Sales Leaders – Is It Time to Get Rid of Performance Goals?

. . . Ok, not entirely, BUT changes need to be made. Performance goals are not as effective as we think.

English: sm team goals logo

How do you coach your direct reports? Do you set goals for them? Do coach them around their performance goals? Do help them become better at what they are doing? How often do you have coaching sessions? What happens in your coaching sessions?

In 1988 Carol Dweck and Ellen Leggett put goal setting under a microscope. They wanted to know if the type of goals we set or more specifically how we perceive goals, affected our probability of achieving them. The objective was to determine if some goal types were better than others.

Dweck and Leggett identified two types of goals; performance goals (in which individuals are concerned with gaining favorable judgement of their competence) and learning goals (in which individuals are concerned with increasing their competence). What their research told them was that there was a very clear association between the perception of the goals people set or are trying to achieve and the behaviors they employ.

According to Dweck and Leggett, those chasing performance goals are looking to establish the adequacy of their ability. In other words, they see goals as tests or measures of competence. Which in sales, is almost always the case. When we see people exceed quota by 40 or 50 percent we judge these sales people as the best, with little regard to the sales environment, product, support, quota setting etc. In sales, performance goals are exactly as Dweck and Leggett suggest, measures of competence. In contrast people who are pursuing learning goals or mastery oriented people tend to see achievement as learning opportunities. They see learning goals as a way to acquire new skills or enhance their competency.

One of the most compelling pieces of the Dweck an Legget’s research is what happens when challenges are introduced to goal attainment. When achieving the goal is easy, lacks challenge or requires little strategy, there is little difference in behavior and achievement between learning and performance goals. However, as the effort becomes more complicated and challenging and strategies fail, the behavioral differences between performance goals and learning goals becomes stark. In the face of difficulty and failure, those pursuing performance goals become negative, second guess their ability and performance rapidly declines. Performance goals become self reinforcing. Success in a goal suggests, “I’m capable and good.” Where failure or difficulty suggest, “I suck, I don’t have the ability.” When challenge and failure creep in, those pursuing performance goals crumble like crumb cake.

On the other hand, those pursuing learning goals or those with mastery orientation saw difficulty and failure as an opportunity to learn. They didn’t blame or come up with excuses. Even more striking was master oriented people pursuing learning goals didn’t see themselves as failing. They didn’t see challenges and failures as a reflection on them or their ability. They viewed unsolved problems as challenges to be mastered through effort. Those pursuing learning goals engaged in extensive, solution-orientation, self-instruction and self monitoring. Even more compelling and in my opinion more important, mastery oriented people, those pursuing learning goals, maintained tremendous optimism that in the end their effort would pay off.

The differences in goal attainment between learning goals and performance goals is compelling when challenges, difficulties and failure are introduced. And we know, selling is nothing but challenges, difficulties and failure.

What type of organization do you lead, performance or mastery?

As a coach ask yourself, how much of your coaching is centered around mastery and learning goals vs. performance goals? If your organization is like most organizations, it’s heavily centered around performance goals and that’s a problem.

I don’t advocate removing performance goals. The nature of the beast in sales is performance and goal attainment — primarily quota attainment. With that being said, the best way to maximize the growth and performance of your team is to coach to master and measure to performance.

Take a look at your current coaching cadence and approach. How much of it supports mastery? Do you sit down with your direct reports and go through their current performance or do you evaluate their current skills and ability? Does your coaching cadence address “how” your direct reports are trying to attack their goals? Do you spend time evaluating their strategies and approaches or do you focus on whether or not they are at plan and why? Do you have a clear understanding of where each of your direct reports is strong and where they need support? Does your coaching cadence include learning environments including books, training, mentors etc? Do you have deliberate learning goals for each quarter? Is your coaching centered around learning?

Dweck and Legget’s study is compelling. Master oriented people with learning goals far out perform performance oriented people chasing performance goals. The best way to provide a learning environment is through coaching, coaching that embraces learning goals not performance goals.

As a sales leader it’s incumbent on you to turn your team into master oriented sales people. Challenge your people to become masters. Create an environment where learning is celebrated and where performance isn’t seen as a judgement on ability but rather fit.

Learning is where the win is, not performance. I know, it’s hard to say. But, you can’t argue with science.





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