A New Model for Understanding Performance
Managers are like coaches in baseball, football, or other sports. They are always seeking to get a higher level of performance from their employees. Sometimes they must deal with the occasional “slumps” that can happen to anyone. At other times, managers are faced with the riddle of a specific performance issue with an otherwise solid employee. The most challenging of all are the employees who work hard with a great attitude and still fail to achieve the necessary results in their jobs. For years, sports coaches have enjoyed the benefit of a trove of data to help them diagnose and correct the performance of their players. Now similar DATA is available for managers and supervisors in any type of industry.
The purpose of this paper is to first acquaint managers and supervisors with a new model for understanding the foundations of job performance. It has transformed the way leading businesses are hiring, training, and coaching their workers. It has even transformed the way jobs are being designed. The changes within the world of talent management are enormous, but the concepts are quite simple and easy to apply in any business. The second part of this paper will suggest a way of diagnosing performance issues using DATA. With this method, managers can discover the causes of performance shortfalls and determine what type of intervention might be effective.
Effective troubleshooting of job performance issues begins with identifying the potential causes of the problem. Traditionally, job performance was understood through a two-part paradigm: Attitude, Values & Motivation plus Skills, Education & Experience. (Figure A)
If performance was not what was expected, solutions came from this model. If the person was motivated and had a good attitude, they probably needed more training or experience. They were on a learning curve. If the person had the skills and experience to do the job but was not achieving what they should, it must be a matter of motivation. These conclusions led to expensive training programs and imaginative incentive plans. Sometimes these worked, and performance improved. However, more often than not these initiatives seemed to have a more positive impact on the good performers than on the ones who were the real focus of the effort. The good performers got better; the average performers got a little better, but the struggling performers still struggled.
Results such as this inspired other explanations, whose most significant contribution was to fill desperate managers' bookshelves with fascinating theories that offered little in the way of actionable advice. Everyone agreed that the wrong people shouldn’t be on the bus, and the right people should be on the bus. Labeling the various generations and painting the whole gang with common characteristics was interesting and made for fun discussions. It just failed to answer the questions of what specifically to do.
The difficulty was not with the training or with the incentives. The theories and concepts that were put forth were not the product of charlatans. The problem was that the model of what caused job performance was incomplete. Well into the 1990s, it had been irrevocably shown that people had hard-wired personality traits and cognitive abilities that were essentially foundational to all job behaviors. (Figure B)
These were just as real and pragmatic as height in basketball. Tall people generally play that game better than shorter people. There are occasional exceptions, but they require exceptional speed, agility, a higher pain threshold, and much more energy to compete at even an average level. It turned out that jobs worked the same way. When individuals lacked the critical strengths or abilities that were essential to the performance of a particular job, it was difficult, if not impossible to achieve a successful level of performance. Even with herculean efforts and determination, the best that could be expected was a merely adequate level of performance, and that came at a cost of energy and stress.
DATA identifies each individual’s strengths and abilities. The business world is coming face to face with the reality that athletics figured out long ago…no one can do all things well, but everyone can do some things well. In track and field, the sprinters are not expected to excel in the long distances. The pitcher in baseball is not expected to hit like the outfielders. Occasionally there is a rare athlete who can perform across a wider range of events or positions, but those few are never as good as the specialists. In business, the general feeling was that with hard work and motivation, any employee could do almost any job. Of course, common sense and observation told a very different story. Even then, the problems were explained as The Peter Principle or Generation X or Y or ? or whatever theory was the latest idea.
In 1995, Right Person - Right Job, Guess or Know introduced this new 3-part model for understanding job performance, based on research using a marvelous psychometric instrument designed specifically to correlate job performance with hard-wired personality traits and cognitive abilities. While the data was accurate and reliable, it was not easily understood without special training. Over the next ten years, extensive research and development, combined with extensive market studies, produced the BestWork DATA system, which combined state-of-the-art psychometrics with reports that could be understood by anyone. A unique collaboration with human resource professionals and recruiters evolved an output format that related DATA to the specific job behaviors of any position. For the first time, DATA was linked directly with the outcomes managers were seeking.
