Unprecendented Speed in Performance Improvement

In business, performance plateaus are considered to be inevitable. People seem to stop improving on their results or skill proficiency because they encounter organizational constraints or apparently reach the upper limits of their talent.

In sports, however, performance plateaus are not accepted as inevitable. A coach’s primary responsibility is to orchestrate well-designed and frequent practice sessions so players keep improving their skills.

This is a stark contrast in expectations about mastering plateaus. It begs several questions: How do you account for a breakthrough where an individual’s performance achieves a level that’s not predicted based on past history? Is there a process practiced by sports teams that can be replicated in a hectic business setting so plateaus are brief and continuous performance improvement is the norm?

My motivation for addressing this question came from my own recent breakthrough in sprinting as a masters track athlete. At age 64, I ran the 100-meter dash nearly a second faster and the 200 meter nearly two seconds faster at the end of the season than I ran at the start of the season. These times matched the speeds I ran in 2011.

Since my perspective on performance comes from living at the intersection of sports and business, I was naturally inclined to translate the best principles behind achieving breakthroughs in athletic training (in my case sprinting) to empower a sales executive or senior manager whose performance has reached a plateau.


In sports, coaches leave nothing to chance when it comes to making performance improvements. Rather than assume that a plateau reflects their athletes’ greatest potential, they seek to discover some facet of preparation or game day performance to improve. Many teams maintain some form of comprehensive performance scorecards for their entire roster.

For example, I use a sprinter’s scorecard that contains two main categories of performance—sport-specific capabilities and foundational capabilities. Each of these categories can be broken down into discrete areas for improvement.

Sport-specific capabilities include:

  • Explosive start
  • Maximum velocity speed
  • Speed endurance (once maximum velocity speed is reached)

Foundational capabilities include:

  • Muscular strength
  • Flexibility
  • Optimal nutrition
  • Emotional preparation (e.g., stress relieving warm up rituals)
  • Mental skills e.g., visualization, focusing attention, goal setting)
  • Recovery (e.g., sleep, planned layoffs, post workout icing and nutrition)
  • Body alignment

My comprehensive performance scorecard offers a slate of ten areas to draw upon for improvement. I made three notable changes to accomplish the turn-back-the clock times in my sprinting. First, I changed my sprint mechanics so my lead foot strikes on the entire front plate of my spikes (not just the toe) and my hips are held more erect. Second, I improved my aerobic conditioning and endurance of my leg muscles by incorporating more rigorous “interval training”–running longer sprints with short recovery time. Third, I refined my mental skills, focusing on my strategy for each phase of a race to prevent being distracted by my competitors’ actions.

Using a comprehensive performance scorecard leaves nothing to chance. Until I incorporate all ten areas for improvement (at varying amounts over a competitive year), I can’t point to age or lack of talent as reasons for not getting better.

Following my breakthrough in sprinting, I delivered a workshop on “Creating Sales Calls Customers Would Pay For.” I used this occasion to devise a similar comprehensive performance scorecard for sales reps and sales managers.

Sales specific capabilities:

  • Pre-sales call preparation (e.g., analyzing a customer’s strategic position, detecting customer’s unexpressed needs and blind spots)
  • Sales call performance (e.g., asking problem-implication questions to help customers discover pain points, sharing unique solutions persuasively)
  • Post-call debriefing (e.g., giving performance-based feedback, publicizing lessons learned to an entire sales team, inviting accountability for ineffective performance)
  • Internal selling/orchestrating team collaboration (e.g., diagnosing the root causes of breakdowns in teamwork, raising issues with colleagues)

Foundational capabilities:

  • Self-management (e.g., prioritizing long and short-term goals)
  • Wellness (e.g., exercise, stress management, sleep)
  • Mental skills (.e.g., focusing attention, goal-setting for each sales call)
  • Deliberate practice (e.g., practice drills to engage in while getting real work done).


effective-sales-questionsDeschutes Brewery is one of my clients who’ve designed their work process to correlate with the counter-intuitive mindset that “all there is at work is time to get better.” Managers and sales reps team up in “ride-along” coaching sessions, so both parties get to practice a number of these areas for improvement.

Before their first sales call, they describe the specific areas for improvement that could be practiced in their sales call performance, debriefing, or coaching. During the sales presentation, they engage fully in the customer interaction while also noticing the strengths and weaknesses in their performance. While commuting to the next call, the pair conducts a formal debriefing. Their set of debriefing questions is on laminated cards.

By acknowledging their strengths and areas to work on, the pair clarifies practice goals for the next sales appointment. When the entire day’s sales calls are done, both sales rep and managers define their performance improvement goals to continue to practice and also share their lessons learned with Deschutes’ colleagues who stand to benefit.


Every day in the field consists of opportunities to build capabilities using the comprehensive performance scorecard. Here are practical steps you can take:

1Using the two examples in this blog, create a comprehensive performance scorecard for your role, including a number of role-specific capabilities as well as foundation capabilities.

2In reviewing your scorecard, notice where you can upgrade your performance in any of your areas for improvement. For instance, if you notice you’ve been winging it in preparation for major meetings with team members or customers, describe how you’ll improve the quality of your preparation.

3Follow the Deschutes Brewery team and figure out how you can practice on your areas for improvement while your real work is getting done.

Do you see the full repercussions of making comprehensive performance scorecards into a standard tool for your team members? Performance plateaus will be very brief. Gradually, you’ll come to regard plateaus as unacceptable. And just like athletes and coaches, you’ll have a plethora of ways to master plateaus and achieve breakthroughs in performance.

FREE OFFER: If you or a colleague would like to receive several full length versions of comprehensive performance scorecards (which also include measurements to gauge performance improvement), e-mail me at art@turock.com.

INVITATION: If you’d like to explore the opportunity to engage with Art Turock in a coaching relationship to develop one or several comprehensive performance scorecards, you can get details on his executive coaching by clicking on the button below.

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