After the Goal

Why do employees have to “rest” after accomplishing a goal? When most human accomplishment required manual labor, taking time to recuperate after a final push, whether it was harvesting a crop or completing a building, was a natural way to physically recharge before starting another project., most of the energy expended in the workplace is mental. Do employees really require “down time” after a flurry of emails or telephone calls?

For simplicity, let’s take sales goals. When goals are monthly or quarterly, any sales manager knows that a disproportionate amount of effort (and results) will occur in the last few days or weeks before the end of each period. I can’t count the number of times that I’ve heard “If they would just work in the first week of the month like they do in the last, my salespeople could be making twice their current commissions.” (“And my company would be twice its size.”)

We had a client who employed sales teams in multiple states selling home installation of security systems. Each sale required a subsequent installer visit, usually scheduled within a week of the sale. In the last few days of each month, the salespeople worked feverishly, while the installers sat around waiting to be dispatched. At the beginning of the next month, the installers were putting in overtime while new sales fell to almost nothing. His installation labor swung wildly between underutilization at the end of each month and lack of capacity at the beginning of the next.

Rather than try to change the psychology of the salespeople, he hit upon a simpler solution. Half the salespeople where shifted to commission cycles that began and ended on the 15th of each month. Having 50% of his salesmen always in the last two weeks of their commission cycle smoothed installation scheduling dramatically.

Other organizations try to jump start each cycle with a new incentive or contest. The smarter ones mix up the rewards, or focus on varied versions of a goal (new products, gross margin or customer satisfaction). Where the sales cycle is very short (as in telemarketing) employees are often bonused according to hourly, daily or weekly objectives.

No one, however, tries to change the basic human nature of resting after a goal. The expectation of an “extra” reward of lesser effort, above and beyond anything monetary, is so deeply ingrained that it seems pointless to fight it.

I work with one CEO who recognizes this, and builds it into his management team’s goal setting process. Each quarter the executives determine their “rock,” a major priority for that quarter. (The term “rocks”is part of both Verne Harnish’s Gazelles and Gino Wickman’s EOS planning systems, and is grounded in the exercise popularized by Stephen Covey of fitting rocks, pebbles and sand in a jar.)

Here’s the difference. Rocks are accomplished in a ten week “sprint.” At the end of the quarter, there is a scheduled two week rest period, during which there is no discussion of goals. That is followed by a week of goal setting, and then another ten week sprint.

Rather than fight the natural tendency to rest following an accomplishment, he has built in specific limits to that rest. It isn’t different rest periods for different people, nor does his team have to pretend that they are really starting on a new set of goals when they aren’t. He recognizes that downtime is unavoidable, and makes it part of the process.

Does it work? His company was just named to the Inc. 5000 for the third straight year, so it seems to have some value.

Picture Credit

My new book, Hunting in a Farmer’s World: Celebrating the Mind of an  Entrepreneur, is now available on Amazon in paperback, hardcover and Kindle. It is an ownership book, not a management book, and is illustrated with the stories of real entrepreneurs who faced challenges that apply to us all.


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