Tag Archives: performance

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.

A Matter of Judgement

“You said the manager-once-removed is in the best position to engage the team member as a mentor,” Brendon asked. “You said the MOR has a realistic assessment of the team member’s performance. I know the MOR has access to the KPIs for the team member, but so do a lot of other people. Why the MOR?”

“KPIs are actually a lousy indicator of performance,” I replied. “The direct manager and the MOR, in their monthly 1-1 coaching discussion should do a 60-second team member review. If there are ten people on the team, that’s 10 minutes.”

“But, how could you review individual KPIs in 60 seconds?” Brendon wanted to know.

“I wouldn’t use KPIs. KPIs are important, to examine throughput of a system, but results, overall, are not in the control of a team member, or an indication of an individual’s performance. I know you subscribe to results-based-performance, but any factors you choose to follow cannot be relied upon in any sustained fashion. At best they will only be a clue, at worst, those factors may mislead.”

“But, we use objective numbers,” Brendon protested. “We manage by measurement.”

“Just because you use a number, does not make it objective. What if you are measuring the wrong thing? You cannot translate a living system into separate discrete factors. You have to account for the whole system, assessment is still a judgement. It is a judgement made by both the direct manager and the MOR.”

“Then how do we make that assessment?” Brendon was curious.

“A series of very simple questions,” I said.

  • Is the team member operating satisfactorily within the level of work?
  • Is the team member operating in the top half or the bottom half of the level?
  • And, in that half, top, middle or bottom?

It is a simple way to state effectiveness. Every manager can answer those questions.

“And if the response is not satisfactory, the diagnosis follows one of these four absolutes –

  • Is it a matter of capability?
  • Is it a matter of skill (that could be improved by training, education or experience?)
  • Is it a matter of interest or passion for the work, does the team member place a high value on the work?
  • Is it a matter of required behavior? Is there a violation of contracted behavior? Is there a habit that does not support a required behavior? Is there a violation of our accepted culture (required behaviors)?

“Make the assessment, then diagnose. At best, KPIs are only a clue. Personal effectiveness is a managerial judgement.”

Limitations of Performance-Reward

“There is nothing wrong with Performance-Reward (Work=Paycheck),” I said. “It is the contract that we make with employees. They show up each day and do their best in exchange for the agreed-upon compensation.”

Helen looked down, picturing something.

“I know you see yourself as a Motivator,” I continued. “And, here is why Motivation is so important for managers.

“I asked you before, if I was getting the Performance I wanted, as a Manager, why did I give two hoots whether it was Motivation or Manipulation (Performance-Reward). Here is why.

Performance-Reward requires you, the Manager, to be present, either physically present or present-by-threat, meaning, you will be back to check on things. So, Performance-Reward requires the proximity of the Manager.

“Second, the duration of the behavior is short, happens only to the specification required to get the reward. And if something happens to threaten that reward, diminish that reward, delay that reward, the performance stops.

“And that’s why Motivation is so important. As a Manager, we need sustained performance even when we are not around. We need more than Performance-Reward.”

Discretionary Behavior

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
You indicate the reason people do what they do is because they can. How does if-they-can relate to competence? And, if someone can-do, has the competence to-do, then how do we get them to do it? I am always looking for discretionary behavior.

Response:
Lot’s of questions embedded here. The first cause of underperformance is the lack of competence to perform. The accountability for this goes to the manager. It is the manager that determines the capability and skills required for the role. The manager is accountable for selecting the team member for the role based on their possession of that capability and skills. If the team member does not possess the requisite capability and skills, then that is poor selection on the part of the manager. This has nothing to do with discretionary behavior, this has only to do with competence.

If someone has the competence to perform, the only way for a manager to influence effective behavior is to make it necessary. The reason we don’t get the performance we want, and need, is because we do not make it necessary. If a person has the requisite skills and capability (competence) and the performance has been made necessary, then the only reason for underperformance is a matter of discretion. We can only assume underperformance occurs, is because underperformance was chosen.

The conditions for performance require –

  • Competence
  • Necessity

—–
For a more thorough discussion, please read Leadership: Thinking, Being, Doing by Lee Thayer

Because They Can

“But, isn’t it important, for a manager, to understand the reasons people do what they do?” Bailey was on a roll with her very best stiff-arm.

“For a manager, there is only one reason people do what they do. And, this is essential for every manager.” I waited to make sure Bailey was listening. “The only reason people do what they do is because they CAN. The only measure of performance is performance.”

