The Consistency of Performance Dilemma

Almost every morning, I encounter an officer directing traffic in front of a local school and, depending which officer is on duty, the styles are completely different. They stand in different places, on the sidewalk or in the road; they may focus on directing turning cars or stopping moving cars; they may communicate with wide gestures or with short, efficient signals. Some use a whistle, some don’t. Their performance is different each time.

Those officers directing traffic make me consider a current hot topic: consistency of performance. I’m hearing this phrase a lot within sales training and even outside of sales training. Many executives are concerned about it, so maybe we should be as well. Let’s dig into the idea of consistency of performance to find out what we need to know in order to reach our goals.

As training professionals, the expectation is that we train consistently and observe and evaluate those expected behaviors through practice and demonstration before the behaviors are applied with customers. In this common training approach, there is a comfort at the top, comfort in knowing that “everyone is doing it the way we communicated, taught, and expect.” But is this reality, given everyone’s personal style differences and approach? Can there truly be consistency? And if not, how much does that matter if the outcomes are the same? Should we be focused on exacting consistency or on achieving results? And is consistency of performance the real issue?

We know execs are worried about performance of their sales teams and, when expressing desired improvement, want to monitor that everyone is “doing it” the same way. This line of thought makes the assumption that we can target desired behaviors, train teams on those behaviors, and then evaluate whether teams act consistently on those behaviors. All this hinges on a second assumption that those desired behaviors will reach a likely, expected, and successful outcome—an outcome that will benefit the company. This belief in consistency lends itself nicely to prediction and forecasting.

To get an outside perspective, I called Jamie Shanks, social selling expert and author, who works with sales teams across North America. Here is what Jamie had to say:

“Yes, consistency of performance leads to predictability, which leads to correct forecasts, which leads to achievement of goals—but let’s not be under the assumption that one road leads to the only destination. Yes, there could be a “best way” in the eyes of many that we train upon, but there is variability within performance that doesn’t need to stamped out (and, sometimes, this variability will supplant the old way of doing things). It’s important to stay flexible within the training environment, especially when the traditional way of doing things is having less and less of an impact, and the assumption is people must not be exhibiting the behaviors we want. In changing and challenging business environments, that assumption needs to be explored.”

What I’m hearing from Jamie is that sometimes, if we’re seeing less impact from our sales teams, we assume that the low performance is a result of teams not executing consistently in accordance with the ways they were trained. But, perhaps the low impact and the decreased performance is an opportunity—a sign that there needs to be a new and innovative approach to stand out from the crowd and reach our customers. In a world honing in on consistency of performance, I find myself drawn back to outcomes and interested in the ways that people’s individual styles and variability could help trainers discover new ways to reach an organization’s goals.

Because, at the end of the day, what’s the real goal? If we look back at the officers in front of the school, is it the exact degree, energy, and speed of hand gestures, or the efficient and safe movement of the cars that we care about?