The power of the DATA to solve performance problems and manage talent depends upon recognizing the relationship between the individual’s strengths and the elements within the other two circles: Attitude, Value & Motivation and Skills, Education & Experience. All three are necessary for sound performance. Other key factors affecting the performance of any employee are management, the work environment, and the employee’s personal life. The DATA can serve as a guide for finding the cause of a performance issue. The following section of this paper will outline a practical path for doing this. (Figure C)
A Path for Solving Performance Problems with DATA
Solving performance problems is often more of an art than a science, however, there is a proven path of inquiry that will help guide a supervisor or manager in a logical sequence of priorities. Figure C illustrates that path. The numbers correspond to explanations of each step in the process.
Before you start…Is this important? This is a simple question that often goes unasked until, after much time, energy and emotions have been spent on a minor issue. Sometimes the quest for perfect performance can get in the way of more meaningful successes. This could be the rainmaker salesperson who never gets the paperwork quite right. It could be the outstanding employee who does not always follow the company dress code. The first step with a performance problem is to confirm that its importance justifies the cost in time, energy, emotions, and money that it may take to resolve it. If that is not the case, ignore it and focus on more productive goals.
BestWork’s Quick Screen Charts, Strengths Charts, and Job Reports provide clear information that shows whether or not a person has the traits and abilities to perform a particular job. This must always be confirmed before considering other options, such as training or motivation.
Most employees are working hard to do their best. When their best is not satisfactory, it is generally because something is getting in the way. This decision tree can be helpful in discovering the path for the employee and the company to be successful.
It would be impossible for any single instrument to measure the multitude of technical skills required for success on the job. In any event, measuring these skills is better done through an in-depth analysis of the person’s resumé, thorough background, and reference checks, and by work samples and portfolio reviews. There is, however, one basic factor that underlies all technical skills and is essential to all jobs. That is the cognitive ability or intelligence. The importance of intelligence to on-the-job performance has been highlighted by Seligman (1997) who reported that the overwhelming body of research supports the conclusion that “Intelligence matters in all jobs,” although how much it matters depends on the nature of the job. By intelligence we mean the speed of thinking; how readily new material is learned; and how quickly underlying patterns are recognized and decisions made in response to those patterns. In the development of the BestWork DATA assessment,™ an early decision was made to include a measure of the participant’s cognitive skills, especially in the areas of fluid intelligence, inductive reasoning, and general sequential understanding, as well as quantitative understanding (Horn & Noll, 1997). Based on both research and professional experience, it was clear that these particular cognitive skills were important to on-the-job success, regardless of the job to be performed.
The true importance of matching cognitive abilities to a specific job is often lost amid the many misconceptions about intelligence. The idea of smart or not smart is the worst. All people are smart but in different ways. DATA helps to describe each individual’s version of smart. No one is smart in all situations. Five key areas depend upon cognitive abilities. The descriptions below will offer some more practical concepts of smart and how it is manifest.
The other concept that creates misunderstandings with cognitive abilities is IQ. It is essentially a volume concept, with a scale that is positive in one direction. The model suggests is that higher IQs are better than lower IQs. However, IQs have proven to be poor predictors of job performance. BestWork DATA does not measure IQ. The cognitive abilities measured by BestWork DATA contribute to IQ scores, but they are only a part of it. They represent the most advanced thinking in cognitive science. More importantly, BestWork DATA’s cognitive instrument was designed specifically to measure general or fluid reasoning, those elements of cognitive ability that have the most direct impact on job performance and human interaction.
Some of the principal capabilities related to general reasoning are:
At first thought, it would seem that the faster one’s learning speed, the better it is. That is true when the job is fairly complex or challenging. When the job is simple or when it consists mainly of an extended routine, quick learning speed is a liability. The job is learned quickly, but the fast learning employee becomes bored and soon becomes a turnover statistic. In jobs where close attention to routine is associated with safety, speed of learning can even become dangerous. Slower learning speeds are important strengths for routine jobs. Training programs may need to be longer and include more repetition, but the long-term benefits are significant. Some jobs that favor slower learning speeds are auditing, certain types of data analysis, pharmaceutical research, teaching, some types of product sales, some restaurant roles, and others that have clearly defined job behaviors.
