There is no question that performance depends on the ability of employees to complete the tasks specific to their jobs. Why, then, are so many employees who have the "right" skills, training and knowledge simply not performing to their ability? We can answer this by defining performance.
Most people think of performance as a function of ability. In fact, it is a function of ability and motivation. Simply put, employees perform when they want to perform. So when we talk about improving performance, we need to focus not only on ability, but on motivation.
Research and literature on the subject of improving motivation is virtually endless. One thing, however, is for sure: If you want to maximize individual and organizational performance, you need to set measurable goals and objectives and create specific action steps.
Establish Action Steps
How often have we all said to ourselves, "I need to spend less money," or "I have to lose some weight"? This is a starting point, but it's not enough. To have an impact on performance, goals must be explicitly stated and specific action steps must be listed. Failure to establish action steps usually results in the goal not being achieved.
Many people have been told all of their lives, "Shoot for the stars; if you miss, you'll at least hit the moon." As a manager, if you set goals that are too difficult, more often than not nothing will be accomplished. Goals that are too difficult demoralize employees.
This doesn't mean that you should set lower goals. If employees aren't challenged, they will become complacent and only do the bare minimum. Involve your salespeople in goal setting. This way, everyone will have an understanding of what's expected and attainable - and everyone will feel a sense of ownership in the goals.
You need to constantly get feedback from your salespeople in order to find out how they are doing, where they are experiencing problems, and whether the overall goals are clear. You don't want to find out late in the sales cycle that the goals were never completely understood nor thought to be attainable.
Two-way communication provides you with insights into what you should be doing to help the team reach its goals. It helps you see what's going on and gives you an opportunity to modify goals that prove to be inappropriate. It also lets salespeople know that you take their opinions and concerns seriously.
Wayne Burroughs and William Wooten are industrial psychologists and faculty members of the psychology department at the University of Central Florida in Orlando. Both men also work as consultants to Fortune 500 companies and state governments on workplace motivation, training and human performance assessment.