Talent Development

Everwise Answers: 6 Ways to Take Your Team from Hum-Drum to High-Performance

By Mike BergelsonApril 2, 2014

On the Everwise Answers forum, we post a business dilemma, case study, or question direct from our high-potential protégés and ask the experienced mentors in our community to give their advice. These are their expert opinions. For more business best practices delivered right to your inbox, sign up here.

What you do when a sales team has got too comfortable, and is no longer performing as well as it could? We posed the question to our experienced group of mentors, and they produced these six excellent tips for turning an average team into top performers.

61Imagine the following scenario. What would you do?

John has stepped into an organization that is filled with good people who have been there many years. They have built friendships and created an environment where employees are very comfortable with their level of effort, their peer group, and the handle they have on their business. The company, however, is struggling in many areas and this particular sales team has been performing at a level just above average for years. How does John turn an average-to-above average team into a top performing team?

The question provoked some excellent responses. Here’s a summary:

1. Better Incentives

Several mentors assert that John should focus on improving the team’s incentives. Pierre Arseneault, Owner, StoneAr, for example, states, “The recognition of a top performing team needs to be aligned with top performing compensation or advancement … Moving from good to great has to be a two-way street.”

But improving incentives doesn’t have to mean more money; it might mean better design. Marjorie Bailey, Chief Human Resources Officer, Leidos, explains: “I would revisit any sales commission or incentive plans to ensure the targets and incentivized behaviors align with the desired business outcomes. If incentives don’t really challenge the individual to perform above average, then you are likely to get average performance.”

2. Educate

But improving incentives may not be effective with these employees, because they are probably comfortable financially as well as in their careers, says Steve Kohlmann of Nonprofit Organization Management: “Trying to create competition from a monetary standpoint would seem futile to me (‘even if I don’t win the contest I’m still safe & comfortable.’) I would suggest the route of trying to educate them further … Make sure they have the proper tools to meet your sales expectations THEN set the goals. A scenario where everybody wins.”

3. Gamify

People respond to contests, games and competitions. Gartner predicts that 40% of large companies will soon be using gamification as the primary way of transforming their business operations. Management consultant Bill Combes suggests using it with this sales team. “One of the best ways to re-energize a team … is to create a more competitive environment,” he writes. “Team members that have worked closely for a long time can get comfortable.” He suggests breaking up that comfort and creating competition by setting up contests based on sports, or “specific performance goals with rewards for exceeding stretch goals.”

4. Take a Fresh Look

John should start with a clean slate, says Himanshi Patel, Founder, TY Strategic Advisory. To begin with, he should “clearly define future state” and ask, “What are the key success factors for the sales team to become top performing?” Then he can analyze the current state, and see which team members’ skills and personalities can help the team reach its goal.

For Melissa Romagnoli, VP of Operations & IT, American Collectors Insurance, the problem is familiar from her own organization. She recommends taking a fresh look at what’s needed: “I think you should define your ideal skills needed in the position and align them with your expectations. Take the current staff out of the picture. We’ve done this and have identified several opportunities for training current staff … I find that you sometimes lose an understanding of what you have, skills wise, when staff has been in positions for so long.”

5. Establish Trust

Some mentors pointed out that John may well encounter resistance from these comfortable members of the team, and will need to work hard to overcome it.

“A talented newcomer to a well-acquainted team of people needs to enlist the trust and cooperation of those s/he is assisting,” says Burton Danet, Founder, The Legacy of A Better Community For All. “Sensitivity to others is always key for the newcomer on the block. A good definition of leadership is to not interfere with the good ideas and capabilities of others.”

6. Make Use of the “Great Chemistry”

Sometimes a perceived weakness can actually be an asset. Dirgesh Patel, who works in Information Technology and Services, for example, points out that the team’s “comfortable” situation offers many benefits: “Working in an organization which already has great chemistry is 50% of the battle.” He recommends using the team’s personal relationships to help motivate and inspire them, and then “handing them the tools/materials needed to become top performers.”


Here are some other great articles on motivating teams that have become too comfortable:

The Mentors

Thanks to our mentors for their insightful answers:

What do you think? If you want to join in the discussion, you can register to join the Everwise community (It’s free, and registering only takes a minute). As well as answering questions, you can post your own dilemmas on the board and have our knowledgeable mentor community recommend the best solutions.

Topics: Everwise Answers

Mike Bergelson

Mike Bergelson

CEO at Everwise

About the Author

Mike Bergelson is the CEO and a co-founder of Everwise, a talent development startup that connects employees to the people, development resources and experiences they need to thrive at every stage of their career.

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