Fast learning speeds can also be a powerful strength. It makes it easy to learn a new job or to deal with new product information. In a world that changes continually and one in which knowledge is always expanding, it can help keep up. It also enables the person to know about a wider range of situations.
An individual’s general reasoning speed determines how quickly they communicate. The majority of effective teachers or college professors process information somewhat slowly, and therefore they communicate information to their students slowly. This makes their teaching understandable to most of their students. The problem arises with people who process information quickly. They tend to communicate with others at the same speed. If their audience processes more slowly, it is unlikely that their message will be completely and accurately understood. It is not just a speed problem. Fast processors do not think sequentially (A, B, C, D, E…). They skip from one thought to the next, leaving out elements that they assume everyone knows (A, C, G, K, …). This makes it difficult for others to follow their thinking, but they may not be willing to ask the questions necessary to clarify it.
The question is not whether or not someone is a problem solver, but what kinds of problems can they solve. Fast information processing enables a person to consider multiple solutions for a problem and to project the potential outcomes for each of the solutions. Slower and more deliberate information processing limits the number of alternative solutions. Therefore, slower information processors are generally more successful when problems are simpler or when they can be handled with a set of standard solutions. As the problems become more complex or when they are unexpected, faster processing is necessary.
When a job involves handling extended routine tasks, faster processors quickly become bored. This results in a lack of attention to the job and ultimately to turnover. Slower processors are engaged with routine tasks once they have been trained effectively.
Field of Focus
General reasoning also is the foundation for what can be called the field of focus. Camera lenses have what is called a depth of field. A telephoto lens focuses clearly on distant objects, but closer ones are blurred. A macro or close-up lens focuses clearly on close objects, but distant ones are blurred. Slower processors tend to focus on the immediate issues of the job. They have less clarity on more strategic issues. Faster processors tend to focus on strategic issues or their vision of the future. They typically put less attention on immediate or tactical issues. This is why executive teams debate priorities and why it is important to have those debates, in order to understand the full range of immediate, tactical, and strategic issues of the business.
“Multi-tasking” is a misnomer. Human beings cannot hold more than one thought at a time. Just as slide projectors project one slide at a time, the human brain considers each thought separately. When several different thoughts are engaged at one time, the brain is flipping back and forth among them. Extensive research has shown that in almost every case, the quality of performance declines as the number of disparate tasks increases. While true “multi-tasking” does not exist, individuals with fast processing speeds can “flip back and forth” with greater facility than those who process more slowly.
All and all, having more information that helps someone understand how they can best position their talents in the world is valuable. A person's cognitive abilities are a core element to their job success. There is essentially a job for every type of cognitive ability. It's all about finding the best environment that works for each person.
We have focused our attention on the franchise market, speaking with franchisors, franchisees, and experts in the franchising industry. Several years ago, the IFA spent a considerable amount of time explaining to me what they saw as opportunities for the use of assessment technology. At the behest of several channel partners, we have reviewed many of the franchise-oriented assessment products currently in the marketplace. There were some excellent ones, some adequate but limited ones, and some outright junk. Some aimed at helping franchisors pick viable franchisees. Some aimed at helping franchisees hire the right people. Some promised teamwork or leadership or customer service or all of those and more. Regardless of the value or lack of value in what we saw, it seemed that there was a far better way to serve the needs of the franchisors.
Franchisors’ profitability and success depend upon:
All of these must happen if the franchise concept is to prosper and grow. The very best thinking and hard work remain dependent upon the variability of a huge number of people. In fact, the success of any franchise is completely dependent upon their management of that variability. DATA is the key to doing that time and again without the need for exceptional individuals or superstars. DATA becomes the operating system for both talent acquisition and talent management within both the franchisor and the franchisees.
DATA is the keystone of the Franchise’s talent acquisition and talent management system. Using the same DATA with the same terminology streamlines and simplifies human capital discussions and strategies. As each person is added to the DATA, the companies knowledge grows, and its ability to act with fewer risks increases.
