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Profit by Giving Something for Nothing

Make freemium work for you: how to attract customers with free content and then sell them premium services and subscriptions.

Monique Verduyn

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Trying to get your head around the idea of freemium? Just think cloud storage service Dropbox and note-taking and archiving application Evernote, both of which have been phenomenally successful. The word ‘freemium’ combines the two aspects of the business model: ‘free’ and ’premium‘. It’s a business model that works by offering a basic product or service free of charge (typically software, content, games, web services), and a fancier version that costs money. Fancy can mean more features, more functionality, more space, more usage, more seats, more time, or no advertisements.

The business model was first defined by prominent New York-based venture capitalist and blogger Fred Wilson in 2006: “Give your service away for free, possibly ad supported but maybe not, acquire a lot of customers very efficiently through word of mouth, referral networks, organic search marketing, etc, then offer premium priced value added services or an enhanced version of your service to your customer base.”

Wilson offers these examples:

  • Skype – basic in network voice is free. Voice mail and calling plans that allow users to dial landline phones require a monthly fee.
  • Flickr – a handful of pictures a month is free, heavy users convert to Pro
  • LinkedIn – reeled in users with free content, but has boosted sales by adding features that customers have to pay for, such as recruitment services.

Wilson points out that this business model has been around for a long time. Shareware always used a similar model, and many successful software companies have been built on it. The customer is only a click away and if you can convert them without forcing them into a price/value decision you can build a customer base fairly rapidly and efficiently.

Wilson points out that it’s important to ask as little as possible in the initial customer acquisition process. Asking for a credit card even though you won’t charge anything to it is not a good idea. Nor is forced registration. You may want to do some of this once you’ve acquired the customer, but not in the initial interaction.

He offers this advice: “Don’t require any downloads to start. Don’t require plugins. Support every browser with any material market share. Make sure your service works on various flavours of Windows, OSX, and Linux. In short, eliminate all barriers to the initial customer acquisition. And make sure that whatever the customer gets day one for free, they are always going to get for free. Nothing is more irritating to a potential customer than a ‘bait and switch’ or a retrade of the value proposition.”

The big idea is to make sure your free service is loved by customers. Only then do you communicate the value that comes with the paid service and that will have you converting to paying users. The best examples of this business model are when the customer understands why the paid service has to cost money. More storage costs for photos, virtual storage, or termination costs on other carrier networks in the Skype model, are good examples.

What you gain on the swings

Much has been written about the psychology of free. Among the most instructive texts are Free: The Future of a Radical Price by Chris Anderson and Predictably Irrational  by Dan Ariely. Both authors note that free immediately reduces the mental barriers for the customer. Free makes people think that they have “nothing to lose.” That makes free a huge accelerator of adoption. The flip side of this is that after using the product for free, it is very hard to get the customer to start paying for it. This is why it is so critical to choose your premium features wisely.

But is it for you?

Freemium expert Uzi Shmilovici, CEO and founder of Future Simple, which creates online software for small businesses, cautions that before you think free (or rather freemium) is the best model for your business, you need to answer a few difficult questions:

  1. How big do I want my company to be? If you are looking to build a lifestyle business that’ll make you R80 000 a month and you have a good product, you can probably do without freemium. If you want to build a dominant company that has a substantial market share, Freemium can help you accelerate adoption.
  2. What is the value of the free users? Across all successful freemium companies, there is a way of making money or saving money from the free users. Either by saving on marketing costs (Dropbox) or by making money from ads or data (Pandora, Evernote, Mint) or both. Figure out how to turn your free users into savings in marketing costs or revenues from third parties.
  3. What is the cost to serve free users? This is a critical aspect of the model. If you spend a lot of money or time servicing free users, you are going to lose money. The cost of servicing free users must be lower than the rand value they provide.
  4. How big is my market? “The easiest way to get one million people paying is to get one billion people using,” says Phil Libin, the CEO of Evernote. Free adds another conversion step on your way to revenues. You need a big market to have enough people who will pay you at the end of the day.
  5. Is there value to one customer from other customers using the product? This will determine how many new users the free users will refer. There are three levels of value:
  • Inherent value – You can use Skype only if the person you talk to uses it. The same is true of Dropbox. In this case, freemium can be a powerful strategy.
  • Added value – You derive the value of Linkedin from other people using it. In this case, freemium can help you gain traction if you use an effective invitation mechanism.
  • No value – You don’t care if someone is using Evernote or not. The only reason to tell another about the product or service is if they think it’s awesome.

