Talk to any ‘executoide’, and KPI’s (Key Performance Indicators) are bound to be part of the conversation. Nice and practical concept, good resume fodder, often misused or abused by many, especially from a sales point of view. I often get the sense that many see KPI standing for Key Political Initiatives or Key (to my) Personal Incentive.
As a concept, KPI’s are great, helping sales organizations in defining and measuring progress against stated objectives or goals. Determined in advance, measurable and quantifiable, they are instrumental in helping to assess progress, and plan course correction if needed. Examples in sales may be lead to opportunity conversions, or proposals to close. Based on these measures you can make adjustments and respond to conditions on the ground to ensure those goals are attained. You often hear sales managers and director speak of how they are doing against their KPI’s. Looking at it that way can be a part of potential problems.
In the wrong hands, with wrong intents, the best concepts can come back to bite you; in sales it is usually the disconnect between what’s being measured and the desired results. There are many KPI’s being met without delivering the intended result or economic benefit, leading to a culture of measurement rather than success. When reps feel measured instead of being led to success, they turn to rationalizing their performance with the very same KPI’s. I hear reps say “well I delivered against the KPI, I got eight meetings every week this quarter.” Or “what do you want me to do, get sales or complete the KPI’s you gave me?”
It doesn’t help when sales leaders are incented on meeting KPI’s rather than result. While I am a big proponent of paying for success based on leading indicators, it should be on how those leading indicators are leading to consistent and improving results. Without that, when you pay for a checkmark, you get checkmarks, you pay for results you get results.
I was recently contacted by a sales director about training the team. As we discussed the program and roll-out, he insisted on doing things the first week of every quarter, when I asked why, he told me team quarterly development was one of his KPI’s, and the team meets the first week of each quarter. We assessed the team, had input from a number of people in the company, and customers, and designed training that required two days of delivery at the start, followed by Renbor’s Follow-Through Action Plan regimen. He loved the program, but asked that I cut it down to a half day. “What do you want me to cut?” “No no, I love the program as is, we just need to do it in half a day, I have to include some product training in October as well (another KPI no doubt).
No matter how much I tried to impress on him that he was making a mistake, he insisted. Knowing the type, that when things hit the fan, I will be blamed for the failure, even as he collects his KPI based bonus, I confronted him. I revamped the program to make it a one day affair, but he was still reluctant; half glancing at his phone as he explained his situation, including meeting KPI’s. I finally offered to send him some workbooks, pre-filled certificates he can distribute, come in and read a few pages to the team, and he could hit his KPI, and not bother with the challenge of training, but still be able to put the tick in the box next to training. “That’s your goal right?”. I swear he thought about it for a minute before realizing he was being mocked.
We finally agreed to the abridged one day program, with a clear understanding that we would include the remaining material into the January training. Now I have four months to work with and on the executives to change things, either the director or his KPI’s.