Understanding and Replicating Exemplary Performers (Part 2)

An Interview with Paul Elliot, co-author: Exemplary Performance

What can we learn from high performers that can be replicable to others? How can we help sustain peak performance? In this conversation with author Paul Elliot we discuss how to identify and then replicate exemplary performers within the organization.

(This is part 2 of a two-part interview, if you haven't read part 1, you can read that here)

Q: PEP is a very valuable asset for a Sales Leader. How can sales organizations collect and maintain that knowledge exchange that happens during 1:1 discussions between sales managers and their teams? It's something we'd like to see more discussion about, what are you think are the challenges in getting this top of mind of Sales Leaders? 

One of the ways that we could do it historically, because there weren’t tools like the one you're producing at Convercio, so you would have to sit in on some of those meetings and observe it. If that's intrusive and the sales leaders feels like it won't flow and it will have a negative impact obviously, then debrief immediately after. Because subtle things will happen, it's better to observe, but that's not always possible. I think one of the most exciting things when I was introduced t0 Convercio was thinking about how the tool was intended to enhance the pipeline management process but it's going to be a just a rich source of data around the actual coaching process in being able to understand how and when a sales manager uses the tool. If they see certain things, do they schedule future sessions more closely together? And if they see something else do they extend the sessions? Do they follow through on the commitments they're made? All that data which is typically not available now. It’s going to be fascinating to watch. You mentioned earlier that most sales managers come out of being High performing sales people, individual contributors. Clearly that's true but what's interesting is that the accomplishments and outputs of the role or very different. I think a tool like this can help shift the individual contributor into the sales manager role by having a tool, a checklist. It's an app, but in a sense, it's a performance support tool that will help them do their work in a consistent fashion and I think will be significant value there helping people transition from the one role to the other.

Q: Your concept of Performance Support tools, really resonated with us, this notion that when carrying out a task these tools provide signals on how to perform them well, relying less on memory recall and minimizing error (There is a great story on how pre-flight checklists were born). You talk about the balance between performance support and training to memory. Can you talk about what you've seen in the sales space, and some of the gaps in tools you've seen?

Every organization has different approaches to providing performance support. Firms can call them Battle Cards, etc. I've seen all kinds of things where there's written support available to help people function at a higher level. Human memory is an astounding thing but has one basic problem: it's not reliable. What you do need to have in human memory are those things that, during an interaction, they need to be able to address entirely off the top of their head. In pipeline management, my experience is the way that's done varies greatly. There seems to be less consistency across sales managers and everybody has their own approach. There are certain strengths to that but the downside is there's no way of capturing lessons learned and no way to incrementally improve the process over time. Whereas with performance support be it an app like Convercio or be it checklist or any one of a number of things, if a better way is found you don't have to retrain the audience you can just change the tool and that immediately cascades the change across all the users of that tool. I've done work in Call centers for twenty plus years. When things changed they would start retraining the four thousand people in order to implement the change. That was the old model, now today of course they can embed that immediately into the work process that shows up on their screen. I think tools like Convercio will give an organization the possibility of incremental improvement in the pipeline management process by tweaking the tool over time

Q: This notion of declarative knowledge 'knowing what' and procedural knowledge 'knowing how' is key when designing readiness and tools that support your sales organization. Tell us a bit about how experts excel at procedural knowledge and specifically in the context of a successful sales manager coaching a at or below standard performing sales rep. How do you design around that?

Most of our focus and often the way we select people to build processes is based on the declarative knowledge. Historically there's that dependence, a preference for what we call subject matter experts (SMEs). SMES most often have mastered declarative knowledge they can tell you why everything works, and if asked to design a process they may build a conceptually perfect process based on their understanding of the why, but a SME may not be able to actually do it. It's the golf coach who can help Tiger Woods with his swing but hasn't played professionally in thirty years. We rely less on SMEs and primarily on exemplary performers, people who consistently produce exceptional results. They aren’t always experts on the ‘why,’ but they nailed the ‘how’of the work. Now, SMEs can be exemplary performers and vice versa but they're not necessarily so. Capturing information from people with a consistently strong track record is much more useful for helping other people have a consistently strong track record than capturing the information from someone who can tell you everything about why but doesn't execute well in the field.

Let me give you an example. Years ago, I was working in a Ford assembly plant and even back then a paint booth for painting the vehicles was a quarter billion dollar investment. At the time, most high end manufacturing technologies came from Europe. They would have a design engineer (or team of design engineers) design the paint booth and in their idle time they, the masters of the declarative knowledge, would build the training for the paint booth operators and maintainers. I was asked to assess the training that had been provided with the operators and maintainers in the Ford plant. One of the modules that I encountered there was a four-hour segment on the viscosity of paints, because different colors have slightly different thicknesses. Well the design engineer needed that information because what was their accomplishment? they had to design the nozzles that could evenly disperse the paint regardless of color. The operator only had to change a dial. Knowing about the viscosity of paints would never help the operator produce his or her outcome, which was a high quality finish on the car, so we confuse those things all the time. It's not that declarative knowledge isn't useful, it's just often not useful for the people who we ask to master it.

Q: Thank you for your time Paul, any final comments or resources you want our readers to explore?

We always hear “Practice makes perfect”, but that's not true, “practice makes permanent”, only “perfect makes perfect”. If somebody is doing bad pipeline management, and they do it consistently, their results are going to degrade over time, not get better.

This way of thinking is somewhat different than the way most of us have been trained or have educated ourselves. The whole idea that high performers are not simply raw talent is often the surprise to people. There's a great book, titled “Talent is Overrated”. It was written by Goeff Colvin with who is the senior editor at large for Fortune magazine. He provided some fascinating background on the difference between talent and expertise. Every expert brings talent to the table but not everybody who brings talent to the table is an expert and the correlation is much lower than what you might expect. This idea of how to coach to raise performance is so critical and I think you're on to an exciting area with your development at Convercio.

(This is part 2 of a two-part interview, if you haven't read part 1, you can read that here)


Website: www.exemplaryperformance.com

Whitepaper: Linking Learning to Performance

Book:  Exemplary Performance


René García is CoFounder of Convercio

René García is CoFounder of Convercio