Performance Improvement

Seeing is Believing

Some employees cannot see how performance improvement can be achieved. They are simply blind to the reasons they are doing their job.

How do you tell a real performer from one who is simply getting results because they are part of an effective system?

The key to this conundrum lies in the employee’s ability to know why the results are occurring. Only then can performance improvement come about.

The “Blind” Performer

Many people do not take a broad enough viewpoint of what is happening with the work they do. They are effectively blind to the reasons they are getting results. All they know is that they perform certain actions, and they get certain results.

  • But if the results are not as good in November as they were in October, they have no concept of how to correct this.
  • In fact, they might not even notice that the results were worse!
  • And the same goes for performance improvement – they never notice it.

Such people do produce results, but they are not top performers.

The trap is that if you ask these people about the results they have achieved, they can give you what appears to be a valid answer. They can appear to be a performer, because they can tell you their results.

This is not to invalidate people who can perform efficiently within an established and well-run system. Such people are valuable parts of the whole and make up a significant proportion of the staff in any organisation.

  • Such people are not, however, what you could call “top performers”.
  • They will not set the world on fire with any brilliant ability to produce results that far exceed your expectations.

They get the job done, because the structure around them has been set up to run as an efficient machine. They simply perform their part in producing the results which that machine was originally designed to accomplish. It is the machine – the system – that is the main performance factor.

Performance awareness management is an important part of your job here.

But what happens when you hire someone who only got results because the system propped them up?

They can sure quote results that were achieved, but can they continue to get results of that calibre when away from the elaborate support system?

The top performer, on the other hand, is the one who can make it all happen despite the lack of an established system. They know why the results are occurring (or not), and can therefore find a way through. Performance improvement is part of their nature.

The Basic Principle

For any RESULTS to be produced there must have been some ACTIONS. For any ACTION to occur there must have been some IDEAS that preceded those actions. The sequence is:-


But, whose ideas are they? And who performs the action? And who can claim the results? In general, the “blind performer” is performing the actions based on someone else’s ideas, and the results they produce when they perform the actions also belong to someone else (or the system).

Now, this is not to say that everyone who performs actions based on another’s ideas is a “blind performer”. On the contrary, the ownership taken by the employee for the job they do is a clear indicator of their performance value.

The “Seeing” Performer

Most jobs have been in place for some time (even if the employee hasn’t). The ideas that created the job in the first place were undoubtedly there long before a specific employee came along.

But how well can they see the ideas that drive the actions? Do they look at the results they are producing and go back to the ideas to see how their results might be improved?

This is the difference between a “blind performer” and a top performer. Performance improvement is always on the top performer’s mind.

The Top Performer Looks, and Sees

One of the attributes of a top performer is that they will always want to improve what they are doing. They are, therefore, very interested in the results they produce.

  • They will know if those results are improving, and what made them improve.
  • They will know if their results are worse, and why that is occurring.

In other words, a top performer will take ownership for the whole job, from start to finish. They will constantly ask themselves:

  • What are the basic IDEAS and considerations that drive this job?
  • What ACTIONS must be performed in order to get things moving on this job?
  • What RESULTS are being produced, and how do they compare with past performance, industry standards, highest possible, etc?
  • How should the IDEAS be modified (or better understood) in order to drive better RESULTS?
  • How should the ACTIONS be varied in order to get better RESULTS?
  • How do the RESULTS look now?

And so on… It is a cyclic thing. The top performer, being interested in performance improvement, looks at the whole picture. It doesn’t matter that someone else might have set up the basic ideas for the job in the first place. They take ownership of their area and are prepared to do what is necessary to make it work.

The “blind performer”, by comparison, merely looks at the actions they are to perform. They don’t much care about the results, and are probably not even aware of the ideas upon which the job depends. Performance improvement is not part of their thinking.

Sorting Them Out

This one can be tricky. You can be looking at a candidate who has come from a well organised corporate structure. Because of the size of the operation, their effectiveness has been masked.

  • They were hidden within a well run operation.
  • They can quote the statistics of their area, which may have been very good indeed.
  • But the question remains: how much did they really contribute to those results?

Some smaller companies often tend to shy away from candidates who have been working in very large organisations. They are aware of this trap.

However, when looking at performance awareness management, there is a sure fire way of sorting out the sheep from the goats in this context. See Performance Measurement for details of this.