Leadership Perspectives | 07.19.18
Performance-Based Career Pathing For Sales Growth
The U.S. military academies are all about performance management. If it moves, it gets measured.
Ralph Pim and I were watching a competitive sports team practice one day at West Point. Ralph was a professor and director of competitive sports teams at the United States Military Academy at West Point at the time. He was telling me about the coach who was responsible for the company’s competitive football program. He told me the individual was a retired Army soldier and the Academy hired him back to run the program and perform some other duties. When I asked him, “Why would he retire and then get hired back?” Ralph explained.
In the military, the system works like this:
- Each soldier has a rank.
- One progresses up through the ranks based on merit.
- A promotion board (my words) reviews the career of the soldier and, based upon merit and recommendations, either promotes the soldier to the next level or doesn’t.
- In the military system, there are only so many seats available at each rank. (I’m assuming that this number may go up or down based on the current state of world affairs and the status of military funding.)
- A soldier has only so long to stay in a certain rank. If the soldier gets passed over for promotion a certain number of times, that soldier is considered “not promotable” and, at some time, is “retired."
In other words, this particular individual had reached a point within the system where he was not promotable; his capabilities were not commensurate with the duties required at the next higher level. Thus, he was retired out of the military, then hired back to perform a job with less responsibility — there was less risk in having him manage a sports program than in commanding a troop in battle, for example.
According to Militaryspot.com: “Congress passes the Defense Authorization Act each year. This is how the number of Army members that can be on active duty in the upcoming year is determined. By separate legislation, Congress limits what percentage of the total active duty force can serve in each commissioned officer rank, what percentage of the total active duty force can serve in each warrant officer rank, and what percentage of the active duty force can serve in each enlisted rank above the grade of E-4 (there are no statutory limits for E-4 and below). These amounts are then the foundation of the Army enlisted promotion system.”Why wouldn’t this work in corporate America? More specifically, how could you, as a director of sales, make this work in your organization? How could this become part of your motivation and “upgrading” strategy?
Ranking: Let’s assume you have ranks that look something like this top to bottom:
- Sr. Advisor
- Jr. Advisor
- Account Manager
- New Business Development Manager
Of course, the titles would be customized to your organization and industry. Perhaps consultant, broker or agent is more appropriate for your purposes.
System: You need to outline your system and then plug in your “sales soldiers.”
Criteria: You need to establish criteria to enter new recruits onto the sales team at a certain level (assuming you are recruiting people) and to be promoted from one level to the next. Common criteria include:
- Years of service
- This is not recommended. Years of service have very little bearing on merit or accomplishment. “Survival” is not solid criteria.
- Annual new business production
- Book of business or revenue stream
- Company contributions
- Professional designations
- Professional ranking within the industry
- Compliance with and support of company values, vision, mission and objectives
- Stature in the market
Process: You need a process to acquire the appropriate data and information to make any kind of objective and reasonable determination for promotion.
- Clearly identified metrics for success and established standards that determine success
- Collection of data that support objective reporting of success in achieving metrics in each criterion
- Timing of reviews and announcements of upcoming promotion board hearings
- Criteria to be a promotion board member
- Establish the size — number of people — at each rank
- People at the top end of the sales rank would certainly be unlimited. Except for the top and bottom ranks, you need an allotted number of people per rank. This is the only way the system works.
- Length of time someone can stay in a rank or the number of times someone can be passed for promotion before being “retired”
You may have additional opportunities and criteria that would be included in this process. Establishing the process is secondary to determining if your current system and process for upgrading your sales team and promoting people (giving them new titles versus earning new titles or ranks) will actually accomplish what it should accomplish — which is to motivate your sales team to perform at or exceed expected and required levels of performance.
Often, I’ve been included in discussions about the lack of performance of very senior people and new hires. Often, I’ve heard excuses about them being protected classes, managing big books of business or having been with the firm for only a year.
Making decisions that impact people’s lives and the lives of their family is important and serious work. And because it’s serious work, a company should have a serious approach to upgrading the team. The company should have a serious communication process that lets everyone know exactly what the rules are and what it takes to get promoted, what it takes to stay on the team and what happens when there is failure to execute as expected.
Imagine for minute the following scenario:
With this type of structure/system, you would have a career path method that is clear and objectively determined. This will help the right people continue to be motivated to perform as expected when you hired them. It will give you a better method to determine what to do with those who “have retired on the job.”
You may not want to position this as a military-style of managing, as that may not be consistent with your style or your company culture. But performance management is the fundamental contributing factor for having a team built for sales growth.
Find out more on Tony Cole’s blog.