Busy sales leaders should be looking for efficient ways to get things done. I understand that. But when it comes to giving performance feedback I think being focused on efficiency isn’t always the best option. This is why.
In a recent article on HBR.org (from Harvard Business Review magazine) called Giving Effective Feedback When You’re Short on Time, the author gives three main recommendations.
1) Create a standard way in: Making it easy to initiate a conversation about feedback.
2) Be blunt: Be candid enough to make your message heard; don’t risk confusion by being too soft with your words.
3) Ask him (or her) to play it back: Get the other person to paraphrase the feedback you have given him and what he needs to do next.
These pointers were given in an effort to help time-poor managers (that is, those who have a dual responsibility of winning new business and also managing a team) to give feedback “efficiently” so they don’t spend too long on the feedback process.
From the article:
It’s not easy to help your employees develop even as you take advantage of every business opportunity, but you can make coaching easier on yourself, in part by giving feedback efficiently.
Whilst I can see the reasoning behind those suggestions, and taken individually the suggestions are worthwhile to consider, I think you should take a different approach.
Sales leaders should strive for impact not efficiency
When it comes to giving feedback on performance sales leaders should make the most of the opportunity to coach their team. Why? Because in most companies feedback isn’t given frequently enough. And because your team members really need to know.
Most sales people work quite independently. Inside sales teams might sit across the table from their colleagues but they can easily be living in the space between their head set or ear phones. They probably manage their own set of clients or leads without much input from others. And there is always competition for results.
Field based sales people spend much (if not most) of their time remote from their colleagues and their manager, out seeing clients. As a result they can end up having better relationships with their clients than they do with their work mates. In this situation it’s hard for individuals to view their own work from a critical perspective.
That’s why sales leaders should relish the idea of giving feedback to their team.
Use feedback as an important sales coaching opportunity
A caution about the idea of giving “constructive feedback”. In the HBR article the author uses the phrase “constructive feedback” to indicate that the manager needs to criticise the employee’s performance.
I think that’s a cop out. That is being too soft with words. Used in this way the phrase smacks of the modern politically-correct world where ‘every child is a winner’. If team members haven’t performed satisfactorily they need to know, and they need to understand that is what the conversation is about.
The definition of constructive is: helping to improve; promoting further development or advancement.
Therefore, all feedback is constructive as long as it is given in a way that helps the receiver improve their performance. Even feedback about good performance is constructive feedback.
However if performance has been below expectations then it’s your job as sales leader to recognise that, be clear about what the performance gap is, and discuss it with the team member.
Sales leaders must recognise the performance gap
Instead of trying to give “efficient” feedback I recommend sales leaders create opportunities to provide effective feedback.
Yes, giving effective feedback may initially take a little longer than a short, blunt, efficient approach. But a true sales leader will be looking to the future. They will want to develop their team, not just continue to rely on their own rainmaking skills to ‘bring home the bacon’.
6 steps to give effective feedback to your sales team
1) Stay in touch with performance
Know how your team are doing. Review their statistics. Participate in calls with them (inside or in field). Be part of the team.
2) Recognise indicators of poor performance
Ideally look for leading indicators (rather than lagging indicators) that will highlight a future problem. Have the feedback conversation as close as possible to the time when the problem has arisen or has become noticeable.
Importantly, also seek opportunities to praise good results. Don’t always be looking for negatives.
3) Prepare for the feedback conversation
View this as a coaching opportunity, follow a coaching methodology, and plan the questions you need to ask to help your team member recognise their own path forward. Taking time now to plan an effective conversation will save time in the long run. You will achieve more from each feedback discussion and spend less time on future conversations (as performance will improve sooner).
Even good performers have room for improvement and will appreciate your support to help them achieve even more.
4) Be tactful, yet direct
Being the manager doesn’t give you the right to be impolite. Most team members will respond better to a supportive approach than an adversarial one. But don’t be a push over. Stand your ground on performance standards and expectations.
5) Guide the team member to a commitment
Don’t settle for vague promises or a lack of clarity. Get clear about what actions are required to address the performance issue or to reach a certain goal, and when that is likely to happen. Ask the team member to develop an action plan to improve. Support them in taking those actions, but make sure they are accountable for their own improvement.
6) Agree on a follow up schedule
Let your team member know you are serious and committed to help them improve. As part of that two-way commitment always include check points to review their progress over time. Specify when, where, and how you will conduct the follow up reviews.
Sales leaders are always time poor. Not only do they manage a team they always have other management and reporting responsibilities.
It is understandable that time-related pressures could lead a manager to reduce the focus on performance feedback and only do the bare minimum. However when managing sales teams that sort of hands-off approach rarely works to help individuals bridge their performance gaps.
Giving feedback to your team is essential. Take the time and follow the 6 steps above to make your performance conversations truly effective and get the impact you are looking for.
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