The ingredients of good performance

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Written by Paul Matthews on 23 July 2014

I find it fascinating that organisations spend money, sometimes huge amounts of budget, on leadership and engagement programmes because they feel these are the solution to dealing with their perceived performance issues. And yet alongside these leadership and engagement programmes they make little or no effort to better enable the workforce to do the tasks they are being asked to do. In my opinion, organisations should start with enabling people, in effect making them more capable, and this in turn will have a more immediate and also lasting positive effect on engagement and productivity.

Good performance occurs when a number of things come together in the right order and at the right time, like the ingredients and the steps of a recipe.

Good performance happens when the performer is able to apply themselves to the task in front of them with the exact response required for the task, and within an environment that allows that response.

At the point of work the performer needs to be:

• Ready to do the task, while knowing they are ready and confident they have what it takes to succeed. Readiness is as much about attitude as anything else, and that can indeed be a result of training, and also of practice or social learning from colleagues, or observation of experts

• Knowledgeable, which can also be the result of training, although these days, with the rapid changes in knowledge, just-in-time support may often be a better option to introduce the knowledge ingredient

• Skilled, which comes from repetitive practice of the required behaviours, ideally in similar work contexts rather than role plays in a training room

• Motivated, which comes from the engagement engendered by the leadership they are surrounded by

• Networked, so that the performer can reach out to colleagues, the internet and other resources to ask questions and get answers

• Supported, so there is a sense of a safety net if things don't go as planned. In other words, there are risk management and contingency plans in place

• Operating within a system that allows the performer to do what needs to be done. That is, systems, processes, inventory, resources and all the other 'hard' non-people components are in place.

There is much more to performance than can be provided by training alone. Without the other ingredients that constitute capability, your organisation and your people will simply never rise to the occasion.

The focus on training, learning and engagement are all red herrings, distracting not only L&D and HR, but often management, from what they should be focusing on.

A red herring (when used as an idiom) is a piece of information or suggestion introduced to draw attention away from the real facts of a situation. A red herring is a type of strong-smelling smoked fish that was once drawn across the trail of a scent to mislead hunting dogs and put them off the scent. Don’t get put off the scent. Focus on what is important: performance.

The business wants performance. Customers want performance. And actually, performance is what the workers want. It's my belief they would love to do a good job if only we would enable them to do so.

When I ask someone in L&D to reimagine their role so that their total focus is on ensuring capability at the point of work, their thinking changes. They start thinking in much more practical terms about how they can enable and help that worker do the job that is immediately in front of them. Some learning may be required, but often it will involve making other necessary changes to ensure capability at the point of work.

The same thing happens when I talk to HR people about moving their focus away from engagement and onto capability and thus performance.

There are many things that can be done to enable people without ‘using’ learning and engagement. Instead, give them the right tools, the right information, and processes that flow well. Fix the things that frustrate them. Take the brakes off what they are doing. Performance will improve.

I believe that when the brakes are taken off and, someone can do better, they will. They will also become more engaged and willing to learn as they can see that better performance is possible. It wasn't them being stupid or not caring; it was the systems and processes and environment they were being asked to work in that were preventing them from doing the good job they wanted to do.


About the author
Paul Matthews is the founder of People Alchemy. He can be contacted via

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