is considered a more equitable system because it allows managers to discuss their ratings with the peers. In this scenario people of comparable performance are compared to ensure equity in the system.

Managers are challenged to evaluate performance in a pay for performance environment. Force ranking and calibrating are ways to ensure that people are reviewed, rated, rewarded and retained based on their performance. Your objective is to ensure that you are viewed near the top of the pack, as an A or B player which is validated by the calibration process. No system is perfect, but assessment is here to stay and necessary to provide data for promotions and when tough personnel decisions, such as staff reductions have to be made.

Tooting your own horn

In Philosophy 101 the professor asked, “If a tree falls in the forest, does it make a sound? In business if you are making a contribution, you want the world to know about it.

There is a feeling in our culture that you should not toot your own horn, let others do it for you. We label those that do, arrogant and braggarts. Ironically, some of these individuals get promoted, because management has a better assessment of their ability. We may become disillusioned and accuse management of favoritism.

Copyright © 2009 Orlando Ceaser

Perish or Perform – Part 2 on December 3, 2012

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