The 7 Elements of an Effective Performance Plan

Managers are always looking for ways to help their team improve. But what does it mean to improve, and how do you achieve measurable progress?

Sales performance plans are a formalized way for managers to help struggling employees get back on track. A good plan should be fully understood by both parties and effectively measure improvement -- or lack thereof. These are the seven crucial features your performance plan should include to ensure you and your employees can work together to achieve success.

1) Start with a conversation.

It’s a good idea to start the process with a conversation about your rep’s performance in general -- not a fully fleshed-out plan. There might be an underlying reason you’re not aware of for underwhelming performance. An open-ended discussion will help increase understanding between you and your reps, and allow them to ask for help in specific areas.

2) Outline areas to work on.

Maybe a rep is falling behind in a certain area, such as failing to meet quota for three straight months. Alternatively, a performance plan could address behavioral issues, such as a failure to adhere to company rules, or contribute to the team.

Different scenarios require different plans, but in all situations it’s imperative to explain exactly which areas need improvement, and what the performance plan’s ultimate goals are. This is also a good way to test yourself -- if you can’t nail down a specific area that should be improved, a performance plan might not be the best tool at your disposal.

3) Define quantifiable standards for success.

“Progress” and “improvement” are words that don’t really mean anything unless they can be measured. Imagine that you hire an architect to design you a house, but give no information on square footage, number of rooms, aesthetic taste, and so forth. Both parties would walk away from the process confused and anxious.

When designing a performance plan, be as specific as you can. Instead of asking employees to “prospect better,” define what that improvement will look like in quantifiable terms. A 5% increase in closed deals is very different than a 20% increase -- clearly define what success means so you can measure whether a rep is improving to your expectation. This should also reduce the employees’ stress by letting them know exactly what targets they need to hit.

“Soft” skills can be measured, too. For example, a rep who talks too much on calls wouldn’t benefit from this direction: “Be a better listener.” Instead, think about what improvement in this area would look like – maybe your rep should strive to ask at least 10 questions per meeting or spend no more than 40% of a qualifying call doing the talking.

The more you are able to use numbers to define success, the easier it will be for you and your employees to measure progress. And on that note ...

4) Determine a deadline for improvement. 

Sometimes you’ll need a rep to seriously increase their volume in the next two months, or your business will suffer a major hit. Other times, you’ll have the luxury of taking a little more time to help them grow. Regardless of which scenario you find yourself in, make sure to provide a deadline for improvement. Increasing sales activity by 10% over three weeks is a very different beast than the same increase over three months, and your plan should be crystal clear about the timeframe for results.

5) Provide resources for improvement. 

You wouldn’t pot a plant, water it once, and walk away expecting to find beautiful flowers several months later. Regular care and attention is needed to ensure positive results. The same is true for your employees.

In certain cases, extra training or coaching might be needed for performance standards to be met. Maybe a more successful coworker can help mentor someone who is floundering, or perhaps the rep having a tough time can be sent to a training seminar. But improvement won’t happen if everything stays the same; if reps are struggling, it’s usually because they don’t have all the resources they need to excel. By providing them with as much help as you can, you’ll be setting up your reps -- and your business -- for success.

6) Explain consequences. 

Being completely transparent with your reps is essential. Nothing will cause a salesperson more stress than being handed a performance plan with no mention of consequences for failure, so be completely forthright about what will happen if the plan’s standards aren't met. Does the rep stand to lose this year’s bonus, or the chance for a promotion? Or is it something more serious, such as the possibility of termination?

This is another area where careful reflection on your part is necessary. It’s up to you to decide how critically your reps need improvement, and how you want to handle situations when someone just isn’t up to snuff.

7) Communicate feedback regularly. 

Feedback doesn’t have to be constant, but scheduling regular check-ins to evaluate progress made to date and areas that still need work is essential to an effective plan. Not checking in until the end means you won't be able to provide suggestions and guidance along the way, and it also keeps your employee in the dark about how they’re doing.

What techniques do you use to make sure performance plans are effective? Share your tips in the comments below.

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