Friday, May 6, 2016

Five levels of performance

At what level is your organization performing? Are you exceeding expectations? Falling below expectations? Or just meeting the expectations?

Some experts refer to four levels of performance, originally credited as the "Four stages of competence." Others refer to five levels, with the fifth level indicating either an ability to instill performance in others, or a "super-performance" level. I prefer the latter.

These five levels of performance apply to both individuals and organizations. They are:

Unconsciously under-performing
The organization is not meeting the needs of their customers and is not performing at an acceptable level. At the same time, there is no awareness in the organization that they are not meeting expectations. They don't know that they aren't doing well.
Consciously under-performing
The organization is not meeting the needs of customers and is not performing well. But the organization is aware of the problem. They know they aren't doing well, but don't know how to fix it.
Consciously performing
The organization is performing at an acceptable level and meeting goals and addressing customer needs. They are doing well and they know it.
Unconsciously performing
The organization is meeting customer needs and accomplishing goals, but is doing so without a general awareness of their superior performance level. They are working well, yet no one really realizes it.
Super-performing
The organization is performing at the highest level, constantly and consistently delivering their "A" game. They are "in the zone."

Where does your organization fit on this performance model? Consider that different parts of your organization might be at different levels. Is your unit doing well, and they know it? Or is your unit not doing well, and they are blissfully unaware?

I use this same model when I evaluate the performance of team members. I might have one person who is doing very well, delivering great work products, meeting expectations. Are they having to stop to make a plan of what to do, and how to do it, in order to reach this performance level? (Consciously performing.) Or is this a "star performer" who seems to have an innate ability to do an excellent job all the time? (Unconsciously performing.)

I've had team members at every level on this performance model. It's been a true pleasure to have someone who is at the "super-performing" level. And I have had a few in my career, although it's rare. These people always do a great job, always outperform everyone around them. But they do this not because they are trying to show anyone up, and not because they are bucking for a raise or a promotion. They do a superlative job because they get "in the zone" and do their job at an excellent level.

Whether I have someone who is super-performing or unconsciously performing, I am careful to avoid knocking them out of that top level. They are doing a great job without having to stop and think about it. The moment you cause them to reflect on what they are doing that's helping them to outperform, you immediately bring them to the "consciously performing" level. And while that's still a great place to be, you have also taken them "out of the zone" to perform at a lower level.

So if I have someone who is super-performing, I might recognize them in different or indirect ways. Stopping to say "thanks!" or "good job!" is positive recognition without bringing them to that lower performance level. Bringing in food (pizza!) can be enough. When they no longer need to be "in the zone," I'll call out the great work they are doing and specifically recognize their efforts.

At the other end of the scale, if you have someone who is unconsciously under-performing, the you must recognize that they have been doing their job without realizing that they aren't meeting expectations. At this level, they need help to realize their sub-par performance, that they need to raise the bar and meet a higher level. Find a way to have that conversation and raise awareness. This brings them into the "consciously under-performing zone, which you can leverage for further improvement.

Those who are consciously under-performing are generally aware that they aren't doing the best job they can, but they don't understand how to reach the next level. A constructive performance plan can help. As their manager, you will need to work with them to identify how they can do their job better. Be specific about how they can improve. If you only highlight the deficiencies, you aren't helping; they need your help to reach the next level. Map out a plan for these team members, and identify specific things they might do differently to improve efficiency and increase their productivity. It might be as simple as rearranging their work area, or moving their work space to somewhere with less distracting foot traffic.

Understanding how your organization is doing is critical to performance management. You want to do well so you can better serve the entire organization.
image: Clip Art Best (free)

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