Companies pay lip service to management concepts that are in vogue, but the reality is something altogether different. Early last fall Dan Vena, director of sales at Da Vinci Systems, which sells electronic-mail systems, couldn't have made that diagnosis, but he did know something was wrong. Da Vinci, based in Raleigh, N.C., had badly missed its sales targets for four straight months. The board of directors issued an ultimatum. "September was do-or-die month," recalls Vena.

The short-term solution was to pull in favors to make September's sales targets. The long-term solution was to alter the performance of Da Vinci's 12 salespeople. With the help of one five-hour session with Greensboro, N.C., consultant Matt Oechsli, Vena was able to boost sales almost immediately. His techniques could be used to improve performance in any job:

Get employees to describe their responsibilities. Vena felt he'd communicated a clear idea of what each salesperson needed to do to meet sales targets. But after Oechsli had each salesperson write down his or her major job responsibilities, Vena saw that "it wasn't really clear to them what they were supposed to be doing." All seemed to view their jobs passively. "They saw their responsibility as being nice to resellers who called in and asked for help, rather than being proactive," he says.

Ask employees how they could be more effective. Next, Oechsli asked each salesperson to suggest three actions he or she could take every day to be more effective. Everyone offered feedback. The four employees dedicated to resellers decided they needed to get more resellers to install 30-day test drives for end-users; they also needed to motivate more dealers to give presentations on Da Vinci's product to the rest of the dealership.

Create daily goals. The most important lesson learned, says Vena, "was to structure goals in measurable ways. Don't say just, 'I will increase sales,' but, 'This is how many calls I'll make, who I'll talk to, and when I'll do it.' " The salespeople to resellers, for example, must now get resellers to complete 30 test-drive installations per week. "I'd made it clear they should do as many as possible, but I hadn't given them a number, so none were getting done," admits Vena. Test-drive installations soared from 0 to 17 the first week after a target number was established. -- Ellyn E. Spragins

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Reality Check
Talk is cheap. That's apparent from the results of a survey of more than 500 small and midsize companies conducted by the Oechsli Institute. Many of their employees say management's actions don't support the mission statement and that their company's workers don't understand what's expected of them. Worse, 8 out of 10 managers, salespeople, and operations employees say they are not held accountable for their own daily performance.

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Percentage that answered yes among . . .

Sales/frontline Management employees

Does your company have a clear 97% 77%written mission statement?

Is that statement supported by 54% 55%management's actions?

Do all departments, branches, and 54% 57%divisions have specific and measurable goals?

Does every employee understand what 46% 38%is expected in terms of performance?

Are all employees held accountable 21% 22%for daily performance?

Source: Performance Survey, January 1992 to September 1992, the Oechsli Institute, Greensboro, N.C.

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