By Ben Sands
I don’t miss much about my nearly six-year career in corporate sales.
But there is this one thing…
It’s certainly not the long hours, the relentless pressure and/or the constant rejection you must learn to tolerate in a field where even the very best performers would hear “no” eight times out of ten.
No, what I miss about being a corporate sales executive is the constant awareness of how I was performing.
At any moment, on any day, I had near-perfect visibility into how I was doing compared to my peers and, more often than not, a clear understanding of the reasons for that performance.
YOU ARE NOT A NUMBER (WELL, NOT ENTIRELY)
Early in my sales career a manager once told me, “you are your number.”
He was only kind of kidding.
What he meant was that, for better or worse, your status in the organization was directly related to how well you were performing against your “number” – your sales, revenue or new business goal.
Your “number” was a clean, clear and unambiguous measure of performance. And, on most days, my emotional state would tie directly to how close I was to hitting it.
Fortunately, since leaving the field of professional sales I have come to realize two important truths:
1. I am not my number
My past performance has nothing to do with my future value. My value is dependent only on my next action, my next step, my next brave (or not) choice.
2. If I am going to get stronger, to get better, I need a number
Managing to a number helped me grow. As a sales executive, the pressure of my number got me to do things that I otherwise wouldn’t have done; to work harder and build a deeper and more sophisticated skill set. I have come to believe that if I want to excel in life, the way I excelled at sales, I need to develop a new metric (or set of metrics) to help guide and drive my future growth.
To summarize: True growth is only possible if we consistently take account of how we are doing – the progress we are making, the roadblocks we are encountering, the lessons we are learning – and then use that data to make changes that will move us forward.
Over the last six months, I’ve been working to identify questions to ask that will give me the self-awareness (and data) I need to continue to grow both personally and professionally.
Honestly, it’s been hard.
So many of the things that you want to get “right” in life (love, relationships, emotions, growth, etc) are difficult to measure. But, my efforts haven’t been completely in vain.
YOUR MID-YEAR PERFORMANCE REVIEW (23 QUESTIONS TO ASK, NOW)
Below I’ve put together a simple list of questions, organized across five categories, that I have used to regularly self-assess; to better understand if I am moving forward in life the way I want to move forward or if I am falling behind.
This isn’t an exhaustive list of performance measures of course (in fact, if you have others to add to this list, email me), but it’s a start.
And because it’s just a start (and likely the first time you’ve done this type of exhaustive self-reflection), don’t be too hard on yourself. The value of this exercise is directly proportionate to your level of honesty, patience and self-compassion.
CATEGORY 1: HOW DID YOU DO, OVERALL?
I like to start with a few summary questions to help me recall and reflect on all that has happened over the past six months and what to make of it. This is mostly qualitative, but I like having at least one quantitative data point (scale of 1-5), in order to have something to evaluate year-over-year.
- What were the highlights of your year, to-date? Your BEST personal and professional moments?
- What were the low points? Your MOST CHALLENGING personal and professional moments?
- What have been your biggest LESSONS LEARNED this year to-date? How did you learn each lesson?
- On a scale of 1-5, where 1 = “terrible” and 5 = “incredible,” how would you evaluate 2015 so far?
CATEGORY 2: WHAT NEW KNOWLEDGE & SKILL DID YOU DEVELOP?
If you want to live a life that gets better every year (which is, incidentally, one of my ambitions), one of the primary catalysts is the acquisition of new knowledge and skill.
Unfortunately, this kind of personal growth often gets de-prioritized (no time! no money! no time!). These questions offer some simple metrics to help you to assess how much progress you’ve made (and time you’ve spent) in this pursuit.
- How many books did you read over the last six months?
- What podcasts, blogs and/or magazines did you read/listen to consistently?
- What courses, seminars or programs did you participate in?