Freemium and your business

Still wondering whether you can use freemium to your business’s advantage? Writing on Freemium Blog, freemium business model expert Peter Froberg has isolated a few characteristics of freemium success:

Quality free products

The most important condition for creating a successful freemium model is that you have a great product that people want. It will be the engine that drives your freemium-based business. Without inherent value your freemium will not get off the ground.

So instead of giving away a sample track of the music, let people download the whole album. Instead of letting people take a look at your worksheets, let them have all your tools for free.

Duplicating Digitally

Only a small percentage of free users will usually buy something. In order for this to make financial sense, the expense of distributing the free product should be very minimal. Digital duplication ensures virtually no cost for copying and distribution. If you want to distribute one million pieces of something, R1 as a unit price is quite a substantial amount.

Large reach

Freemium depends on generating attention with the free product; then to sell premium products or services to some of the free users. In most cases only a small percentage of the free users will buy something. This is fine if it is a small percentage of a large number.

Creating a successful business

Froberg says his research has shown that there are two methods that should be incorporated to ensure freemium success:

Adapting the business model

If your free product is a quality product that people want, it will generate attention. You need complementary products to generate revenue from this attention.

Ensuring a wide distribution

The economic logic behind freemium is that,  “When the supply of a product increases, the demand for its complementary products also increases.” The free product drives off the revenue-creating products and more free users means more paying users. Since additional distribution of a free product costs close to nothing, the success of a freemium business will increase with the number of people using it.

Helping This Along

  • Actively promote the product

Making sure that more people get to know about it will lead to more users.

The generous nature of freemium fits very well with the emerging field of social media, and social media marketing has proved to be a good way of promoting a freemium product.

  • Remove barriers for people to access the product

If it is hard to access your free product, some people will stop before they get to it. Not only will these people not be exposed to your thoughts, they will also have wasted time.

The cost of customer acquisition

Some people argue that freemium significantly increases the customer acquisition cost. The argument is that it costs money to acquire every new user, while only a few end up paying. Shmilovici says it’s important to consider what happens to the total amount of premium users in the case of freemium.

The total amount of premium users depends on three factors:

  • Traffic – the amount of people visiting your site. People like to recommend them to their friends. With a freemium model, you will most certainly see an increase in traffic for the same marketing spend, since people will spread the word. You can further enhance the social media benefit by giving people easy ways to share their excitement and implementing a smart referral programme.
  • Sign-up conversion – how many of them sign up. It’s likely that you’ll increase your conversion to users with a free offering, since users don’t need to enter their credit card details up-front. Unlike limited trial periods, your users don’t have to worry that their trial will end before they have a chance to try the product. Also, “Zero is a hot emotional button,” as Dan Ariely mentions in his book Predictably Irrational.
  • Premium conversion – how many of those who signed up become paying members. Conversion to premium may drop since you might get a higher proportion of low-quality sign-ups. However, this is not the only factor at work. With freemium, people have a chance to use the product long enough to see the value in upgrading. At the same time, while they are using the free product, they build up switching costs. Eventually, they might be more likely to pay. Here’s Evernote CEO Phil Libin’s approach to this subject: “We’ve got the rest of your life to make money off you.”

To succeed in freemium, you need the increases in traffic and sign-up conversion to compensate for the drop in premium conversion rate, if any. In successful freemium companies, the boost to traffic and adoption significantly reduced the customer acquisition cost, which in turn led to great results.

SA’s first freemium HR and payroll software for business

Control your HR and payroll costs with free software that lets you choose additional premium functionality,
on a pay-as-you-use basis.

In September last year, employee management software developer PeoplePlus released the first HR and payroll software built on the freemium model in South Africa. Since then, almost 2 000 users have registered, with an additional 300 signing up every month.

