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Using Measures in Performance Plans

Identifying the key results expected is the first step in developing an employee’s performance plan. Integrating measurable targets into those results:

  • Shows employees the specific thresholds for meeting expectations.
  • Explains how outstanding performance differs from just meeting expectations.
  • Opens a dialogue between the employee and supervisor on how expectations will be met, and what resources will be required.

Strategies for Success

  • Focus on the key results. Only develop measures for those duties or special assignments that matter most when deciding how the employee is performing.
  • Gather peer and manager input. Supervisors should get input from other supervisors and their own manager when setting expectations and measures. This ensures consistency between employees who perform similar work, and alignment with organizational goals, objectives, and performance targets.
  • Link measures to impacts on customers. Every product or process has a customer. Understand the customer’s business, and develop measures for how the employee’s work impacts the customer.
  • Measure outcomes rather than outputs. Supervisors often struggle with getting to results because outputs are easier to define than the actual outcomes they produce. Consider using the “so that” method:

    “Complete at least 10 inspections per month, arranging for the correction of 97% of identified hazards within 14 days...” so that “the safety program achieves at least 11,500 inspections, and corrects at least 7,300 serious hazards...” so that “Washington is ranked as one of the top five safest places to work.”

  • Identify up front how to best measure results. Will employee performance be measured through the supervisor’s personal observation, customer feedback, peer review, or something else? Knowing the method helps to create meaningful, measurable targets. Ensuring employees know up front how their performance will be measured eliminates misunderstanding and builds employee trust.
  • Use customer feedback ratings. For positions that serve customers, consider using formal and informal survey processes to gather customer feedback. Set rating targets for areas such as availability, accuracy, and responsiveness.
  • Provide appropriate resources and authority. Employees should have either direct control or reasonable influence over their own success. Supervisors should be prepared to discuss what resources, instruction, or authority will be required.
  • Set challenging performance expectations. Fully successful performance should be the norm. Employees should feel a sense of accomplishment for doing a job well, but not be led to expect recognition or reward for simply meeting expectations.
  • Set stretch goals. Stretch goals are targets for ‘outstanding performance’ beyond an employee’s normal expectations. They may include either higher levels of performance in current job duties (e.g., performing assignments quicker or producing more results), or new assignments altogether. They can also either be highly individualized (based on the employee’s developmental goals), or be assigned to an entire unit to achieve a higher level of organizational performance. Care should be taken to ensure that stretch goals don’t result in working an employee out of class.
  • Set the bar at excellence. In this model, the bar for ‘meets expectations’ is raised. Those using this model state that employees are willing work harder because excellence is the standard across the board. If the goal is not met, a counseling session is held with the employee. Careful planning is required to ensure that objective standards for “excellence” are established, and that the workload is sustainable.

Potential Challenges

  • History of not addressing poor performance. Some organizations have a history of supervisors who gave strong performance reviews to average or poorly performing employees. New performance measures will highlight poor past practices. Supervisors should be prepared to have difficult, crucial conversations with employees, and focus on where they will need to improve to be successful.
  • Identifying new and/or meaningful measures. Some jobs are not easily measured or have never been measured before. Ensuring measures are clearly defined and understood at the beginning of the performance period is critical to success.
  • Keeping measures simple. Employers often make measurement too complicated the first time around. Only measure those things that matter the most. Avoid measures so complex that more time is spent measuring than supervising.

Original: January 5, 2008
Last update: February 17, 2010 

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