Evaluating Performance

While measuring performance can be simple, evaluating performance often requires peering below the surface. This is the difference between knowledge and understanding.

Let’s go back to the student who scored 50% on the calculus test in Setting Expectations. We measured their performance. We compared it to our clearly defined expectations. We evaluated them as a poor performer. Pretty straightforward stuff.

But what are we missing? Context.

Context includes information specific to the person or thing being evaluated. For example, would your evaluation change if the student is only 8 years old? Might that context cause you to judge the performance as exceptional?

Context adds history and trends. What if you learn the kid had consistently been scoring over 80% on tests? Are we now back to a bad performance? Or is the more important question, What changed?

Context reveals the bigger picture. Finally, you hear that during the test there was loud construction going on. In fact, the majority of students in that same classroom also scored below their average. Does that information again change your understanding of the performance?

So what’s the point of the story? Measuring performance against expectations is important. But that should be the starting point of the evaluation, not the end.

The Human Element

We cannot accurately understand performance without considering the context. The performance of whatever we’re evaluating is, in no small part, dependent upon the system and environment our subject operates within. This is especially true when evaluating the performance of people, both individually and collectively.

Context is an ever changing thing. We need to regularly reevaluate context to make sure our ideas have not become outdated.

The Business Obligation

Performance management is much more than reporting facts and metrics. I believe our obligation is to help the organization, and the people in it, improve. Yes, we start by measuring performance. But to reliably influence performance, we must go further. We must understand and communicate the underlying reasons behind the facts and metrics.