Franchisor Internal Use
Franchises often begin with an entrepreneur’s dream, powered by the passion, hard work, and talent of the entrepreneur. A successful franchise, however, requires a complete team. Many of the key members of that team must have talents that are quite different from those of the entrepreneur. DATA provides the specific understanding of each person’s strengths and abilities necessary to build an effective team. It ensures that recruiters can recruit; managers can manage; salespeople can sell; and that each person can deliver the results needed. The information from the DATA also provides a complete picture of the operational strengths of the team relative to the operational strategies of the franchise. Talent requirements become clear, and training needs can be identified proactively rather than reactively.
DATA allows franchisee candidates to be reviewed on a much more comprehensive level. Many franchises compare candidates to “profiles” derived from assessing their top franchisees and combining that data into a single composite. That can be helpful, but it is limiting. For most well-designed franchises, there is more than one way to be successful. It may require a key set of abilities but there are multiple ways to assemble a successful team. DATA allows the franchisor to identify more candidates that can be successful with their franchise model. This gives the franchisor an advantage in the competitive market of selling franchises.
Franchisee Fast Start
Selecting a viable new franchisee is a good beginning. Now the work begins to transform that potential into a profitable relationship for everyone. DATA provides a clear picture of what is necessary to build the new franchisee an effective path to developing a productive business. The DATA can guide the training and coaching as the franchise takes shape.
The simplest way to duplicate the success of existing franchisees is to hire the same kind of people as they hired. DATA makes this an objective and easily implemented process, with each position in the franchise available within the DATA selection program. Not only does the DATA help to avoid bad hires, but it also accelerates the productivity of new hires with the onboarding, training, and management tools.
Franchise Business Consultants
Business consultants must serve a variety of different people, each with different needs and different business situations. The DATA enables the consultant to focus on the specific franchisee and their team. Their coaching and recommendations are now focused and more effectively rather than being broad-brushed across everyone.
The most powerful aspect of DATA for the franchisor is how DATA extends the franchisor's control and oversight across the entire franchise system.
DATA becomes the operating system for human resources, providing both talent acquisition and talent management capabilities throughout the enterprise.
More importantly, the abilities being measured are far more directly connected to job performance than older cognitive models such as IQ or the Wonderlich scale. Speed of learning and speed of processing information is directly related to job behaviors, and contrary to traditional thinking, faster is not necessarily better for many types of jobs.
The fact that all human beings have these hard-wired traits and abilities challenges virtually every current model or methodology for improving job performance. It turns out that concepts such as culture, creative thinking, teamwork, and leadership depend upon these elements. When these elements are measured and mapped within an enterprise, issues become clearer; the effectiveness of the methodologies are enhanced; and an integrated approach to human performance becomes possible.
A company may aspire to breakthrough developments by fostering creative thinking, yet one-half of the population cannot deliver this, regardless of training and motivation. Mapping the actual capabilities of the group identifies the true creative drivers, and at the same time, identifies those who are not creative but can support the project in other ways.
Typically, cultural surveys are based on values, ethics, and other intangibles. Mapping the cultural topology of a company reveals the collective personality or culture of each part of the business. This is the foundation upon which the other cultural elements rest and it is how that culture will manifest.
Teamwork is another universally popular concept. Companies talk about its importance and engage consultants to teach it and promote it. The topology of a team refers to the underlying structure of the team: how they handle communication; how or if they debate issues; do they favor change; are they strategically or tactically focused; and much more. Without knowing that structure, most teamwork efforts are little more than sermons, with a few good stories and some nice ideas.
Leadership is desirable in any company. However, leadership is delivered in many ways, and those ways depend upon those hard-wired strengths and abilities. When leadership is mapped, the organization can see what types of leadership are available in each workgroup. They can see what training is necessary and how to implement it most effectively.
The first step in any consulting or training engagement must be to map the topology of the workgroup. Without an inventory of the hard-wired strengths and abilities of that group, how would the engagement proceed? What would be the basis for the project plan? What would be the individual expectations for the participants? Traditionally, trainers have reported that about one-third of any group of participants improve significantly; one-third improve somewhat; and one-third show no improvement. Today, with the ability to map the individual capabilities of the participants, those percentages are no longer acceptable.