“Sounds a little redundant to me. Are you sure this isn’t just hyperbole?” Bailey was insistent, unconvinced.

“Simple to understand. You will never find a person doing something they do not have the capability to do. You can line up all the rewards, intrinsic motivation cooked up by industrial psychologists, if a person does not possess the capability, they will underperform. Underperform or engage in diversionary behavior.”

Nobody is Happy

“Reggie, when you are barking all the orders, and telling people, if they will just perform to this standard or that standard, they will get an extra bump in their paycheck, where does that place accountability?”

Reggie looked at me for a minute, shook his head, “I’m not sure what you mean, where does that place accountability?”

“Reggie, the reason this is a difficult concept, is that most managers rarely talk about accountability. Back to the question. Where does a bonus system place accountability for performance?”

“I still don’t know what you mean?”

“The manager says, if you perform to this standard, you get an extra $100 in your paycheck this week. What happens to accountability for performance to the standard?”

Reggie was working through this in his head. “Well, the manager has done his job. He defined the performance standard and calculated the bonus, so it’s now on the team member?”

“Not quite,” I said. “The team member now has the choice to perform, or not perform and understands the consequences. If the team member underperforms, $100 of their promised pay will be withheld.

“So, the team member underperforms and does not receive the bonus. They’re okay with it, because, in the end, they didn’t have to work that hard after all. And the manager must be okay with it, because he doesn’t have to pay the $100.

“So the performance standard is not achieved. Who is accountable for the underperformance? Is everybody happy?”

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?

The Difference in Performance

How many of your team members, do you suppose, drove to work this morning, thinking, “I will come to work today and do a really crappy job?”

Wipe that smirk off of your face, you know it is not true.

What makes the difference in the performance of your team members? Each morning they arrive at work, ready for the day. They could perform well, or they could perform poorly. What makes the difference?

Managers will most often agree on this management challenge: How do I motivate my people? My team seems to suffer from a lack of motivation. If I could just figure out how to motivate my people, everything else would fall in line.

The difference between poor performance, good performance and superior performance is the simple result of a choice. Managers cannot motivate their teams into high performance. Individual team members choose high performance. For every manager, the challenge is to create the circumstances where people most often choose the high road.

The Myth of Results Based Performance

From the Ask Tom mailbag –
In reference to Judging Effectiveness

Question:
Lets assume in a given role, the Key Result Areas (KRAs) have been defined. The person is producing the target results in these areas, then, I would say they are capable … what am i missing?

Response:
If I ask a hundred managers if they believe in results-based-performance, they would all raise their hands. They would be wrong. Results are only part of the story.

Effectiveness is NOT a “matter of counting outputs, super credits for super outputs, or penalties for lateness or sub-standard quality.” (Elliott Jaques)

If a salesperson has a target sales quota of 100 units, and brings home an order for 110 units, do we say that salesperson was 110 percent effective? Could it have been that the company has a stellar reputation in the market, on-time delivery through logistics, impeccable customer service (resolved a service problem for that same customer two weeks ago)? Could it be the design of a rebate that put the account into a new discount tier?

Effectiveness is not a matter of counting outputs. Effectiveness is a managerial judgement that takes into account all of the circumstances around the team member’s behavior. Blinders looking only at measured output may lead the manager astray. Output is a clue, but only a clue. The only measure of performance is performance. (Lee Thayer)

Judging Effectiveness

Question:
You often talk about effectiveness. In our company, we measure results. How do you measure effectiveness?

Response:
Effectiveness is a matter of judgment. Effectiveness is a matter of managerial judgment. How well does the team member perform in the achievement of the desired goal? Given all the ins and outs, the difficulties faced, the unanticipated, unplanned monkey wrenches that get in the way, how well does the team member perform?

This is a matter of managerial judgment.

Two assumptions:
1. Any task (or role) requires a certain capability.
2. The person assigned to the task or role has the appropriate capability.

The judgment is whether the person is committing full capability to the task (or role).

This is NOT a “matter of counting outputs, super credits for super outputs, or penalties for lateness or sub-standard quality.” * This is about bringing full capability to the completion of the task.

It is the job of the manager to observe and account for all the surrounding circumstances and make this most important judgment. And it is precisely this judgment that most managers avoid.

*Elliott Jaques, Requisite Organization, 1989.