Performance and Standards

Philip McGee, Ed.D.


Performance is a popular term or should I say buzz word for a lot of people these days. But what does the term really mean? How should we as HRD professionals think about this word... performance?

Lets begin by contrasting the word performance with the word behavior. Behavior as any good psychology book will tell you are observable actions. People combing their hair in a car, reading a magazine in a doctor's office, or someone jogging down a street are all common examples of behaviors. At this point you a probably thinking, "Okay. But what is performance?"

Performance is any behavior measured against a standard.

Let me explain. There are people in this world who love to get up in the morning, pull on a pair of shorts, shirt, and lace up their running shoes for a thirty or forty minute run around the neighborhood. Their only goal is to get some exercise and to enjoy their run. Running for fun is a behavior.

Now, lets change the setting. Let's imagine that this person is now competing in a track meet in a major sports stadium. Sitting in the stands we can see an oval track which has been carefully marked with specific distances. At one end of the stadium we can see a large electronic clock which displays the various runner's times down to 1/100 of a second. It is obvious that that the runners who are competing, are not here for a leisurely morning run. In this setting, the emphasis is on performance as measured against (the standards of) time and distance.

Influencers of Performance

Performance is influenced by three sets of influencers. These influencers may be categorized as Ready, Willing, and Able.

Is the environment (work place) ready to have performance oriented work performed in it. Are all of the necessary tools, supplies, machines, lighting, temperature, noise levels, air quality, available or within acceptable ranges?

Sara on her way out of the office asks her administrative assistant, Barbara, to type up a report she needs for a noon luncheon meeting. At quarter til twelve Sara hits the office door asking, "Barb. You got my report?" Barbara replies, "I'm sorry, but I don't." Sara snaps, "Well, why not?" Barbara responds by saying, "Sara. You remember last night I said that we were out of printer toner and you said that you would pick some up on your way to the office this morning? And because I was the only one in the office this morning I couldn't close down the office to run across town to the office supply store. I'm sorry."

Let's face it. No matter how willing or able Barbara might have been to type up the report, her performance as an administrative assistant suffered because she did not have toner for the printer. In this situation, Barbara's performance was reduced by the environment not being ready to have performance oriented work done in it.

Performance Improvement Strategy:
Purchase toner for the printer as soon as possible.

The concept of willingness is closely associated with the concept of motivation. If people are not willing to do work or a job in a performance oriented manner, performance will suffer.

Dan and Bob are sales representative for a remodeling company that specializes in siding and shutters for residential housing. For the past week or so, Dan and Bob have been making plans to attend a big ball game in a nearby college town this coming weekend. On Friday morning, Diana, who is director of marketing and sales, informs that Dan and Bob have to work Saturday because sales are down as a result of the approaching Christmas holidays. What do you think will be Dan and Bob's level of performance come Saturday?

Despite the fact Dan and Bob may be talented sales reps and have everything they need to sell the services of their company, come Saturday their performance will be very poor. Reason, Dan and Bob will have a very low level of willingness.

Performance Improvement Strategy:
Reward Dan and Bob with something they value or reschedule when they must visit potential customers.

Ability (knowing how) is the third major influencer of performance. A person may be willing and the work environment may be ready, but if a person does not know how to do a job or task, their performance will suffer.

Roger is a graphic artist who produces the sales and marketing literature for his company. Last month, one of the VPs made an executive decision and ordered a high end computer system for Roger to use. Problem is, Roger has always worked with traditional media and doesn't know anything about computers. Now the VP is expecting Roger to do twice the work in half the time because he has now got a computer. The clock is ticking.

You and I both know that poor Roger's job performance is going to go down until he can learn to use the new computer. No mater how willing or how ready the work environment is Roger, is in a world of hurt for the time being.

Performance Improvement Strategy:
Provide Roger with training.