Category Archives: Performance Feedback

Beginning of Competence

“What’s the difference between training and coaching?” I asked.

Melanie was a new manager. “I’ve been to training,” she replied. “It’s scheduled, it has a curriculum, it’s disciplined. Someone thought through the sequence of learning, identified specific skills.”

“And, when you emerged from the training program, certificate of completion in hand, did that make you a high performer?”

“That’s was my impression,” Melanie said. “But, that impression turned out to be wrong. The training gave me insight into the way we do things around here, but I was certainly not a high performer.”

“You seem to be comfortable in what you are doing now,” I nodded. “That wasn’t the result of the training?”

“Not hardly. I learned, possessed some technical knowledge about our methods and process, but I was very much a newbie.”

“Technical knowledge, but not competence? On the other hand, you appear competent now. What happened?”

“Practice,” Melanie smiled. “Technical knowledge will only get you so far. Competence requires taking those first steps, hands on, then practice, lots of practice.”

Measuring Output or Effectiveness?

From the Ask Tom mailbag-

You describe an evaluation process called the Personal Effectiveness Appraisal. How is that different from a Performance Review?

The Performance Review, or Annual Performance Appraisal judges the output of the person in the role related to goals or objectives. How close did the team member’s output come to the target? The problem with the Performance Appraisal, it places accountability in the wrong place.

The goal, or the target published in the Performance Appraisal is generally set by the manager. Team members may agree (enthusiastically or reluctantly), but it is the manager that signs off on the target. That target is the manager’s best judgement of what is reasonable based on the manager’s expectation of circumstances. These goals or targets are typically organized into Key Areas, so the role has an array of indicators (KPIs) on which to examine output. Because this method incorporates a series of comparative numbers, it is thought that this Performance Appraisal is “objective” in that the numbers don’t lie. The problem is, the basis for those numbers is still a manager’s judgement. Further, it is the manager that controls all the variables around those numbers, access to resources, number of people committed to the goal, budget allocated, tools, maintenance schedules, overtime permitted, supply chain interruption. It is the manager Elliott holds accountable for output.

The Personal Effectiveness Appraisal is different. Please understand it is still a manager’s judgement, but now the manager is looking at additional criteria. It is not that we put the manager’s targets aside, but the manager must now consider the team member’s effectiveness in the context of the circumstances during the appraisal period. A salesperson, in a fertile market might achieve the target output numbers by simply taking orders. A Performance Appraisal might judge the output as “exceeded expectations,” while an Effectiveness Appraisal might judge the behavior as mediocre.

A salesperson in a difficult market might fall short of the target in spite of extraordinary skill and effort. The Performance Appraisal might judge the output with a failing grade, while an Effectiveness Appraisal might yield a high five, perhaps a hug (if we are still allowed to hug in the workplace).


“I have a quality problem,” Francis explained. “My team was falling short on unit output, so I put a spiff out there, some restaurant cards if we met our weekly output targets.”

“And, the unintended consequences of this little spiff?” I asked.

“We met the weekly output target, but my reject rate went up. My team began to cut corners, so I had to double-down on my inspection samples. For parts that passed inspection, our output was actually lower than before.”

“So, you were expecting an incentive to replace something you should have done?” I asked.

“What do you mean?” Francis objected. “I expected them to work harder, pay more attention. Didn’t turn out that way.”

“Let’s pretend, for a moment, that your team was already working as hard as they could, with focused attention. And that, to reach the target, you, as the manager had to make a change. What change would that be?”

Francis hesitated, looking to abandon responsibility for output. “You mean, I can’t give out restaurant cards?”

“No, what could you have done differently, as the manager? Remember, you control the variables in which your team works. What could you have done, as the manager?”

“I’m stumped,” Francis replied, eyebrows lifted.

“If you are stumped, then who could you ask for ideas?”

Francis grimaced, “You are thinking my team, aren’t you?”

I nodded. “In what way could we increase our production output, while maintaining the same quality standard? Sounds like a reasonable question for any manager to ask of the team. My guess, the response will have little to do with restaurant cards.”

What is Competence?

To be effective requires competence. But, what is competence? Lee Thayer said, “The best measure of performance is performance.” It sounds like a circular reference (illegal on an Excel spreadsheet), but his intent was focused. When measuring performance, do not be mislead by surrounding statistics, the best measure of performance is performance.

But, what of competence. Here, the circular reference breaks down. One of the gifts that Elliott gave us was the Four Absolutes Required for Success (in any role, no matter the discipline).

  • Capability.
  • Skill, broken into technical knowledge and practiced performance.
  • Interest, passion (value for the work).
  • Required behaviors

Competence is a combination of Capability and Skill. If I do not have the capability for the work, no amount of developmental training will be helpful. And, I don’t have the skill, you will never see my capability. Competence is a combination of both.

Interest, or passion for the work will influence the amount of time for practice. The more interested I am, the more time I will spend in practice. And if I don’t practice a skill, the skill goes away, competence diminishes.

There is also a set of required behaviors. Practice arrives with many qualities, frequency of practice, duration of practice, depth of practice, accuracy of practice. Accuracy of practice relates to required behaviors. Practice doesn’t make perfect, only perfect practice makes perfect.

While the best measure of performance is performance, we can understand competence with a bit more detail.

