Sales, recruiting, and report cards

"We're adding a little something to this month's sales contest.  As you all know, first prize is a Cadillac Eldorado.  Anybody want to see second prize?  Second prize is a set of steak knives.  Third prize is you're fired."
Blake (Alec Baldwin) throws out these lines in Glengarry Glen Ross when he is brought in to shake up an under performing real estate sales office.  This approach, yell and scream and throw out incentives for achieving revenue targets, will be all too familiar to those of us who have worked in sales organizations.  This is how it is done, right?  Sales people need to be motivated and establishing goals is what drives us all to achieve great things.  It sounds an awful lot like the conversations around our house when it comes to school and grades.

We're adding a little something to this month's homework incentive.  As you know, if you get all A's you can buy a new game for your Playstation.  If you get a B average then you can keep the games you already have but no new ones.  If you get an F then we are taking you out of that school and sending you to boarding school!

I am sure all the parents out there can attest to how well the carrot and the stick works when it comes to grades.  Not at all it seems.  To the management academics this will come as no surprise.  Demanding performance by focusing on the end result of a multi-step process is not productive.  As a recruiter, my end target is a revenue goal.  However, it is impossible for me to go out and strive for "revenue".  I have no direct control over the revenue.  What I can do though is set myself a goal to call 20 new potential candidates today.  Based on past experience, I know that calling 20 candidates a day will give me 1 person I can introduce to a client.  In a month that will come to 20 introductions which will lead to 15 interviews and at least one person getting hired.  Finally, we can then calculate the revenue totals.

My son has a vocabulary quiz every Wednesday.  He knows the words that will be on the quiz and my wife and I believe that there is no reason he should not get 100% every week on that quiz.  It is not that many words and the only excuse is that he did not study enough.  Demanding that he get a perfect score, like demanding that a salesperson achieve a certain revenue target, is the wrong approach.  Instead, breaking down that perfect score into the components that lead up to it makes for a better goal.  For this case, making flash cards and reviewing them nightly is simple, achievable and he has complete control over it.  When he achieves these daily goals he inevitably scores well on the quiz.

Control is the key to this approach. "You have to get all A's!" is too vague and distant.  Focusing on the day to day steps will lead to less stress and better results.  Don't do this all for your kids without explaining how it works though.  Talk through the process of getting an A (or whatever the ultimate goal) and teach them how to work backwards.  Being able to take a BHAG (big hairy audacious goal) and break it down into manageable, smaller milestones is a critical skill in the workplace.  Ultimately, this is what project management is and there are very few professions where it is not required to succeed.