Performance Programs 101 – Are You Ready to Win?

Depressed Sales Professional

I know that you’ve  heard about performance programs, even if you have not been in this situation!  It can be a bewildering position, but it is not uncharted territory.  You can beat a performance program.  You should never give up if it is constructed fairly and you are good at what you do.  don’t be bewildered, chart a course of action and get at it.

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Are you currently being threatened with termination?  Have you been put on a performance program?  I have seen both sides of this issue, and want to make some comments that I hope will be beneficial.

As a threatened sales professional, my sales program was fortunately loosely put together, but it was program nonetheless. Performance programs for sales professionals are structured tightly now, and you should know that what you’ll see when you view the performance program is essentially a template document from past programs and even terminations.  It will be fairly tight, if the managers that put it together are good.

As a manager, I put together sales performance programs that were designed to get someone to generate sales results or be out within a prescribed amount of time.  I suppose that you would call it ‘sales justice’.  These programs should be designed to be fair and equitable.  It probably will be based on the current goals and how those goals would apply in a shortened time period.

Owning and maintaining a sales force, or even a single sales professional is expensive.  Whether it is a single professional or a sales force can be expensive.  It is a wasted resource if it is not productive, even for a short period.  Programs are a necessary process and when used correctly can reform some behavior,

Can You Beat a Program?

The answer is yes… if the program is fairly constructed.  Sales professionals beat programs often if they have been working hard.  A well constructed sales program is potentially beatable if:

  • Your goals are constructed fairly and the time limits are granted correctly
  • You have been working hard and are not starting from ‘scratch’
  • You have never stopped prospecting and recognize that prospecting is a required activity
  • Your company’s products are solid and priced properly
  • You have the sales skills necessary to be successful

To capsulize, if you have fair goals and have been working hard, you have a chance.  That chance is enhanced if you have been prospecting and working to sell your products to a wide base of prospects, and thus creating real, sellable opportunities.  If you don’t have the above bullets on your side, you are toast!

Defining Fairness

I would be remiss if I did not cover this portion.  Fairness is a concept that defines an employer’s actions.  Here is a simple example of fairness:

Your goals are as follows:

Sales in Dollars – $500,000

Cases sold – 25

New Prospects – 250

Quotes – 125

What you have here is a results and activity requirement.  New prospects and quotes are activity standards, and dollar sales and cases sold are result standards.  Activity leads to results, so both are necessary.  Some sales organizations will rest on the results standards and require their sales professionals to reach the results goal, but the best organizations realize that they must us both.  The presence of the prospecting and quote portion requires that those activities necessary to have future and continued success are being done.

So a fair performance program for 3 months would look like this:

Sales in Dollars – $150,000

Cases sold – 6

New Prospects – 63

Quotes – 31

The simple fact is that the goal for the performance program is an elementary 25% of the annual goal.  A simple but potentially fair goal.  It is based on the previous goal, and is apportioned in a way that probably could be justified and would hold up if tried in a court of law if the sales cycle worked in terms of lead-time and production time.

It Happened to Me!

As a fledgling account representative I was put on a program at a time when nothing would go right for me.  It was a time when our company’s product was good, but priced a little higher than the competition.  The program had a component that was centered around activity (how many quotes?) and on production (how much did I sell?).

I was successful and beat the program, but the key to that was that I had never stopped working, but had just not had success.  The activity portion does not guarantee anyone continued employment, but it is the process that counts.  I refer you to BSJ 2/28/11- How Many Prospects Do I Really Need? It is probably more than you think!

I will be honest that I was not confident that I would make it.  I had worked hard, but just had not been able to convert.  For some reason during the time when the program was in effect, I generated some sales and locked myself in. It also created an expectation that I worked hard to keep up with.  Remember your chances are always better if you never stop working!

If the Program Is Not Fair

If your program goals are not attainable, then you have a couple of problems that may be insurmountable.  You need to have the conversation with your manager re making the program ‘doable’.  If that does not give fruit, you need to have a conversation with human resources.  Do it immediately.

If you are behind the “8” Ball, my suggestion is to do what is above while you try to work through it.  In most programs there is a clause covering any other deterioration of work.  In other words, you could be terminated earlier if you slow down your work effort.

Sales is a occupation with much objectivity baked in to it.  Be as effective as possible, and recognize that this job may be aided by relationships and a plan, but if you are not getting results, you are forever vulnerable.

Drop a note regarding your program and how you will beat it.

Always be the best.

The Truth About Playing the Race Card!

The Race Card

I run this post every every once in a while.  It will always be relevant and I believe it is true.    Do remember that the no matter what your color, the your use of race  or ethnicity in your assessment of whether you were treated fairly in receiving a promotion or favor is in essence ‘playing the race card’.  Only involve race, color,  or ethnicity  when you really believe it was truly unfairly utilized against you, and you  have some substantiation to  prove it!