Hmmm. Just an Attaboy

Tyler was curious. “Let’s say I buy this positive reinforcement thing. Exactly how do I do that? I mean, do I just walk around all day giving attaboys?”

“Is an attaboy meaningful?” I replied.

“Well, not really. It’s not a real attention grabber.” Tyler flashed a hint of a smirk.

“Positive reinforcement doesn’t have to be earth shattering to be effective. But it does have to be meaningful to the individual to have the behavior repeated.”

“So, give me an example.”

“Have you ever watched a teenager completely absorbed in a video game, relentlessly pushing buttons.” Tyler’s brow furrowed but he was still listening. “Now, you would think that, for a bright young gamer, repetitively pushing buttons for three or four hours at a stretch would become hopelessly boring. Yet, every time a button is pushed, something on the screen glows or a bell dings, or a spaceship blows up. In a video game, so much positive reinforcement occurs, the gamer can become addicted.” Tyler’s curiosity moved to intrigue.

“What gets reinforced, gets repeated.”

What Do You Do Well?

From the Ask Tom mailbag:


I have a performance review with a top performer on my team. In addition to reviewing his past 3 months results, I am trying to prepare some discussion topics that are geared towards 1) further developing his strengths and 2) finding ways to challenge him so he does not get bored.


I think you just defined the discussion topics.

Developing strengths can usually be identified with the following questions.

  • What is it that you believe you do well?
  • If I was standing as an observer, what would I see in you as a strength?
  • How do you gain the greatest leverage from your strengths?
  • How do you nurture your strengths?
  • How can I, as your manager, nurture those strengths?

Finding ways to challenge the team member is most easily done through delegation. Most people believe delegation is a time management tool, but it is also your most powerful people-development tool. Ask these questions.

  • Looking forward, what responsibility would challenge and test your abilities?
  • If we were to assign that responsibility to you, what safeguards could we put in place to make it a learning experience rather than a trial by fire?

When you think about retaining your top performers, these are the most important conversations.

Positive Reinforcement in the Real World

“So, how does that work around here?” Travis asked. Using the analogy of video games and expert levels made the reinforcement process understandable, but we were running a loading dock, not playing a video game.

“Travis, the guys loading the trucks, have you noticed the different colored t-shirts they wear, the ones with the company logo on the front?”

“Yeah, I noticed. We started that about three weeks ago. The new guys get a white t-shirt to start. We had a meeting about it.”

“And when does the new guy get his white t-shirt?”

“The first day,” Travis smiled.

“No, the first day he punches the timeclock reporting for work on-time,” I clarified. “What is the most important first behavior?”

“Showing up for work on time,” Travis said.

“And when does he get his second white t-shirt?”

Travis was catching on. “The second day he punches in for work on time.”

“And when does he get a yellow shirt?” I continued.

“Five days on time, consecutive days on time.”

“And when does he get a green shirt?”

“When he passes forklift training.” Travis stopped. “I think I get it.”

Nip the Bud

There are many ways to manicure a tree. Unwanted branches can be hacked off or buds can be nipped.

On a team, when performance does not meet expectations, it creates a gap. It’s the performance/expectation gap. In the near term, the gap is short and our options-to-fix are many.

As a manager, the longer you procrastinate the fix, the wider the gap becomes. In the long term, with a wider gap, the dissatisfaction is greater and our options-to-fix are fewer.

Nip the bud or hack the branch.

Who Do You Have in Mind?

The ball lifted off the tee with a wobble before moving sideways from right to left, arching into moderate grass off the fairway. Harvey’s next shot went vertical, over his head, then smack into the turf at his feet.

“Who were you thinking of?” I asked.

“No one. What do you mean? It was just a lousy shot.”

“I mean your second swing. Who were you thinking of?”

“I was just letting off steam. Wasn’t thinking of anyone.”

“If you were thinking of someone, who would it be?”

“I don’t know. I was thinking about the guy who taught me how to play. He would have been a little disappointed.”

“Who is this guy? Do I know him?”

“No, he was a pretty old guy when I learned. And I was only nine years old.”

“I was just curious.”

Kurt Lewin tells us that individual action is a myth. Our behavior is always influenced by groups or individuals, even if they are not physically present. To gain insight into a person’s behavior, all you have to do is find out what group or person the individual has in mind.

Who do you have in mind, that is affecting your swing?

Yes, And How is the Team Member Doing?

Last week, we talked about Team Morale as a Key Result Area (KRA). Remember, the work of a manager is different than the work of a team member. Another KRA that often escapes the role description is Team Member Development.

Key Result Area – Team Member Development

Context – An important accountability for every manager in our company is to pay attention to the team. The most critical work product in our company requires high levels of competence, cooperation and support between team members in collateral working relationships. It is incumbent on the manager to use their discretionary judgment in the selection and retention of team members.

Tasks and Activities – The manager will clearly assign tasks within the capability and competence of the team member. Routinely, the manager will test the team member’s capability and competence with project work to determine if the team member is capable of more complex work and if the team member has achieved a higher skill level. The manager will routinely assess the effectiveness of the team member to determine additional skills training, assignment of more complex work and consideration for promotion.

Accountability – The manager is accountable for evaluating the effectiveness of each team member, identifying effectiveness at level of work and skill competence. The manager will review this team member assessment each month in a 1-1 discussion with their manager, to identify potential for higher level of work, adjustment to lower level of work, additional skills training, cross-training, reassignment or de-selection.