Talking About “Performance” – But Which Kind of Performance?

A friend – I’ll call her Sidnie – has a job that pays her by the hour, and she shared her commitment to “doing quality work”. She asked, “Should I bill them for the hours when I know I’m not 100% – like first thing in the morning when I’m handling email and stuff? And should I bill them for time when I am working more than 40 hours a week, when the extra hours are focused on making sure I’m doing quality work?”

This put us squarely into a conversation about different kinds of performance. What does her boss – or in Sidnie’s case, all three bosses she reports to regarding the three different aspects of her job – really want from her? Do they want her to work as economically as possible? Do they want her results to meet certain standards? Or were they going to evaluate the results of her work in terms of how well they could be put to use in other locations or situations? These are three different kinds of performance, and are measured at different parts of the stages of work: Doing, Done, and Delivered:

  1. Efficiency & Productivity are “Doing” measures of performance, counting how many resources – people, hours, or materials and supplies – are needed to finish certain tasks. If it takes you 2 hours and 1 cup of soap to wash two full baskets of laundry, and Mary Sunshine can do the same job in 1 ½ hours with ¾ cups of soap, then Ms. Sunshine could be said to be more efficient and more productive.
  2. Quantity & Quality are “Done” measures of performance that are applied not to actions, but to results – whether products, services, or communications – to determine whether they meet some specified standards. If the quantity standard, for example, is to get 4 loads of laundry done in two hours or less, then both you and Mary Sunshine blew it. If the laundry you washed has no streaks, spots, or discolorations, but the laundry Ms. Sunshine cleaned has several unremoved stains and places where dark colors bled into white fabrics, then her work has a quality problem.
  3. Effectiveness & Impact are “Delivered” measures of performance: when the cleaned-and-dried laundry is folded and returned to Madam Customer, it will be her reaction that determines the effectiveness or impact of the work. If she says to you, “Thank you, that’s fine,” then the work was sufficiently effective, with a positive impact. If she says to Ms. Sunshine, “Look at these stains! Take it all back and do it properly!” or, “I will not pay for this – you have ruined my white pants!” then Ms. Sunshine has scored badly on the effectiveness and impact scale.

Sidnie was not sure of what her boss(es) wanted, which is not unusual. Most employees do not clarify this, thus do not know whether one kind of performance is more important than the others. Sometimes the bosses do not really differentiate either, which means the workplace is directed by guessing or by learning the personal preferences of higher-ups.

Our conversation did clarify two things, however. Sidnie will track her work hours without subtracting any hours she has judged as “doing unimportant work”, or “not being as sharp” as she thinks she could have been. Starting now, if she is working, Sidnie will count the time as work-time.

Second, if Sidnie doesn’t know what her boss(es) consider to be “quality work”, then what is she doing in those extra hours she is investing in “doing quality work”? Most likely, she is using her own judgment on whether she has done a good job with the tasks she was assigned. Perhaps she is even correcting errors in cumbersome work processes or in other people’s products. Still, by her own estimate, it is work that is adding value.

I say, bill that time. But also schedule a conversation with your boss(es), Sidnie. It’s time to clarify what they really want you to be accountable for, what standards they use for “quality”, and what matters most to them about the work you do to support their business objectives. The understanding of what “performance” means deserves a conversation. Maybe some of your extra hours could be better spent on different tasks – or perhaps on kayaking down the river with your friends instead of working overtime.

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