Create Results By Focusing on Behaviors, NOT Numbers

By Alan Heaton “Perspectives with Alan”

It may sound counterintuitive but when many managers and leaders try to change results they often focus on one thing they can’t change, the past.  We often see managers deliver a scorecard filled with numbers and graphs illustrating to their sales people how they are, or in some cases, are not performing.  When the manager sees that a sales person isn’t hitting key metrics, they usually follow that up with another report that shows with even more granularity and detail how poorly the sales person is doing.  This is often followed by those very underappreciated words “I need you to close more”.  Thanks coach.

Unfortunately those results are in the past.  They can’t be changed and showing the sales person one more report that reiterates how difficult a time they are having does little to encourage, motivate and more importantly change the result of their next customer interaction.  The outcome: frustrated sales people that are under coached, growing ever more frustrated, spreading their negative attitude at each water cooler discussion and ultimately increasing the company’s costs due to higher voluntary and involuntary employee turnover.

With so much at stake why do so many company leaders and managers choose to make the past their biggest focus?  The answer: because it’s easy.  A little programming, modifications to Excel and whammo, the manager has a tool he or she can use during their morning “leadership walk” (although one would question the word “leadership” in this case) around the office to discuss who is on top, and who is not.

So what is a better approach?  Focus on the leading indicators.  A result comes from a set of activities and behaviors.  These behaviors and activities when done effectively and in sufficient quantity determine the result a person is seeking to achieve.  For example, think about Michael Phelps as a young child.  He may have started off saying he wanted to be the best swimmer in the world!  Now imagine that in those early days his coach said to him “Sounds good.  Now go swim this race and let’s see how you do”.  After a potentially defeated Phelps returns, the coach says “Hey you didn’t win.  Next time you need to swim faster”.   We can assume with confidence he is not more prepared for the next race than he was for the first one.  However, he does know with even greater clarity that he didn’t do well in that first attempt.

Unfortunately coaching (if you can call it that) to the lagging indicators is not uncommon within many companies.  The better way is to define the activities and behaviors necessary to get to the end result, measure the frequency and competency of those behaviors and activities, identify what the sales person is doing well, get them to repeat it, identify where the opportunities are and provide specific coaching on those areas to help them improve for that very next opportunity.  In the case of Michael Phelps, maybe you practice getting his hands into proper form during the stroke by pretending he has a zipper on his side and is zipping it up with each stroke.  By focusing your efforts on improving specific behaviors and aligning your reporting tools accordingly you have created a recipe to have real and sustainable impact on the result, motivate your people, increase tenure and reduce turnover.  That is a goal any entrepreneur, executive or manager should strive for.