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

Internal Corporate Warfare – Mind to mind combat

In an era of empowerment, engagement and teamwork, there is an internal struggle among people who should be allies. Individuals who should be aligned against the external competitive forces have squared off against their co-workers. This internal corporate warfare is a game of mind to mind combat initiated by managerial favoritism, individual’s ambition, hastily conceived diversity programs and survival tendencies linked to the current economic environment.  Frequently this warfare is undetected by leadership until the damage has been done through poor morale and the loss of key talent.

Managerial Favoritism

When individuals realize that some people or person has an inside track to promotions they are more than slightly irritated. Nepotism is alive and well in corporate America and so is employee backlash. People do not willingly work with someone if they feel they cannot be trusted or that they will arbitrarily move ahead of them on the promotional totem pole. One of the reasons it is uncouth to get involved in an office affair is the impact it has on the other employees. They do not feel comfortable. They are afraid the person is a spy and will tell all of their secret conversations.

If someone is placed on the proverbial fast track, this leads to friction in meetings and in interactions with their peers. Some people want to dethrone the heir apparent, while others befriend them for personal gain. However, the mind to mind combat and verbal sparring are evident in their personal interactions. As a leader, have you thought about the conflict caused by a potential show of favoritism with certain employees?

Individual Ambition

Ambition is not a dirty word or a concept that is frowned upon by people in power. Organizations want employees who work hard to improve their performance and strive to excellence. Corporations want leaders because they will assume the executive positions within the organizations. They will be responsible and accountable to achieve corporate objectives for the shareholders.

There seems to be a resurgence of cut throat career ladder climbing within a number of companies. This is very true in those organizations that pit their employees against each other in a “may the best man or woman win” scenario. Employees realize that the managerial hierarchy has flattened and therefore, there are fewer roles, so the ambitious become more aggressive. The ambitious are savvier in selecting mentors, taking additional courses and networking feverishly to line up an army of supporters and advisors. Whereas, many in the younger generation want work life balance, the unscrupulous ambitious ones are still willing to sacrifice everyone and everything to reach the top of the heap.

Hastily Conceived Diversity Programs

Leaders read the latest business publications and are confronted with leaders who tout the richness of their Diversity / Inclusion strategies. Top companies in their industry are featured on Top 50 lists for diversity and inclusion. The Corporate ego is inflamed and they decide to do something about diversity and inclusion to improve their corporate culture. They may realize that the demographics of their company do not match their customers or the external marketplace. This need to tap into a wider swath of the talent within the minds of their employees is done swiftly and without much research into how it fits into their overall strategy.

Corporate awareness is further enlightened when they consider data on engagement and how, many of their workers are not bringing their entire selves to work. With these factors in mind they decided to hire and promote people without doing their homework and disseminating their strategy to their people. They waste a golden opportunity to use diversity and inclusion as a means to make all employees feel valuable and appreciated.

When people realize that a diversity and inclusion program incorporates everyone within the company and offers equality for the most talented, much of the infighting is reduced. Diversity programs should include all of the ways in which employees are different. The business case should be discussed and the benefits to the entire company should be delineated. When this is not done properly, workers will not accept new people and will sabotage the arrival and careers of their teammates. The conflict, clashes and ostracism create unnecessary tension. The new employee is blind-sided. They have no idea what is going on. They view their co-workers as cold hearted, hostile and unfriendly.  

Survival tendencies

Companies are doing more with less and becoming more creative in achieving their objectives. Talent management strategies have introduced concepts such as forced ranking which can inadvertently lead to internal corporate or departmental warfare. How does widely advertised forced ranking affect teamwork among peers? If you know your assistance could help someone leap frog you and move in front of you in the eyes of management, would that affect your desire to coach your peers?

When I was in sales it was common for sales people in the same industry not to talk to each other. They viewed each other as the competition and the enemy. This helped them make sure they would not give away any secrets on strategy or promotional programs. Is it unreasonable to think this could occur within an organization if people view their peers as the competition? Suppose they see their co-workers as threats to continued employment or promotions, would it affect their actions?

Benedict Arnold and Judas Iscariot are two of the most notable traitors in history. Many careers have been sabotaged by co-workers who gave disparaging stories about their peers for personal gain. I was told a story early in my career. Apparently a group of employees were complaining about a recent company policy. The most vocal among the group reported the meeting to his manager, conveniently leaving out his role in the meeting.  He sacrificed his peers to make himself look good. He was subsequently promoted to the chagrin of the rest of the group who attended that meeting.

Companies may try to improve their culture, but are unaware of the internal corporate warfare raging within their doors. Self aware leaders and employee surveys may alert them to the potential skirmishes. Enlightened and strategic leaders improve their culture for the benefit of all.  The prevailing peace and cooperation among co-workers will minimize counterproductive exercises and enhance productivity, performance and profits.

Copyright © 2012 Orlando Ceaser