Sales is the only job where the scorecard on performance is reset at the beginning of every month, quarter, year. In so many other roles, what you have been doing rolls over to what you continue to do, or what you need to be doing in the future.
But Sales is different. Regardless how well you performed last month, on the first of each month, everybody is reset to zero. The top performers, mid-range performers, poor performers all have the same scorecard, they start in the same place with $0 and a goal to make for the month.
We may, for a few celebratory moments, revel in a great month (hopefully with friends over a few beers). But on the first of each month, our past performance means nothing, we are equal with everyone else, and we reflect on the questions, “What have we done lately,” meaning this month, and “What do we need to do?”
As managers and leaders, we have to have the same mindset. Our work is never done–not just the quota part of it, but the continuous improvement, change management part of it.
Unfortunately, too many of us fall into the same trap. We may have taken our organizations through massive changes. Perhaps restructuring the organization, perhaps major training initiatives, new systems/tools, new processes. We have recognized problems with performance, we develop and execute strategies to fix the problems. If we’ve done our jobs right, at the other end of those processes, we’ve seen major improvements in individual and organizational performance.
But, the mistake too many make is they stop there. They rest on the success they have had, but fail to recognize the clock/scorecard has been reset. It’s the figurative start of the month/quarter/new year, where regardless of what we’ve done in the past, everything is zeroed out and we have to start it all over again. (I suppose that’s why they call it continuous improvement.)
Recently, I had a conversation with a friend, VP of Sales. He had taken his organization through some massive changes. It had been a rough journey–changing processes, changing focus, introducing new tools, changing people. He and the organization had made huge progress. When we both reflected on where they had started and where they were 18 months later, there was a lot to be proud of.
But then I asked, “What have you done lately?”
He got frustrated and, rightfully, a little defensive. He said, “Don’t you see how much we’ve accomplished?”
In my normal obnoxious manner, I replied “Yes, congratulations. But what have you done lately?”
As we talked through things, he realized things weren’t done. While performance had improved, there were a lot of things that needed more improvement. In the change process, problems that had been hidden before (perhaps by bigger problems), now were painfully visible. He needed to look at those problems, moving the next step in addressing and eliminating those.
More importantly, things had changed. Competition changed, market requirements changed, customers and how they wanted to buy had changed. So while performance had improved tremendously over the past 18 months, the bar had been reset. To continue to perform at the highest levels possible he and the organization needed to change and improve. Without that, the organization would have fallen behind, it would fail to achieve what it should, it would fail to grow as it could, what had been great performance would turn out to be laggard/unacceptable performance.
As leaders, our jobs in improving individual and organizational performance never stops. We reach our figurative “month ends,” take a few moments with our teams to celebrate where we’ve gotten. But then the next day, everything is zeroed out, we have to look at what’s next, how we improve, how we maintain our leadership.
Regardless how successful we’ve been, what we’ve done in the past no longer counts. We have to challenge ourselves with “What have we done lately,” or “What’s next?”
Remember, all the things you and the organization have gone through and done, are irrelevant to today. It’s a new month/quarter/year. You are starting from zero, what do you need to do to drive performance, capability, capacity to the next level. How are you going to make your “change or continuous improvement quota” this month.
Afterthought: While I’ve written this from a leadership and management point of view. The same thing applies to each of us in terms of our own individual development and improvement. Whether an individual contributor or a leader, we each have to look at how we continue to improve, how we continue to get better.