BestWork DATA can measure an individual’s traits and abilities using a 25 minute, online survey taken on a laptop or desktop computer. It is a challenging, yet positive experience. The DATA is agile, meaning that it can be multi-purposed into a virtually infinite variety of outputs. It can be aggregated with others to map the capabilities of workgroups or the enterprise as a whole. By juxtaposing the DATA, with the critical behaviors of different roles or situations, extraordinary information for analysis and decisions is available. Much as how a physician uses the data from an MRI by combining it with other information, consultants now have the means to accurately assess a problem and identify the most effective solution, with a map that the client can also understand.
There was an old commercial for BASF with the tagline, “BASF doesn’t make race cars. We make race cars go faster.” In the same way, BestWork DATA doesn’t do consulting. We help consultants sell more projects; work more closely with their clients; and extend their engagements much further.
The staffing industry is massive. It is highly competitive, yet identifying any sustainable competitive advantage among the leaders is questionable. It is mainly a business of selling, marketing and shifting allegiances, both with clients and with the staffing talent. DATA has the potential to dramatically enhance the operations and offerings of any staffing company.
The Competition for Clients
Competition for staffing clients can be fierce, and margin is the most common victim. The fact is that there is little besides price and promises to differentiate the players.
With DATA, imagine this: The specific nature of the BestWork DATA job reports allow staffing clients to select the job behaviors they want for any position. The DATA-driven reports show:
With DATA, it is possible to see exactly how and if a staffing candidate can perform any job in question. The client’s job description can easily be expressed in the same terms, allowing the staffing company to virtually avoid ever sending anyone who could not do the job.
This process allows the staffing company to engage the client on a values basis, with a clearly demonstrable difference in talent delivery. The engagement continues when the talent arrives, as the same DATA provides a quick start set of information that tells the client how to be most productive with the talent. With the DATA, the talent being sent to a client becomes more and more homogenous. This translates into more efficient training and more consistency in the client’s operation.
The Competition for Talent
Staffing companies also compete for talent in the same markets as their competitors. To further complicate things, talent may sign up with several different staffing companies. If one staffing company sends them on assignments they like, they tend to favor them. If they dislike the assignments, they go to another firm.
With DATA, imagine this: Some people like to go to different assignments and love the variety. Others are uncomfortable with such frequent changes and prefer longer term assignments. Some people learn quickly and can adapt easily to new situations. Others can learn the job, but they require more training and a longer ramp up time. These and other differences come from hard-wired traits and abilities that are measured by the inventory. This DATA enables the staffing company to serve the talent better than other staffing companies, and this promotes a loyalty that pays dividends in recruiting talent.
Imagine also: Every time a candidate completes the BestWork survey, their DATA goes into the company’s talent bank or inventory. The candidate may not match the job that prompted their application but they may very well match another posting. The DATA offers a much broader set of options for talent, which is another competitive advantage for the staffing company with the DATA.
The Challenging Process of Finding and Selecting Talent
Not only is talent often fickle, but it can be difficult and expensive to find. Jobs are posted, triggering an avalanche of resumés or phone calls. These must be sorted out in some way, generally consuming time and energy, with the next step often being more interviews in person. It is not an efficient process for either the staffing company or the talent.
With DATA, imagine this: Since BestWork DATA’s staffing program is an unlimited site license, the staffing company can make the BestWork survey a part of all applications. With the DATA, it is a simple task to screen out those that cannot do the job in question even before any sort of interview. Once that has happened, the selection is from a population consisting only of those individuals that can do the job. This is a clearly demonstrated process that offers clients a more consistent and dependable resource. The DATA connection has the further benefit of connecting the client and the staffing company in an intimacy of knowledge that is difficult to compete against.
Trainers of all kinds candidly admit that in every training class one third of the class benefits tremendously from the training. Another third benefits, but not as much as the first third. The last third benefits little or not at all, and in some cases, has a negative effect on the overall training event. Seeking to solve this problem, trainers have devised countless tactics, gimmicks and strategies attempting to change the results. While this often added a variety of entertaining elements, there was little impact on the outcome. The concept of different styles of learning was put forward, and a number of interesting programs tried to apply these to training methods. This definitely helped some participants, but there was minimal success with the overall group, and the complexity of that approach limited its use.
