Performance Measurement for any Application: We’re Doing Great!

Sections of this topic

    © Copyright Carter McNamara, MBA, PhD, Authenticity Consulting, LLC. Adapted
    from Field Guide to Consulting and Organizational Development

    Suggested Pre-Reading

    of Performance Management Process for any Application

    Sections of This Topic Include

    Myth: “I’ll Know Results When I See ‘Em”
    Training for Skills — or a Good Time?
    What Are You Doing? What Should You Really Be Doing?
    Some Reasons for a Performance Management System
    Key Terms: Results, Measures and Standards
    Performance Problem: Vague Priorities
    Weighting Results to Convey Priorities
    Measures: Some You Can Count and Some You Describe
    Performance Problem: Inconsistent Desired Results Across

    Many of Us Misunderstand Performance

    You may be losing performance in your organization because you don’t really
    understand what performance is. Certainly, if all employees are getting good
    performance reviews from their supervisors once a year, then all must be fine,
    right? Wrong! If the performance of the organization’s groups, processes and
    employees do not contribute directly to organizational results, the organization
    is not performing well. Neither are the employees or the processes. They’re
    working hard, doing things right — but they’re not doing the right things.

    Consider the following, rather simple story. The story points out the typical
    problems that can come from not having a performance system in place. This story
    is about a performance problem with employees, a trainer and an organization.
    The story includes:

    The Story

    A Common Misunderstanding: “I’ll Know Results When I
    See ‘Em'”

    Employee Ed is a new employee at a print shop. He has been
    hired to run a machine that prints out high-quality pictures.
    The pictures go to other departments, including the Catalog Department,
    to use in brochures, catalogs, advertisements, etc.

    Ed’s new supervisor, Supervisor Sam, is new on the job, too.
    He’s worked hard to get where he’s at. He was an expert at running
    the collating machine. Sam’s machine took printed images from
    machines like Ed’s and organized them into the Catalog Department’s
    final product, a catalog.

    Sam doesn’t like Ed at first. Ed looks just like Sam’s brother
    whom Sam does not like at all. Still, as a new supervisor, Sam
    tries to give Ed a chance.

    Sam wants to be sure that Ed does a good job. He isn’t all
    that sure what “good job” means, but he thinks he’ll
    know it when he sees it. So Sam sends Ed to a course to learn
    how to run the print machine. The description of the course said
    students would learn all about the machine. That should work out

    Training for Skills — or a Good Time?

    Teacher Tom wants to convince supervisors to send employees
    to his course. Tom claims the result from his course
    is that each student will know how to run the printing machine.
    Tom hasn’t really thought about how to achieve that result.
    He knows a lot about the machine and likes to tell people
    about it. So he thinks he’ll be a fine teacher.

    Tom includes a lot of lectures in the course. He tells students
    all about the machine’s history, some tough times he had learning
    about the machine and how students can get a lot done with the
    machine if they know what they’re doing. The rest of the time,
    Tom tells students how to do the various procedures needed to
    run the machine. After reviewing the last procedure, Tom tells
    his students that the course is over. He tells them that they’ve
    been a good audience, he enjoyed teaching them and hopes they
    got a lot out of the course. Tom wants to be sure the course achieves
    its result, so he has the students fill out a questionnaire.

    Ed now likes Tom a lot and feels very good about the course
    so he gives the course a very high rating. Tom seemed to know
    a lot about the machine. Tom told a lot of jokes, the room was
    nice and the materials were very impressive. With all the stuff
    Tom told Ed, Ed now feels he could do anything with the machine.
    Later that day, Ed tells Supervisor Sam that the course was very
    good. Sam is very pleased about his decision and is glad the course
    accomplished strong results.

    What Are You Doing? What Should You Really Be Doing?

    The next day, Sam briefly notices that Ed is much happier at
    his job. “Great”, Sam thinks. “A satisfied employee
    is a productive employee! Right?” (Wrong. Job satisfaction
    doesn’t mean job performance. Some research indicates job satisfaction
    can actually decrease productivity.)

    Later that afternoon, Sam has more time to watch Ed at his
    job. Soon Sam is horrified! It doesn’t seem like Ed knows what
    he’s doing at all! Sam thinks to himself, “I knew Ed wouldn’t
    work out! I just knew it!” Sam glances through several of
    the prints from Ed’s machine. He finds one that’s smeared and
    torn. Sam concludes that Ed didn’t learn anything at all. He confronts
    Ed. “What are you doing? You’re slow and all your prints
    are ruined! You’ve wasted the company’s money!” Ed feels
    scared and stupid.

    Sam and his company have a typical performance management problem.
    If Sam had followed the principles of performance management,
    he would have been more clear to himself and to Ed about what
    Sam wanted as results from Ed’s job. Sam would have
    been more clear about how he would measure Ed’s
    results. Sam would have been more clear about how his expectations,
    or performance standards, for Ed.