“The cost of developing the software was high, but the cost of distributing it to users is relatively low,” says Rodney de Villiers, CEO of PeoplePlus. “We offer modules, such as disciplinary procedures and the ability to print payslips free. Users pay only for premium modules, and for what they use. There are no contracts, no big upfront payments, and no expensive consultants.”

De Villiers says the freemium model has been used widely for consumers, but less so in business applications. “The offering enables the business customer to select any high-value or efficiency functionality, in a modular manner. That means they can directly control their costs.”

The PeoplePlus offering is targeted at businesses with between one and 200 employees, but companies of all sizes can use the application.

Benefits for users include the sizeable reduction of the total cost of funding and operating your HR and Payroll IT, such as power, security, updates, back-ups, anti-virus, lost data, stolen equipment, staffing and consultants, not to mention your time and stress. When it comes to support for free users, De Villiers says telephone support is offered as a premium service. “The application is easy to use, and comes with a number of practical ‘how to’ guides. If users need support, they’ll only pay for it when they want it.”

PeoplePlus was developed by Talenger Holdings, a company that De Villiers launched in 1998, and which specialises in human resource technology for large businesses. “PeoplePlus is basically a scaled-down version of the proven solutions that Talenger has been developing for years. We analysed the local market and saw that more than 90% of businesses employ up to 200 people. That was how we identified a gap in the market for PeoplePlus. The freemium model has been proven and we are confident that the application will become increasingly popular because of its pricing and functionality.”

For more information, visit www.peopleplus.co.za

[Free Online]

How freemium is changing industries.

Music

In recent years, several industries have applied the freemium model with great success. This is particularly true in music and publishing. A great example is the rock band Nine Inch Nails. Fans could download their latest album Ghost l-lV for free and buy a range of other products from the extended $5 download, to a $300 limited deluxe boxed CD.

Publishing

Flat World Knowledge is a company that publishes university textbooks. Where it differs from competitors is in its business model. Instead of only selling expensive paper versions that change every two years, Flat World Knowledge releases the books online for free download. Students and professors have access to quality textbooks at no cost. The publisher makes money from selling a range of other products, such as a printed textbook, audio books, e-book for a device, individual chapters to print, or study aids.

Gaming

Free-to-play online games, often overlooked in the hype around social and casual games, are growing just as fast as their counterparts. Much of this has to do with the industry’s transition from paid to freemium models – not only in online gaming, but for web and mobile apps on the whole.

Further reading

Free: The Future of a Radical
Price, by Chris Anderson

Freemium Blog:

www.freemium.org

Freemium: www.mashable.com/follow/topics/freemium/

Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces that Shape our Decisions, by Dan Ariely

Monique Verduyn is a freelance writer. She has more than 12 years’ experience in writing for the corporate, SME, IT and entertainment sectors, and has interviewed many of South Africa’s most prominent business leaders and thinkers. Find her on Google+.

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Performance & Growth

Elon Musk’s Formula For Successfully Growing Companies Faster

There is no denying the many ways in which Elon Musk is unique. There is also no denying the fact that you can learn something beneficial from him.

Manish Dudharejia

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Elon Musk needs no introduction.

Let me start by saying I am a huge fan of Elon Musk and the energy he brings to the business world. His major companies include: Tesla, SpaceX, Boring Company, HyperLoop, Solar City, and Giga Factory.

All Musk companies have a major theme, vision and technology

These companies all have one major theme in common; they are set on pushing boundaries. In fact, this innovative concept has practically become synonymous with Musk’s name.

Combined with groundbreaking technology and a strong passion for improving life (both in and outside of Earth), Musk’s unique vision is one of the most valuable contributions in bringing humanity to the next level.

One his quotes has always stuck with me: 

“If you get up in the morning and think the future is going to be better, it is a bright day. Otherwise, it’s not.”

Related: Elon Musk’s Lessons On Getting To Mars

Musk, the most influential entrepreneur today

Musk is the most influential entrepreneur of our generation. His approach has inspired many others to try new things and to make a real difference in the world. So what is it about his formula that is so special?

Well, truth be told, it’s really not that complicated. The bulk of his strategy can be traced back to several key cornerstones.

