While attending a conference recently, a friend pointed out a session that he thought might interest me. Reading the blurb, it appeared that the sales manager of a smallish financial institution was going to unveil the sales secrets of the universe. (That's only a slight exaggeration.)

I smiled while reading it and reflected on the dangers of overselling. Going by what the presenter was promising to accomplish in his session, I wondered if he would be wearing a cape. I figured he had to be either a magician or a superhero.

Alas, he was neither. I kidded with my friend afterwards that I felt as if I had time-traveled. Take away a few references to online banking, and it could have been 1993 in that room.

I'm not saying that is all bad. There are some tried-and-true sales management practices that are as relevant today as they ever were.

The speaker stated that the kind of people we hire is important and that we should be sure to keep our good employees and get rid of the bad ones. And that was pretty much where he left that subject.

I smiled as folks around me jotted that wisdom down. But hey, reminders are good.

When he shared his fondness of stack-ranking branches, I was reminded that many mistakes seem to be evergreen, as well. One such mistake is thinking that this practice, in and of itself, is some kind of sales-motivation panacea.

The speaker suggested that the embarrassment of being on the bottom of public sales rankings motivates people to work harder.

Sensing that this guy really wasn't looking for a second opinion, I just smiled and continued doodling on my notepad. Well, truth be told, I did take two shorthand notes after his stack-ranking comments. I wrote, “Embarrassment isn't a reliable motivator,” and “Knowing why is more important than knowing what.”

True, my notes were close to opposite of what he contended, but I'm going to argue that it still counted as class participation.

Over the years, I've had scores of bankers share with me how they measure and report individual and branch-level results. Ranking folks and teams by production and distributing those results internally are pretty common.

And in some cases, folks who find themselves on the bottom of these rankings look in the mirror and commit to climbing up those lists. Just as often, however, folks tend to simply rationalize and explain away those results.

I've joked with managers before that if you asked folks towards the bottom of their rankings why they thought the top producers were successful, they'd say “luck” or a “better market” or “cheating” or all of the above.

We ostensibly want the individuals and teams towards the middle and bottom of our rankings to become as productive as those toward the top of our lists. Yet it's pretty amazing how few organizations go beyond simply listing top performers' names to also sharing relevant information about the behaviors of those individuals and practices of their teams.

I've only half-kidded with senior managers that they need to treat their star performers like the press treats celebrities. Big stars' moves are chronicled and reported. We know where they go, what they do and who they're with.

No, I'm not suggesting that our top performers should be stalked by bank paparazzi. But giving the rest of our teams regular snapshots of factors that brought about star performances is far more useful to them than simply reporting who those star performers are.

Maybe top-performing branches are hiring and staffing differently or using different customer targeting strategies. Maybe top managers spend more time away from their branches than their peers. Maybe their daily routines look noticeably different than others.

Perhaps all of these things are true. Perhaps none of them are. But there is benefit in knowing.

That said, I warn managers to be just a little skeptical if top performers quickly say they are simply following their bosses' game plans to the letter. It sounds good to supervisors' ears, and it strokes egos. And sure, sometimes it may even be true.

But I've seen many instances in which top-performing managers and personnel go a little off of the official game plan to achieve their results. They become creative with their efforts.  

And many then hide that fact to avoid their boss's ire for not following directions. The actual differentiating activity stays unknown to others who may benefit the most from copying it. It happens more times than many senior managers imagine.

Most understand the value of thoroughly interviewing talent we are considering bringing on to our teams. But there is also great value in regularly interviewing the star performers already on our teams.

Make them – and their best practices – famous within your organization.

Dave Martin is an executive vice president and chief development officer at Financial Supermarkets Inc., a Market Contractors subsidiary that offers design, construction, consulting and training services for retail banking programs. He can be reached at dmartin@supermarketbank.com.