The Measure of Performance

From the Ask Tom mailbag:

I attended one of your workshops last week. How do you evaluate the Potential Capability of prospective or current employees, using Time Span as the metric?

While this sounds like a simple question, there are many elements to it. Your question is all about Capability.

  • Does this person have the Capability to fill the role, now?
  • Does this person have the Potential Capability to fill this role in one or two years?
  • Is the underperformance, that I observe, related to a lack of Capability, OR another factor?

These are all absolutely legitimate questions for a manager to ask when making a decision related to task assignment, internal promotion and external recruiting from a candidate pool.

It is critical to understand that successful performance in ANY role can be traced to these four factors –

  • Capability (your question above)
  • Skill (Technical knowledge and practiced performance)
  • Interest or Passion (Value for the work)
  • Reasonable Behavior (Habits and the absence of extreme negative temperament)

And I depend on the judgment of the manager to determine which factor(s) are most directly related to the performance I observe. And if the primary factor turns out to be Capability, the most descriptive term is Applied Capability. Indeed, the person may have greater Potential Capability, but as a manager, I am only able to see Applied Capability. I can see Applied Capability because there is a work product, direct output.

But your question was about Potential Capability. As a manager, I may make an intuitive judgment that a team member has greater Potential. This typically means, that, as a manager, I observe underperformance that I deem “could be better.” The question is “why?” What factors could be changed to create higher levels of effectiveness in the role (or task)?

Changing the degree of Applied Capability has little to do with Capability. It has more to do with the other three factors. The limits to Applied Capability have to do with Skill, Interest and Reasonable Behavior. Change any one of those factors and you will see a change in Applied Capability.

But your question was about Potential Capability. The only method, as a manager, to gain insight into a person’s Potential Capability is to test for it. Project work is the single best way to test for Potential Capability. Lee Thayer says it best, “The only measure of performance, is performance.”
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One thought on “The Measure of Performance

  1. Kevin Black

    Fantastic as always Tom! I like the way you can take that first question, read between the lines and reframe it to the bigger question. You know, the “What are you really asking me?” question.


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