Musk is committed to challenging convention

One of the traits that makes Elon Musk so influential is his keen eye for understanding human truth. In essence, human truth encapsulates the deeper meaning behind universally-accepted status quos. In other words, it is the common thoughts and feelings that unite us all.

Musk’s formula for innovation starts by identifying the what and the why of certain pain points in day-to-day life. One of his more recent ideas, from SpaceX towers, aims to change the very perception of air travel.

What is human truth?

The human truth of air travel is that most people do not genuinely enjoy spending hours on a cramped airplane. Travelers like to get to their destinations as quickly as humanly possible. Musk’s ambitious plan is to create a revolutionary rocket system that transports passengers from any one city to another in under an hour.

For instance, a flight from New York City to Los Angeles would take roughly 25 minutes. Perhaps the best part of the plan; tickets will cost as much as a typical economy-class ticket. If you haven’t seen the videos, definitely check out part one and two.

This is not Musk’s only idea (both past and present) to challenge convention. Throughout each idea, the driving force effectively finds inefficiencies and works to create solutions that have never been done before. In many cases with Musk’s ideas, have never even been fathomed.

Related: 5 Habits That Made Elon Musk An Innovator

Musk understand everyone involved is a vector

dharmesh-shah-and-elon-musk

Recently, Dharmesh Shah, founder of HubSpot, got the opportunity to meet and converse with Musk at a dinner for legendary founders at Sequoia Capital. Like so many others, Shah wanted to know what Musk does to create a successful company. Shah asked him: “What’s your advice to build a great company that grows every day?”

Musk is a physics man, and his response reflected this fact perfectly. He told Shah to think of it in simple terms of getting a company from point A to point B. Each person within an operation is a vector that exerts energy to achieve this goal. Everyone has a quantity of both magnitude and direction.

A company’s progress is determined by the sum of all these vectors. If some vectors are exerting energy in one direction, while others are doing so in a different direction, the impact will be sub-optimal. For example, if an employee is exerting a force of 10 in one way, and another is exerting a force of 10 in the opposite, the total impact is zero.

For a company to achieve maximum impact, all vectors must be exerting energy in the same direction. In short, for a company to thrive, all parties must be consistently devoting their efforts to a common vision.

Firmly align team goals with customer needs

One of the biggest problems that plague many companies is a misalignment with internal team goals. When this is the case, misalignment with the customers’ needs is all but inevitable. Maintaining common goals within a company gets more and more complicated throughout growth; even more so when third-parties are introduced to the mix.

One of the basic human truths Musk factors into his business plans is that all people want a positive end-to-end customer experience. A stellar end-to-end customer experience involves outstanding products, sales strategies, and service options. Throughout each venture, Musk’s primary goal is to ensure these components happen.

Related: How To Market Like (Elon) Musk

Perhaps the best example is with his famous Tesla car. Many of the major car companies we know follow a common business model. While most have their own stores, a good portion of the sales aspect comes from third-party dealerships. Throughout this process, the unique brand values are being filtered through a number of different visions and mentalities. In turn, it becomes incredibly easy for core values to get lost in translation.

At Tesla, the authentic products are exclusively sold at their own stores. There are no outside dealerships involved to aid the sales cycle. Service options are available from branded Tesla centers. The Tesla computer system within the cars conducts all of its own updates and is equipped with technology to seamlessly guide users to the nearest Tesla charging stations.

If a user wants to sell their vehicle, they can do so through the Tesla website. At no point in the customer experience does the user need to branch out to any outside parties for assistance. When this is the case, keeping team goals aligned with customer needs is much easier and branded values do not run the risk of being muddled by external mindsets.

Conclusion

Elon Musk has already made a significant impact in improving the way we live. His superlative knowledge and dedication to the greater good is truly a once-in-a-lifetime phenomenon.

However, his core ideologies can be applied to virtually all business models. In 20, 50, or 100 years down the road, my hope is that more people catch on to his profound philosophies and continue to push human development to a brighter future.

This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.

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Performance & Growth

4 Ways To Make Your Business More Authentic And Successful

How to build an authentic presence that translates to your employees and customers.

Dane Jasper

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My business (Sonic, but not the burger joint) is significantly smaller than most of its competitors, so being authentic is one of our strongest competitive edges. And this authenticity comes in many forms – it’s the people you hire, how well you stimulate engagement, and how you motivate your team. Being authentic in these aspects is not always easy, but as an entrepreneur, you learn that the best things never are.

