In any given organization there are high as well as low-level performers and those in between. As a result, it can be difficult to know how to evaluate employee performance and convey performance feedback in a way that ties directly to that individual’s strengths and weaknesses. The two-dimensional Employee Performance Continuum offers a transparent way to differentiate and “see” employee performance effectiveness.
This diagram shows how you can sort your employees and measure overall performance effectiveness:
The Results axis represents what the employee accomplishes (job responsibilities, meeting goals and acquiring the requisite job skills).
The Behaviors axis represents how the individual conducts him/herself. These behaviors include interpersonal skills, teamwork and collaboration, communication, tone, approach and more.
On the continuum, there are six employee performance levels, and each one requires a different approach to performance management conversations:
Top right: high performers
These are the “A” players with a dream combination of high results and high behaviors. They set a good example for others, are self-managed and serve as informal mentors
Performance conversations should focus on their interests. Find out what work they find stimulating and meaningful. Ask what they see next for themselves: developing a new skill and exposure to new work, projects or other experiences are all possibilities.
Let high performers know how much you value their contributions.
Upper right: mid-level performers
These are solid contributors who are meeting the high expectations.
You need to have conversations with these employees about professional development and what they see next for themselves.
Reach out to accelerate their development by identifying the “one-thing” that would bring their contributions to the next level. Position this information as “what’s next" and avoid words such as “area for improvement”, “get better at” or other language that implies inadequacy.
It’s all about growth and recognition of what’s working and is appreciated.
Lower right: new and developing performers
These employees are enthusiastic, eager to learn and making steady progress towards gaining new skills, fulfilling job responsibilities and meeting goals.
They need close supervision, continuous direction and feedback. Given the time they've been in the job, they're performing at a level you would expect.
Higher performance is just a matter of more time and training in the role. They're well on their way!
Let them know how pleased you are with their progress and explore “what’s next” to learn and apply.
Lower right: good interpersonal skills but low output performers
These employees mean well and have a sunny disposition, but the work results they produce are below expectations.
First, check that training, support and time in the job have been sufficient.
If they have, and the employee displays an earnest effort to succeed, there might be one of two reasons for low results: a hiring mistake occurred or this once successful employee’s performance dropped because of changes in responsibilities and skills.
Resist scaling back the job so much that it’s no longer the position for which they were hired. If possible, move the individual into a more suitable role. And give this individual better information about what’s working and what isn’t.
Upper left: high results but disruptive behavior employees
These people get results, but exhibit a behavior pattern that's disruptive to others.
Perceptions about what constitutes disruptive behavior are highly variable. It’s not that the employee is simply quirky or odd, but that their behaviors impact co-workers in a destructive manner and thus impedes the productivity and engagement of others.
Here are a few examples: chronic complaining, hand off of incomplete work, quick to snap like a dry brittle twig, excuse expert, tattletale, credit stealer… the list goes on.
A performance conversation should let this employee know that the most important thing for them to focus on is: [a description of what you want him/her to do in place of the current behavior].
Emphasize that while you admire his/her results the next thing for focus is behavior, which is just as important as the results. Anchor your feedback alongside the competency in your organization that is most related to the issue at hand.
Lower left: low behaviors and low results employees
These are the ones who “retired” but forgot to tell you. If we were giving out letter grades for performance, their grade would be an “F”.
Our research shows about 8% of employees fall into the lower left quadrant of the Employee Performance Continuum.
While you'd assume that organizations would take swift action to eliminate these chronic under performers, for a myriad of reasons we allow them to stay indefinitely or too long, including: the person used to be a valuable employee but has slipped over the years; the employee is doing as much as he/she can — they have got a lot going on in their personal lives; the employee works in a culture that sends a “we don’t care message”, etc.
Not only do we sacrifice ROI on our financial investment in such employees, but they also reflect poorly on the organization as a whole. Help them out or help them out.
Use the Employee Performance Continuum to meaningfully differentiate performance
The Employee Performance Continuum can help you meaningfully differentiate employee performance in your organization.
Tailor your conversations about performance to the individual based on the effectiveness of the employee’s results and behaviors. The more employees you have in or headed towards the upper right High Results and Behaviors quadrant the more you can leverage your organization's biggest assets: human capital.
If you’re interested, you can download the Employee Performance Continuum tool and instructions here.
Your Turn: How do you tailor your performance management conversations with your employees?