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4 Performance Management Tips from The Cleveland Cavaliers

I’m an avid sports fan from Formula 1, NFL, NBA, Football (Soccer), MMA, etc. I love high-level sports for its competitiveness, the hype, the fan fair, but the one thing I love most is observing how teams manage the performance of their players and the success of the organisation. There are many lessons I've been able to apply in my day to day role as a sales & customer service consultant and managing director of my own company.
The Cleveland Cavilers (Cavs) traded six major players, three (3) of which were recently acquired at the start of the season, this peeked my interest and I started researching the thought process behind this major trade.
As a quick history for folks that do not follow the NBA, the Cavs is a high caliber team, mainly for one main reason...LeBron James. LeBron has been to seven straight NBA finals since making his move to Miami and upon his return to the Cavs he took them to three (3) straight NBA finals winning one (1) out of that three. Some may say a 33% performance rating is nothing spectacular but keep in mind that the Cavs never won a NBA finals in 40 years prior, so 33% is pretty damn good performance stats.
Fast forward to the 2017-2018 season and with the major trades of key players, the Cavs have nothing other than high expectations and a lot of money invested in this year’s performance. But, there were challenges and Mid-February they address those challenges by changing six players, which gave the team the turnaround they needed for their home stretch punch to the finals;
Here are my takeaways on those changes and how sales managers can assess and apply them into their performance management approaches;
"Cav's were marching a slow death” - General Manager Koby Altman


1. Competitive Quickness:

The Cavs noticed that the competitive landscape changed and as much as they are still favourites in the east, they saw their competition having the ability to outrun them as they were faster and agile. The Cavs consisted of veterans and persons at or just beyond their peak, which meant they were slower and had lower performance averages than the other teams. The recent trades, made the Cavaliers quick and better able to compete with their competitors. 
“Use speed and preparation to swiftly overcome the competition” - Sun Tzu
In sales having the ability to act swiftly can be the determining factor in winning or losing an opportunity. Quick decisions, quick delivery, etc. is required in overcoming your competition. Sales managers must also assess their current competitive landscape and make the relevant adjustments. If those adjustments has to do with the sales team, then make sure you are performance managing these sales executive properly, firstly giving them the opportunity to improve and from there if all else fails, do not be afraid of making the necessary changes.

2. Hitting The Reset Button:

One admirable thing I noticed with this move was that management was not afraid to hit the reset button in the middle of the season. There are instances where managers may be too hesitant to make mid-season changes thinking that major trades will not to bear fruit mid-season and prefer to continue working with a low performing team. I would admit that making the decision the way they did took courage, but now you can see a change in the team’s attitude and performance between new and existing player.
"The team lacked energy and enthusiasm and we want to improve the culture." - Koby Altman
As sales managers, we tend to look at the time invested in trying to develop a our sales teams and not always willing to make the hard decision. The numbers don’t lie, if they are not performing six months in and you have given them all of the relevant training and tools and assessed things like the economic, political, social, etc. landscape. It’s highly likely that they will not make their number. Also do not be afraid to take this similar approach of firm performance management against a top performer. It will be wise to be consistent in all regard to performance management and not show any nepotism.
“Therefore on dispersive ground, I would inspire my men with unity of purpose” - Sun Tzu 


3. Renewed Sense of Purpose

Purpose creates a sense of direction, drive, etc. and with this new roster, the coaching staff and management had the ability to clearly restate the mission and vision to the team for the remainder of the season. The approach to performance management also sets the tone for none performers on how the company looks at persons not operating at the required level in assisting the team to win.
"We can create a culture here that everyone can be a part of" - Koby Altman
I was once hired by a sales manager that took this same approach “I didn’t hire new, sales executives to keep the existing ones” he said. Very soon after that statement, I noticed that some members of the older team were no longer there. That sent a clear message of what was expected of us based on the company’s goals and objectives. Sales managers must be clear in communicating purpose to the team and managing it accordingly.
“The sales manager is just a higher paid employee, that's closer to the exit” - Lyndon Brathwaite


4. No One Is Immune: (Top Performers or Managers)

I remember reading the Art of War where Sun Tzu gave specific instructions to two concubines and upon their failure to carry out the task, he had them both beheaded. In sports, we always see examples where based on the performance of a team one of the first people to go are the coaches, general managers or specific players.
In sales, no one is immune to performance management, whether it be performance improvement strategies, corrective action or being fired. Teams must perform, and the players are not bigger than the organisation. In 2010, star striker of Manchester United Wayne Rooney was benched by Sir. Alex Ferguson which was not a popular decision. How can a million dollar player be benched you asked? Because he was not at his best to support the team at this time.


Successful teams require strong sales managers, it’s important to the organization, team and even the customers, in the case of the Cavaliers, the fans are the customers. Hard decisions are not easy, nor are they popular but they are required when the company's future is on the line.

Recommended material for Sales Managers

  • Sales Manager's Guide to Greatness - Author: Kevin F. Davis
  • Coaching Sales People Into Sales Champions - Author: Keith Rosen
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