But, how do you build an authentic business?

1. Hire nice people

Never underestimate the power of being nice. Hiring genuinely nice people has been an invaluable cornerstone of my entire business philosophy. If you hire nice people, they are kind to your customers, who reward you with their loyalty, and that cycle sustains itself. It seems simple, but I’m surprised by how often this idea falls by the wayside.

Related: 11 Steps to Starting a Successful Business in Your 20s

I know what you’re thinking: Well, duh! Because you always hire the best and the brightest, right? Right?!

Probably not. You’re strapped for time, you’re growing at a rate you had never imagined and you settle for Joe, the guy who came in for his interview with his shirt inside out. You can do better. Really take your time, hire an awesome HR team and empower your managers to help hire nice people – this will set the tone for your entire enterprise.

2. Motivate them

So, you’ve hired your nice people. You sent Joe packing and went with Amelia, who took a little longer to find but is a much better fit for your organisation – good for you. Now, how do you get all those nice people motivated to do their best work for your company? Their motivation will come directly from you, from your passion for the industry and the authentic way in which that needs to be communicated.

Remind yourself why you’re pursuing something in the first place at times when that thing is most challenging or your business’s deeper purpose seems murky.

For me, I’m motivated by the fact that Sonic really is fixing the internet in America by giving our customers a fair choice for their internet provider. I communicate this motive with employees at quarterly company meetings, I sit down with groups of new hires every few months to share Sonic’s story, I have lunch in the breakroom, and I never stop reminding everyone ‘why’ our work matters. I authentically care about what we are doing, and I share that over and over.

3. Engage them

engagement-advice

Your vision for your organisation is meaningless unless you share it with the people you need to help you achieve it. They need to know what they are working toward other than just a paycheck.

  • What is the end goal?
  • What is the real purpose behind your mission, your business’s core values?
  • And how are they contributing?

Sharing your vision will allow employees to be a part of something bigger, something more than ‘just another job’, which is much more powerful than a cool, new cappuccino machine. That vision will be the long-term drive of your organisation, and it will push your employees to do their best work. This can be a conversation in the hallway, the beginning of a presentation or a cake delivered to each employee. Whatever form it takes, be relentless.

Related: Top Tips For Building A Successful Business From Your Home

4. Pay attention to the little things

You’ve hired the right people. They’re motivated and engaged. Now how do we keep them happy? First, focus on what key factors make your business special. For us, it’s a multitude of things, but one example is our ‘All Hands’ meetings. This is something we’ve done since the beginning and the impact remains huge.

It’s my opportunity to engage, motivate and reward the people of Sonic. We pass out awards for the month’s standout employees, we talk about the past and the future and we don’t take ourselves too seriously. It’s real. It’s authentic. There is emotion, because I am so very proud of every one of the team.

And, it’s so important. Along with free pizza on Fridays and successful launch celebrations, these meetings bring us back together and remind everyone that they’re part of a team – an especially awesome team.

Keeping these activities happening even with a company’s exponential growth is huge. They are the defining aspects of your entire enterprise and the core of the organisation’s authenticity. Keep what separates you from the competition; compete with them not by emulating them, but by doing the opposite: doing what makes your business genuine and unique. Your customers will recognise it and so will the people who work for you. I assure you it will make all the difference.

This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.

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Performance & Growth

17 Most Important Performance Management Decisions Leaders Will Need To Make

Is your organisation geared to handle its own growth strategies? Are you sure?

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Roadmap to success

The 17 most important performance management decisions you need to make as a leadership team to build a high-growth organisation. Understand what they are, make them, and your business will thrive.

If you’re awesome, you’ll succeed. If you succeed, you’ll grow. As you grow, the scale will change everything and, then, you won’t be awesome anymore — unless you change a lot of what made you awesome in the first place. This is known as the scale up paradox. In a nutshell, what got you here, won’t get you there! The ability to recognise this and change yourself and your business is what separates great businesses from brands that have faded into obscurity.

Knowing what to change, when to change and how to change is the very essence of scaling up.