    Teacher Tom has a similar problem. If he had thought more about
    performance results, measures and standards, he would have thought
    about what knowledge and skills his students would need to run
    the machine. He would have thought about how he’d know if the
    students could actually run the machine or not. Also, he would
    have thought about how well students should be able to run the
    machine by the end of the course. It’s likely that Tom would have
    included time in the course for students to actually practice
    on the machine. He would have included some way to test students’
    skill levels to ensure they achieve Tom’s preferred result. He
    would have included some way to later get supervisors’ feedback
    about employees’ skills on the job. It’s very likely that Tom’s
    course would have achieved its result: students who can operate
    their machines to some specified performance standard.

    Reasons for a Performance Management System

    Back at work, Sam discusses the situation with his Boss Bob.
    Sam wants to fire Ed — and do it now. Bob calmly disagrees. He
    tells Sam, “We can turn this thing around. I’ll tell you

    He begins to give Sam a broad overview of a performance management
    system. “Basically, a performance management system is a
    way to ensure we get results from all our employees. Heck, if
    Ed’s teacher knew about performance, Ed might have learned something!
    They don’t call it training any more, you know. They call it Performance
    Technology or something like that.”

    Sam interrupts, “Look. I can tell if Ed’s doing a good
    job or not. I’ve got his job description. I’ve used the performance
    appraisal form. Besides, I don’t feel good about those performance
    appraisals. They’re just something you do once a year, usually
    to fire somebody. They’re just paperwork. The guys are scared
    of them. I dread them. I’m trying to build a team here!”

    Bob responds, “You don’t understand. A performance system
    is more than job descriptions. A job description lists what duties,
    what responsibilities a certain job has. It doesn’t tell the employee
    what results are really expected of him, what he’s supposed to
    produce. It doesn’t keep telling you, the supervisor, how well
    you expect the employee to be doing at his job. It doesn’t make
    sure that what you’re doing is what your boss — and their boss’s
    boss and their boss’ boss — want you to be doing.”

    Bob went on to explain. “A performance system makes sure
    we’re fair to our guys. They’re getting paid what they’re worth.
    They know what we want from them. They know what we think about
    what they’re doing. In the long run, all of us in the company
    end up working toward the same thing. We’re all pulling on the
    same rope. Maybe the biggest advantage is that we’re talking to
    each other about what we’re doing, if we’re doing it right and
    if it’s really what the company needs. Besides, we managers should
    have to earn our own keep around here, too. I want you to take
    part in our performance system, Sam. I’ll help you.”

    Key Terms: Results, Measures and Standards

    Bob explains, “In the performance system, the first thing
    you do in figure out what results you want from the employee.

    “Results are what you want Ed to produce so customers
    can do their jobs well. For example, Ed’s internal customer, the
    Catalog Department, needs high-quality prints to do its job. Right?

    “Measures are what you use to know if Ed is achieving
    the results or not. For example, how many prints is Ed making
    in an hour? Are Ed’s prints smeared, are they torn?

    “Standards are what you consider when thinking about how
    well Ed is doing at his good job. For example, the standard for
    “excellent” should be at least as many high-quality
    prints an hour as your best people are producing.

    “After we’ve decided the results, measures and standards,
    we’ll work together to track Ed’s progress. We’ll make sure that
    we’re all exchanging feedback around here, including with the
    Catalog Department. That’s the most important part.

    “Any needs that Ed might have, we’ll record on a development
    plan. That might include more training. This time, we’ll make
    sure that teacher knows about performance management!

    Sam heard everything Bob said. He was skeptical, but he decided
    to try the performance stuff anyway. Anyway, Bob was the boss.

    Performance Problem: Vague Priorities

    Over the next month, Sam thought more about what he specifically
    wanted from Ed. He talked to Ed, too. They both decided that Ed
    would shoot for 500 high-quality prints an hour, 8 hours a day,
    Monday through Friday. High-quality would mean no smears or tears.
    In fact, the Director of the Catalog Department would judge whether
    Ed produced this result or not.

    Sam was a little surprised at Ed’s reaction. He thought Ed
    would be a little leery. Heck, Ed didn’t seem concerned at all.
    He was actually excited! Sam actually felt better now, too.

    Over the next week, Sam carefully considered the measurements
    for Ed’s result. He realized that Ed really needed more training.
    “Thank goodness I found this out now,” Sam thought.
    Sam realized this whole situation wasn’t Ed’s fault. He reminded
    himself that Ed was new, too. Sam talked to the Training Department.
    They suggested that Ed go to a workshop where he could actually
    get practice with the machine. Also, they helped Ed find some
    free time on another machine during second shift. That way, Ed
    could get in some more practice.

    Ed attended the workshop. He told Sam it was hard, but he learned
    a lot more about actually running the machine. He said the teacher
    showed him several things that he could be doing a lot better.
    Ed was eager to get back to work. Sam felt very relieved. This
    performance stuff seemed to be working out — and it wasn’t nearly
    as hard as he’d imagined.

