Performance Management: It’s never about competencies or results!

A recent discussion through Linkedin ( puts the question on which to focus on: Competencies or Results. Actually the question posted asks: which form of balance between the two is best and what has worked for people?

My take on this is fairly straight forward:

  • It is never one or the other, it is an appropriate attention to both over time.
  • It can be useful to look at how to do this from the perspective of the input – throughput – output/results – outcomes performance process.
  • It can be useful to consider the above in two segments: performance in terms of what we do – inputs and throughputs, and what we accomplish – outputs/results and outcomes.

Competencies are an input to performance. Typically it is what people bring to the table in terms of what they can do. When people are using their competencies they are in the throughput

step of the performance process. When the throughput step is effective, we can hopefully/reasonably expect desired outputs/results. The reason I include “hopefully” is that there can be many extraneous factors that can come into play that can thwart the “best laid plans of mice and men”.

Over the years I have been fascinated at the ignoring/seemingly obliviousness to the role of externalities to performance. Perhaps we have to ignore them as we do not know what to do about these intervening factors when doing performance management in the manner that nearly all organizations do these days.

I also add outcomes to the process and make it distinct from the outputs/results step. The reason being is that it is only “under use” so to speak that we learn whether our best efforts mattered anyway. Many times we find that (output/result) what we think would work well does not in fact do so. Rarely do any of us just build things with no concern about the subsequent consequences of their use. Investments in new plant or SW systems only matter if under use they give us benefits.

The problem with outcomes is that we don’t know now while we are working on something now how it will turn out until the future becomes the present and past.

Yet we want people to care, strive, and give their very best efforts NOW. So when we see them applying themselves as well as we can expect there is every reason to want to acknowledge these efforts. So we should. The question becomes a matter of how? There is a lot of evidence that behavioural (remember this is about the doing) performance acknowledgement should be biased towards the informal, immediate, specific and meaningful (for the recipient).

When we get to the accomplishment stages is when we get into the more formal and significant tangible forms of acknowledgement. Why? Because we have earned and essentially funded such acknowledgement. Remember, profit is something that is in the future in terms of what we are working on. Similarly, when we see the profit it is about what we contributed to in the past. I use profit as an example, because the connection of effort to profit for many of us is a tenuous path to see. Why? Because of externalities to our best efforts up to and including outputs/results. The CFO will authorize any number of “out of our control” charges/deferrals that impact the final yearend number. Customers will buy or not buy our best offerings, and so on.

When I think about this and the fact that we have limited control over what we can do and influence, it is easy to see this in the perspective of an organization. So many of us fare making specific bits of contribution to a larger goal and purpose. Our contributions are fragmentary and often minuscule in nature (an irony of the division of labour). Yet, it is even true when organizations don’t exist for us. Robinson Crusoe (before Friday showed up) was in exactly the same circumstance. Building seller would be an obvious output/result. Yet he would not know until the tropical storm hit whether he did a good enough job.

I use Robinson Crusoe, as my litmus test for much of what I espouse and practice in OD. I also use Robinson Crusoe to test the meaningfulness and usefulness of what others have to say and propose. I think Robinson Crusoe can be an extremely informative touchstone for evaluating what all of us have to say about performance management. For me at least, doing “form work” is hardly the useful point.


About 123stilllearning456

As a management consultant I am passionately interested in talent management and risk/uncertainty issues. In the area of talent management I propose that we seek strategies that look beyond the staffing/employee centric frames of reference. I have been frustrated at the "closing down on possibilities" by these more conventional staffing/employee centric approaches. I have been impressed where people have found systematic solutions to their talent management issues by going beyond the conventional approaches. In the area of risk and uncertainty, I am interested in making this topic relevant to more normal decision making situations. My conceptual foundation is to use the micro-economist's fixed/variable cost theme. I also think it is important to look at these issues for people through their emotional and psychological lens. As a premise I think risk and uncertainty only exist where there is a person who cares about possible events and its consequences. Hence, risk and uncertainty are social based concepts (no sentience, no risk and uncertainty). A major influence on my thinking in this area is Nassim Taleb of "Black Swan" fame. This BLOG provides me with an opportunity to express my thoughts on topics that interest me. As this is an online diary, content is more important to me than polish. I apologize if this distracts from readers' enjoyment and learning. Still I find this a useful way to live up to my namesake, learn more from others and hopefully provoke creative thoughts and ideas in others.
This entry was posted in Decison Making, Performance Management, Risk & Uncertainty, Strategy, Talent Manangement, Values and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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