Take as an example the way we manage performance. A start-up can run everything on ‘check-ins’. Through frequent check-ins you can zero in on who’s doing what, by when and how. You can keep on top of how things are going and whether you need a course correction. The check-in system is awesome. Until it’s not.

Because you can’t run everything on check-ins when there are 30 people around. The ‘check-in’ system basically means that you are the system. You, the founders, keep everything together. This means you’re the bottleneck. Your personal bandwidth is the ultimate ceiling on your growth. And that is bad news for your health — and your business.

If you’re awesome, and you succeed, and grow, it won’t be long until you can’t sleep because of the many loose threads in your brain: Tasks you need to assign headspace to, projects and people you’re not ‘on top of’, discussions to be had that you can’t get to.

So, to get some sleep, you’ll be forced to take delegation to another level. This is not simply a question of giving away tasks or projects; it means giving away responsibility for entire parts of the business. That’s scary. But if you have great people, it’s also liberating.

Related: 3 Ways To Promote Business Growth In A Troubled Economy

Performance architecture

Now you’re sleeping again. For a while. Because if your people are awesome, you’ll succeed, and you’ll grow, and pretty soon the balls will be dropping again. You’ll realise that what you assumed people were doing, they’re not doing, just because they assumed they should be doing other things. And you’ll long for the days of the ‘check-in’ system when you could be on top of everything through enough ‘check-ins’. But there’s no going back now. You’re too big. You simply can’t check-in with everyone when you’re at or beyond the 30-person mark.

Maybe you’re having a conversation with someone at that point, and they tell you about OKR: Objectives and Key Results. Now there’s a system you can hang your keys on! A rhythm to align on key priorities and targets every two or four weeks (or every month or quarter, if you’re a bit more mature).

Liberation! Suddenly you can be on top of everything without the check-in overwhelm. It’s a thing of beauty, really. Until it’s not.

Because if you’re awesome, and you succeed, and you grow, the day will come when those balls will once again drop. And it won’t be because the senior team aren’t doing what you agreed when you set your quarterly OKRs. It will be because the business is too complex now for OKRs. OKRs still rely on a lot of manual alignment through collaboration and regular ‘check-ins’ at the operating level. Even simpler than that, the balls are dropping because, suddenly, there are a whole lot of new people issues you have never had to deal with before at this level:

  • Accountability vacuums: A rising tendency for important things to fall into ‘no man’s land’ with nobody accountable for them
  • Major differences in contribution: A rising number of people in cruise mode while the rest of the team do all the work
  • Performance politics: Lots of high performers are unhappy because people aren’t being treated fairly. Slackers are getting good reviews and rewards just because their managers are lenient; high performers, on the other hand, are getting the same as them because their team has higher standards
  • Compensation politics: People aren’t satisfied that bonuses and increase decisions are being made fairly
  • High Performance Culture slide: All of this is causing relational friction and culture issues that are impacting performance.

So, right now, there’s way too much going on for OKRs and ‘check-ins’ to work. Things need more alignment and coordination than you’re going to get through your team interactions. You need a new way of aligning the different parts of the business without falling into ‘check-in overwhelm’.

You need a performance architecture with more processes and systems that maintain alignment across teams. Big words. Corporate words, which we know entrepreneurs tend to dislike. But let’s understand them.

Basically what they mean is that, around about this time, performance management needs a major upgrade. Why? And how should you do performance management? Isn’t it an awful relic of industrial-age corporate management, which is why so many top employers are moving to something new?

True enough. The dilemma is that a lot of the new age buzz about liberating talent to thrive without backward-looking performance reviews don’t work in most contexts; most often, it will break things even more than a frustrating, antiquated performance management system would.

The reality is that performance management is much more complex than an annual review and, furthermore, is definitely not a ‘one-size fits all’ approach.

Related: 3 Strategies To Implement A Culture Of Innovation In Your Business (Without Blowing Billions)

If you’re scaling up and keen to build a scalable performance management system that works in your context (and at the same time reinforces your greatest culture assets), here are 17 of the most important performance management decisions you will need to make as a leadership team.

