Creating a Performance Culture: No Excuses

A performance culture in a sales organisation is marvellous thing. The culture of our workplace can and should be an area that we ponder continuously. Why? Well, humans are highly cultural animals. And a “culture” is a set of informal, rules, values, and behaviours that create a sense of identity and belonging.

I’ve spent the last 20 years visiting sales teams, and estimate there have been around 500 sales managers that I have worked with on aspects of their business performance. Like a good wine, you develop a nose for a performance culture. Walking in to almost any work environment it becomes possible to smell whether, this team of people, at this time, are really performing.

Let’s remember, culture is free

The value of a performance culture is twofold. Firstly, it lowers the burden on individual members to be disciplined themselves. Imagine working in an office where it’s ok not to keep systems fully up to date. Gradually employees will fall into patterns of “trying their best.” This takes daily effort with no sense of ownership or guilt if things fall below the standard. Scale this across a team of ten, twenty, fifty… and the manager has no chance of ensuring that the work being delivered is accurate. So much time, and effort wasted.

Cross over the road to another office, and have a look at a team where keeping systems fully up to date is a “non-negotiable part of our culture”. If this is explained, explored and committed to, checked up on, and feedback is regularly given privately and publicly, then suddenly, the onus on individuals to ensure they get their part of things done GETS REAL!

And not because they might lose a bonus. It’s worse than that – they might lose their sense of belonging, or their status within the group. And culture’s free. So, without a penny more in bonus, we get a higher performance. There is also a benefit for individuals. They don’t have to “try” to get the things done. It’s an imperative without choice. And therefore they will do it. The pain of not doing is too high. It becomes a default. A reflex. A habit. And cognitively speaking, therefore requires no effort.

Here are some primary cultural elements that might be worth having as non-negotiable cultural norms.

  • ‘Being on time’ means being five minutes early.
  • Getting back to messages by the end of the day.
  • Doing What You Say You Will Do (sometimes annotated to the welsh sounding word DWYSYWD).
  • Being easy to work with and transparent.
  • Being polite to each other, even under pressure.
  • Having integrity with regards to the law, and personal ethics.
  • Putting clients first.

None of these are actually performance criteria. For that, we are required to go a little deeper. Sales is partly a numbers game, and it’s partly about capability. It’s important to distinguish between each and work in our teams accordingly. Let’s start with inputs: the numbers game.

Things like:

  • Making outbound phone calls.
  • Meeting with customers
  • Making follow-up phone call.

These are just a set of basic tasks, not taxing but vital to building a credible customer relationship. The act itself is the goal. Just do it. Make it a cultural norm. Get the metrics in place and report on them weekly. If we were thinking like a corporate athlete, did we do the training session in the plan?

Then we come to the capability part. This is much more complex than inputs. What happens on a call? What happens at a client meeting? How sophisticated is the performance there?

Developing capability

Capability is a skill can and should be developed. By practice, by training, by trial and error.

To create a successful performance culture we need to invest time to create a standard for our teams to meet. We also require a level of ruthlessness – cutting out waste of effort, poor practice, and unnecessary complexity. This means becoming bold in delivery of feedback to colleagues to support their growth with the goal that they will, eventually be able to autonomously operate a sustained high level. It comes from a high frequency of honest, performance-focused conversation.

Look around a team where all members are managed in this way, and you will see a team that knows exactly how to deliver their targets, and has the necessary belief to go out there and do it – together. And there will be moments when, just like a runner, tennis player, or artist, performing at your best begins to look effortless.

“Trophies should go to the winners. Self-esteem does not lead to success in life. Self-discipline and self-control do”

– Dr. Roy F. Baumeister, author, The Cultural Animal iw