    Weighting Results
    Several months later, Sam’s boss, Bob, told all employees that
    he wanted them to take part in a Quality Circle. Sam told Ed all
    about it.

    Ed complained to Sam that he just wanted to run his machine.
    That’s why he accepted the job. That’s what he wants to do.

    Sam is now smart about results, measures and standards. He
    sends Ed to a seminar on Quality Circles. Maybe that’ll get Ed
    going in the Circles. Ed took the seminar and, sure enough, came
    back all excited about Quality Circles. Now he spends a lot of
    time around the coffee machine, telling other employees how great
    Quality Circles are, where they started, etc.

    Soon Sam tells Ed that he’s not running his machine anymore.
    How’s he going to produce his results? Ed explains that he’s doing
    his part for his Quality Circle. Ed complains that Sam needs to
    make up his mind about what he wants Ed to do.

    Sam goes back to Boss Bob, asking for advice. How can he get
    Ed to work the machine and be a good member of the Circle?

    Bob explains that Sam needs Ed to run the machine and take
    part in the Quality Circle. Bob notices that Sam seems puzzled.
    Bob explains, “Ed can do both: run the machine and be a good
    Circle member. You just need to let him know what your priorities
    are. Let Ed know how much time he can spend on his machine and
    how much time in the Circle. Be as clear as you were before about
    his results and how you’d measure them. In the performance system,
    this is called weighting the results.”

    Measures: Some You Can Count and Some You Describe

    Sam nods that he understands Bob. “But how can I measure
    what he does in Quality Circles?”

    Bob explained, “Remember when we talked about measures?
    There are a couple of ways to look at measures. You can count
    them or you can describe them — hopefully you can do both. With
    the machine, you could count the number of prints Ed produced,
    right? You noticed if the prints were high-quality or not. High-quality
    meant the images were clear and the paper was not torn. Right?”

    Sam nodded.

    Bob went on to explain, “About Ed’s Quality Circle, though,
    it’s really hard to count something — at least not without going
    crazy! Sure, you can count how many suggestions he makes. But
    if you do that, he’ll be talking all the time and not saying anything!
    What other ways can you realistically measure what Ed is doing
    in his Circle”

    Sam thought this for a minute. “Maybe I’m making this
    harder than it is. How about if I notice the attendance record
    for Ed, you know, you make sure he goes to meetings. I don’t want
    to write down everything that Ed says. Heck, Ed only talks in
    conclusions anyway!”

    Bob responded that Sam seemed on the right track.

    Sam explained the new situation to Ed. Ed seemed pleased. “That
    straightens things out. Sure, I’ll try it”.

    Performance Problem: Inconsistent Results Across the Organization

    Over the next few months, Ed ran his machine just fine. His
    Quality Circle made lots of good suggestions to Sam and Sam’s
    boss, Bob. Soon, though, Ed and Sam notice that nothing was really
    being done about the suggestions.

    Sam confronted his boss, Bob. “You’ve got plenty of ideas
    from us. How come nothing is being done about them?” Bob
    replied, “I know. I’m wondering about that myself. I’ll find

    Bob talked to his boss, Management Mike. Mike looked puzzled.
    Then he remembered, “Oh, that’s right! The Quality Circles!
    Yeah, those Circles are sure keeping people happy. Keep up the
    good work, Bob!”

    Bob replied, “I thought the Circles were to improve quality,
    not to keep people happy. What am I missing here?”

    Mike explained that he really couldn’t implement any of the
    suggestions from the Circle. “They’ll probably just cost
    more money. Right now the company needs to cut costs as much as

    Now Bob was getting really irked. He said, “I thought
    our performance system was supposed to make sure that everyone
    was working toward the same goals. Why not have the Circle guys
    focus on cost-cutting ideas?”

    Mike warned, “That could scare them big time! No, keep
    ’em coming up with good ideas. They’re doing great!” Mike
    looked at his watch and said, “I’ve got to take off. Sorry.
    Keep up the good work, Bob!”

    Bob left Mike’s office feeling very disappointed and sad. He
    thought, “We have a performance management system. Ed’s doing
    fine. Sam’s doing. I’m doing fine. Our department’s doing fine.
    We’re performing, right? Sure doesn’t feel like it, though.”

    So: All the Parts Are Doing Just Fine — Yet the Organization
    Isn’t Performing!

    Employees, the department and management are all very committed
    and very busy. Sam’s focused on getting the most from his people,
    including Ed. So is Bob. They all know the results they want,
    how they’ll measure them and what they consider to be great work.
    Yet the organization really isn’t performing. It’s idling along.

    This situation is not uncommon.

    Learn More in the Library’s Blogs Related to Performance Management

    In addition to the articles on this current page, see the following blogs which
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