Performance management intent: What is the main goal of our performance management system? Accountability for performance, coaching for development and improved performance, or both? Harvard Business Review says this is a 70-year old debate. Don’t assume your other leaders see this the same way you do.

Individual appraisals: Do we believe that focusing on individual appraisals would result in better — or worse — business performance? Does it adversely affect team work and a ‘looking beyond my scorecard’ mentality?

Standardisation: Given that various parts of the business are so different, should we be doing the same thing across the business? How do we do performance management differently (if we even should) in areas as different as engineering, sales and customer service?

Target setting processes: Should targets be set from the top down, bottom up, or some combination of the two?

Nature of targets: Should performance targets be activity targets, behaviour targets, intermediate outcome targets (closest to ultimate outcome, that are fully within control) or ultimate outcome targets (even if not within our control)?

Bonuses: Should we link rewards to personal performance ratings? Some say that you should just pay really well and bake everything into a fixed bonus, or into basic compensation, and fire the non-performers. Which works best?

Bonus pool formula: Which proportion of an individual’s bonus should be determined by either individual contribution versus the performance of their team or division, or the business as a whole?

Long-term incentives: What percentage of variable incentive remuneration (VIR) should be long term, and which should be deferred to future years/long term (LTIR)?

Increases: How should performance ratings affect salary increases?

Formal or informal feedback: What is the right balance between formal appraisal and informal continuous feedback?

Feedback sources: Are there objective measures? If not, who gives input to the appraisal? If there are multiple parties, how are their inputs weighted? Is a line manager’s feedback more important than multiple, non-line individuals or ‘bosses’?

Performance appraisal scale: How do we summarise individual performance assessments?

Appraisal frequency: How often do we appraise performance and give feedback? Would this be per assignment or based on time, such as weekly, monthly, quarterly, bi-annually or annually?

Bonuses versus career investment and opportunity: How do we decide which individuals to prioritise for investment in growth and promotions? How do we balance bonuses versus investment in learning, development and promotions?

Dealing with high performance that doesn’t produce results: What do we do when people perform well, but don’t deliver the business results due to issues outside their control?

Performance management roles: Who does what in the performance management process? What belongs to HR? What belongs to line managers?

Performance management software: When do we move from Excel (or similar) to software products that streamline this process? What are the best packages for our business? (Small Improvements and Engagedly are our top recommendations).

Related: Has Your Business Stopped Growing? Here’s How To Turn Things Around

Walter Penfold, MD Everlytic

walter-penfold

  • Fire faster. Bad performers are toxic for the culture. Use the three-month probation period brutally. The culture impact of firing fast is much superior to that of firing slow.
  • Attune to sentiment. Many poor performers are great at upward management. They can look like performers to you, but people around them know the truth. Stay attuned to, and respond to grumblings.
  • Give immediate, direct feedback on any performance issues. This should never wait for a formal performance review. We do a formal 360-review once a year.
  • Keep it super simple to start — we definitely over-complicated it.
  • Centre on weekly one-on-one meetings. Then performance management becomes the way you work, not a chat between strangers once a quarter.

Stuart Townsend, Edge Growth

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Be realistic. Our training budgets are not realistic enough to enable people to build the competencies we need them to have to deliver the outcomes we expect.

Brad Magrath, Co-founder, Zoona

brad-magrath

  • Invest in growing your managers. We over-estimated the ability of young, inexperienced managers to have honest candid constructive conversations. If they suck at having good performance management discussions, the whole system breaks down.
  • Non-performers weren’t scored as non-performers, leading to ugly train smashes down the line.
  • Bad managers give good ratings to bad performers.
  • Invest in creating role clarity. Performance management didn’t work well initially because we lacked role clarity and agreed metrics.
  • Focus on behaviours, not just outputs.
  • Ensure managers are deliberate around context of feedback: Is it coaching, is it performance, is it brainstorming? Be clear on why the conversation is happening so the message is not mixed.
  • Get huge buy in from the beginning — we didn’t do enough of this. Then people don’t actually do appraisals well and the whole system breaks down again.
  • What you measure is what you get — A-players like the idea of being performance measured objectively. Make sure the metrics are totally objective and have integrity.

The reality

The ability to recognise that what got you here won’t get you there is the first step towards building a high-impact, significant business.

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