Poor Performance – Beyond Lacking Ability and Motivation

Performance is one of the most, if not the most important, KPI’s for business success. It’s often talked about. But what exactly is performance? And what makes bad performance? Job performance can occur at different stages and with a different focuses (task performance etc.). To get a common understanding of performance I’d like to share with you the  Business Dictionary definition of performance as

‘The accomplishment of a given task measured against present known standards of accuracy, complexness, cost and speed. In a contract, performance is deemed to be the fulfilment of an obligation in a manner that releases the performer from all liabilities under the contract’.

However, this definition is pretty technical and does heavily focus on task performance, which looks at how one performs in executing a task.

Ability & Motivation = Performance

Further research findings on ‘performance’ were very much in line with the model used by MindTools, which was emerged from ‘Developing Managament Skills’ by Whetten & Cameron, 2011. This model states:

Performance = Ability x Motivation

Whereby ability is defined as a

‘person’s aptitude, as well as the training & resources supplied by the organisation’

and motivation defined as

‘the product of desire and commitment’.

Facts are:

  1. Ability and motivation are definitely important factors of performance.
  2. Performance has to be an absolutely essential measure for each company – no matter the company’s size.
  3. Individual’s performance can impact organisational performance.
  4. Many companies prefer to focus on good performance rather than bad performance.

Ability and motivation are important. And regarding the fact that many companies don’t necessarily make employee development and training a priority or don’t have the financial resources to do so, it becomes even more essential that abilities and motivation are already in place. Put in place through recruiting.

While doing so, we pretty often focus solely on selecting in. This means we look at who is the right match for our company and the role we are hiring for. And this totally makes sense.

However, to assess the impact a single individual’s performance can have on a team or even a whole organisation we  can’t avoid looking also into what triggers poor or even negative performance. And in last consequence on “selecting-out”.


3 Levels of Good Performance

HR Zone states that good performance does occur on 3 levels:

  1. Relationships between individuals and their boss

  2. Relationships between individuals and their team

  3. Relationships between individuals and their wider organisation

I like this wider idea of performance. As it does say a lot about the underlying behaviours that form the relationships. Behaviour and soft skills are somehow developable as well as ability is somehow trainable. Motivation can somehow be increased through external factors like money and other rewards – depending on how the person is wired. Therefore it is important to look at the intrinsic motivators – the internal motivators. And also ask ourselves the questions like what are the underlying personality traits that form a person’s behaviour, thinking style and preferences?

But what about the role of personality in performance. Especially the parts that could lead to derailment and contra productive workplace behaviour which can have a massive impact on performance – in a negative way.

These relationship levels give a nice, first indication about how people behave in contact with others. If we don’t assess this properly though we will only get a real picture after we have employed them and measure it on their day to day interactions with colleagues and clients.

The book

 ‘Why CEO’s Fail: The 11 Behaviours That Can Derail Your Climb to The Top & How to Manage Them’ by Dotlich & Cairo (2003)

does look into these kind of behaviours and I’ll explain the essence in a bit more detail just now.

CEO’s & Performance

So, CEO’s who are obvisouly top performers by definition – how else could they have climbed up to the company’s top? And these people are most often not failing because they lack ability or motivation.

CEO’s however mainly fail because of derailment like contra productive workplace behaviour. The book does describe the 11 derailing behaviours like e.g. arrogance, mischievousness,  and perfectionism in more detail. These behaviours are formed by underlying maladaptive personality traits.

When we recap that a single individual’s performance can have a massive influence on the performance of the whole company this is even more real when talk about people with massive influence on this organisation – like a CEO.

If a CEO is therefore showing negative workplace behaviours and derailment, this can cause massive damage. And we are not talking about performance related stuff in the sense of not hitting targets from time to time or not setting a clear vision but on a way deeper level. Stuff like influencing others negatively – manipulation, selfish-risky decision makingand miss use of power. Shouldn’t we therefore focus, besides ability and motivation, on workplace behaviour as well? Especially on the dark side behaviour?

So, what do we do about it?

Personality traits tend to be stable and more or less unchangeable. This implies they are very hard to alter via training and development. Therefore it becomes even more essential to pay very close attention to ‘whom we select in as well as select out’ in our selection processes rather than solely focusing on a person’s capacity and ability  to perform.

Given the fact that people are the most valuable asset of any company personality does matter a lot. Your employees are the people the ones who interact with your customers and who sell your product. So, why is the measurement of  ‘maladaptive workplace behaviour’ or often called dark side behaviour not mandatory in selection processes – especially when hiring for key positions?

What are your thoughts about this topic? How do you measure performance?

I’m absolutely keen to get to understand your point of view.

Ready to explore your dark side®?

Then get in touch for more information on how we can leverage Hogan Assessments for your company’s success!

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