BestWork DATA offers a much more practical understanding of the critical variables in any training program. Each participant plus the trainer, has hard-wired personality traits and cognitive abilities that form a solid foundation of behaviors and learning capabilities. Without seeing these clearly and recognizing the specific differences between the trainer and each trainee, competent and dedicated trainers will be on target with a third of the class, partly on target with another third and will miss with the last third. The good news is that when these differences are known, simple adjustments can dramatically improve any training’s effectiveness. The onus to change and adapt is always on the trainer and never on the trainee, however when both parties understand their challenges, positive results are possible.
The greatest challenges in training programs are found when the learning speeds of the trainer and the trainees are significantly different. This does not refer to intelligence or education, but to the speed at which an individual processes information. Many jobs require a slower processing speed to match the nature of the job, and that match is generally more important than the MBA or PhD that may also be required. Other jobs require fast processing speeds. When the trainer learns quickly, they present information quickly. If the trainee is not equally quick, they cannot capture all of the information. The lessons must be slowed down and some repetition may be necessary to ensure the level of learning. Conversely, if the trainee learns faster than the trainer, the trainee can become bored and not pay full attention. Additional questions and exercises may be introduced to engage faster learners.
Speed of learning is a major factor in the design of successful training programs. In fact, when training programs are designed without considering the speed of learning of both the trainer and the trainees, it can not only affect the effectiveness of the programs, but it can contribute to unwanted turnover.
A leading soft drink company had three call centers experiencing extreme turnover. The job was desirable with good compensation and comfortable working conditions. Candidates were brought in for an intensive 2-day training program, which was followed by a test on what had been learned. Those candidates that passed the test were hired. The intensity of the training and the amount of information that needed to be acquired in a relatively short period of time meant that only those candidates who learned quickly could pass the test. Therefore, candidates with a fast learning speed were hired into a job that consisted of answering inbound calls when a restaurant ran out of soft drink syrup and dispatching more syrup. The new employees quickly learned that this was the extent of the job and virtually all of them left within weeks. The only candidates that could get the job were candidates that were poor matches for the job. The solution had two parts:
A sales organization with 300 salespeople had a turnover rate of over 200%. They were hiring about as fast as employees were leaving. There were two primary causes:
The first step for enhancing training effectiveness is to ensure that each trainee has the hard-wired strengths and abilities needed to be successful in the job. Next, identify any differences in speed of learning between the trainer and the trainees using BestWork DATA. That enables the development of strategies to bridge the gaps and to ensure a successful program.
PRE-TRAINING SNAPSHOT #1 illustrates the significant differences between the trainer and the trainee. A gap of one box between the two people indicates an area that requires additional focus and energy to bridge. This does not mean it cannot be done, but it does mean that specific actions must be taken for the training to be effective. This may require extending the training time, providing additional resources such as video refreshers, hands on demonstrations or other techniques. This example is extreme but it is not uncommon in some industries.
PRE-TRAINING SNAPSHOT #2 illustrates a very different situation. In this example, the trainer is almost an exact match to the trainee. Communication will be easy. They share the same speed of learning and a similar need for details. Both are open to new ideas and both can handle complex and conceptual information. The trainee will also ask questions when needed. This is also an extreme example, although not uncommon. Usually, one or two areas require attention and adjustment, but that is not difficult when the gaps are clearly seen
Training is one of the most important elements contributing to the success or struggles of a company. It is often one of the most expensive. The digital world provides access to almost any kind of training. The key to using those resources effectively is understanding the learning capabilities of the people being trained. BestWork DATA is a powerful tool for unlocking the potential of each person and opening the door to incredible operational excellence.
Chuck Russell is a thought leader on applying behavioral data to business, educational and social challenges. For over 25 years, he has worked with companies of all kinds to optimize their talent acquisition and talent management practices with behavioral data. He is an international speaker on behavioral data analytics.