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Are you playing the race card?  Without doubt, this is a loaded question.  Playing the race card in the work setting is similar to dropping a hand grenade in a prayer session.  It is polarizing and negative and changes the landscape and the game.  Quite frankly, it creates an explosion when you do it, and even if there are no casualties, you have created strident enemies all around you.

What is this ‘thing’ we call the race card and is there ever a time to use it?

Simple Definitions

To capture the definition of race card, I visited Wikipedia.  It is not always the most credible source, but it puts a stake in the ground of controversial subjects including this one:

According to Wikipedia:

In the less critical sense, the phrase is commonly used in two contexts. In the first, and more common context, it alleges that someone has deliberately and falsely accused another person of being a racist in order to gain some sort of advantage.[1] (Continued)

In the second context, it refers to someone exploiting prejudice against another race for political or some other advantage. The use of thesouthern strategy by a political candidate is said by some to be a version of playing the race card, such as when former Senator Jesse Helms, during his 1990 North Carolina Senate campaign ran an ad showing a black man taking a white man’s job, intended as a criticism of the idea of racial quotas. The ad was interpreted by many people as trying to play to racist fears among white voters.

Excerpted from “Race Card”, Wikipedia 9/3/2011

The most important portion of the definition of “race card” from Wikipedia above is accentuated here:

“…it alleges that someone has deliberately and falsely accused another person of being a racist in order to gain some sort of advantage.”

Quite simply put, the race card manifest itself in our business environment in a couple of profound ways:

  • An individual (let’s say Black employee) suggest issues involving race as the reason for some less than desirable action on the part of a manager or superior, which results in an impairment or disadvantage.  The employee specifically cites race or racism as being evident.
  • A manager or another employee attempts to discredit an employee (let’s say Black employee) by falsely suggesting that the employee has cited race as the reason for a particular treatment or actions.

There are other ways that it can play out, yet these represent some of the more prominent issues that have to do with this interchange.  No one wants to be discredited.  Not the manager, nor the employee.  The mere mention that one feels discriminated against is toxic in an organization, so both of these are problematic.

Falsely accusing someone of being racist is a simple concept.  It is wrong and playing that card is detrimental to all Black professionals who are working to be the best that they can be.  Misrepresenting what an employee thinks or feels about any aspect of discrimination to pre-empt an action or discussion is just as wrong.

So playing the race card can mean a lot of things, but it happens both ways.  Both ways are detrimental to good relations, and we should be real careful about alleging that race and racism is a motivation unless it is quite evident.

What if it is true?  If it is true, you might phrase that as ’playing the race card’ as well, yet be very careful as being able to prove the truth is not an easy task.  Even though ‘the truth will set you free’, it may not get you justice in a case like this.

What Can You Prove?

It is always smart to avoid any claim that you cannot prove.  Remember, “It is not what you know, it is what you can prove!” With that in mind, your claims regarding management should be restrained when it comes to racism, and always yield to that which you can substantiate.

If you have a provable claim of disparate treatment, you should have discussions on the basis of that treatment, not racism.  In other words, if you are being treated unfairly, have those discussions with the manager or HR; yet be reserved with any race card.   The best HR professionals will understand you and your claim if you are clear, and if the claim is actionable, they will act on it.  Good HR professionals consider the possibility racism, whether they tell you or not.

I always say “what you can prove” because racism (in this case) is an attitude which is evidenced by how a manager treats his/her employees.  Proving that there is a racist attitude means nothing if it is not accompanied by activities that show discrimination.  What are you trying to prove?  Proving that you are discriminated against is difficult, yet doable, but it is not easy at all

Win the Smart Way

Don’t make assertions based on the race card.  Challenge management to be fair and unbiased, and you can do that without charges that are extremely difficult to prove.  Stand up for yourself and keep good objective records that will substantiate any objective complaints that you might have.

If you suspect that there is a problem, bounce the situation off of a mentor (if you trust him/her) or a confidant in another field or industry for tips on how they would handle it.  Most bona fide professionals can ‘smell’ racism when it is present.  Always base your complaints on fairness and equity unless it is something simple to prove.  Fairness and equity are important and lend themselves to reasonable proof.  Unfortunately racism is insidious and it is never lends itself to easy proof.

An example of fairness and equity is illustrated in this example:

Your manager is giving all of the new prospects to someone else, and you need new prospects, you should consider approaching that on the basis of fairness and equity, even if  you suspect racism.

Benefit – It puts everyone on notice that you recognize that you are not being treated fairly.

Weakness – You don’t change what has happened in the past, only go forward.

In this situation, you speak to the manager openly and frankly about what you believe is the disparity.  The manager should be the first stop, and he or she will recognize that you are being a professional by bringing it to him/her first.   If it persists, your next stop is HR to discuss the actions.  You will get some advice from there about how to proceed, yet realize that you need your “ducks in a row” as you consider going above your manager.

If it is repairable, it normally can be done at that level.  Always be the professional in your actions.  It will pay dividends.

Your comments are appreciated.