- What was the most important new skill that you developed over the last six months? What were the conditions that helped you to build this skill? (e.g. “my boss demanded that I do it”; “I signed up for a formal course” etc)
- On a scale of 1-5, where 1 = “none” and 5 = “lots,” how much did you grow – personally and/or professionally – over the past six months? Why wasn’t that number higher?
To be clear, there are no “right” or “wrong” answers to this assessment.
That said, a “red flag” (issue to be concerned about) is having no answer – i.e. you didn’t read any books; listen to any podcasts; build any skill. (Note: If you need suggestions on what to read or listen to, sign up for my free newsletter).
CATEGORY 3: RELATIONSHIPS / NETWORKING
Next to adding knowledge and/or skill, improving the size and quality of your network is the best and most proven way to improve the quality of your life. These questions will help you to better assess and reflect on your relationship progress to-date.
- Who are the five most important people in your life today?
- Per question above, did these relationships get stronger, weaker, or stay the same over the last six months? How do you know? Why did it change (or not)?
- What new relationships, developed in the last six months, have had the most meaningful positive impact on your life? Why?
- If you could spend more time with three specific people over the next six months, who would they be? Why?
CATEGORY 4: MONEY
There may be no more insidious force holding us back from creating lives we love than ill-informed fear about money.
Too many otherwise intelligent people worry about money – and make poor choices as a result – without spending any time calculating how much they have, how much they need and why. The good news is that financial security is among the easiest of the critical performance indicators to measure.
Here are a few questions that you need to know the answer to:
- What is your net worth today? How has that number changed since January 2015?
- How much does your life cost today (i.e. what are my total expenses on a monthly basis)? Is your life more expensive, or less expensive, than it was in January 2015?
- How much money did you save for retirement over the last six months? (include 401(k) contributions + any other savings)
- What percent of your pre-tax income did you donate? What do you want that number to be by the end of the year?
- Of everything that you spent money on over the last six months, what item(s) brought you the greatest joy/satisfaction?
- What did you spend money on that you wouldn’t buy again?
- On a scale of 1-5, how “financially secure” do you feel today? (5 = “very secure”) Is that number higher or lower than you felt in January? Why?
If you need some ideas on how to better set up your financial system to allow you to more easily answer these questions, download my free e-book: Regret-Free Personal Finance.
CATEGORY 5: HEALTH
Finally, we get to the “lead domino”: our health.
I call it the “lead domino” because, as I see it, if you aren’t physically (and emotionally) healthy, it will be very hard (or at least hard-er) for you to make meaningful progress day after day.
Like the first domino in a chain, your health is the factor that makes everything else possible.
It’s like waking up with a hangover: regardless of how much you love your job or life, you are not going to be able to perform at the same level as you would if you awoke well-rested (i.e. without the headache and dry-mouth).
- On a scale of 1-5, how “healthy” do you feel today? (5 = “very healthy”) Is that number higher or lower than you felt in January? Why?
- How much sleep are you getting, on average, each night? How much is enough?
- How many days/week do you exercise more than 20 minutes/day (and break a sweat)?
Obviously this is not an exhaustive list of quality health-related questions but I wanted to keep it simple.
When it comes to your health, beyond genetics all that really matters is how you eat, how you move (exercise) and how you sleep (I learned that from Tom Rath’s great book).
Today there is an increasing number of ways to measure progress against your physical health goals (e.g. FitBit, iWatch, etc). In future editions of this post I’ll try to add in some questions that wearable-tech might allow us to answer accurately.
You aren’t your number.
Well, maybe you are.
It all depends on the quality of the question you ask.
Alas, unlike in sales, there’s no single metric that can accurately capture you how much progress you made this year, but that doesn’t mean you can’t (or shouldn’t try to) objectively assess your performance.
Use these questions to get you started.
I know that this may appear a long and daunting list, but here’s a suggestion: Set aside 30 minutes tonight to simply get started; work through as many of the questions as you can.
Even better, enroll your spouse, boyfriend or girlfriend, or best friend in this activity, as well. I think you’ll be amazed at how powerful and energizing this process can be when done with at least one more person.