Training Skills Series: Performance assessment

Guest post by Ken Burnett, VP/ Director of Training and Business Development, Bank of American Fork

This series is written from experience and is part of Bank of American Fork’s training program. The program embraces the philosophy that training is a skill-based job, and managers need to learn specific skills to be successful.

As a training professional I am often told, “This associate needs training to support that initiative or new system or performance problem.”  Some expect that I will run back to my computer and write a fabulous training course that makes everyone feel great.  Unfortunately feeling great is not the same as improved performance.  To improve performance and not just do training, first start with assessment.

It is important to note that using the following to look at problems in performance differently will be a huge benefit to your organization, even if the performance assessment is not fully implemented each time.

Here’s how.

Once you have determined a new or existing task or tasks, determine the output of the task, and what quality measure is used to measure that output.  Unfortunately, some use arbitrary measures, so be certain that the metric has data behind it that can be verified.  For example, you may ask your employees to complete a stock trade and they report back with 100-percent accuracy.  The first question you should ask is, “How do you know that the trade is accurate?”  Use this question as a starting point to verify the metric.  In addition, you won’t have performance data to compare current performance for a new task, but you should have specific performance goals to use as a measurement.

If performance is not meeting expectations, get both qualitative and quantitative data to determine the cause.  Training may be part of the answer, but you need to determine what the skill gap is before you begin to develop training.  The following chart lists types of performance issues, diagnostic tools and the appropriate remedy.

Performance Issue Responsibility for
Diagnostic Tool Appropriate Intervention
Motivation Business Function (e.g., sales operations etc.) Ask the employee to list their priorities.  If the item you think is an issue, and it isn’t mentioned, then the employee or the organization doesn’t think it is important . The performance requirement must be supported by senior management and woven through the associate’s reward and recognition system.  Spot awards and public recognition can also be motivators.
Aptitude Human Resources, Training Determine what about the employee’s situation is unique, and then address that issue. If the employee is not able to perform the task, they may need additional training.  If all the other factors work out, they may be on the wrong seat of the bus, or need a new bus.
Skills and knowledge Training A test or observation to determine if the employee can perform the task.  It is also important to develop the perfect working environment to make sure it is a skill issue. Match the learning intervention (e.g., classroom self-paced, job aids) to the need.  During training, train the learner to refer to materials instead of having them try to memorize materials.
Environment Business Function (e.g., sales operations etc.) Does the associate have the resources, technology and references necessary to perform the task? These usually take the longest to fix, because they can be big ticket items.  You may need to triage a short-term solution.
Coaching and Feedback Business Function (e.g., sales operations etc.), Human Resources and Training How often does the employee receive specific actionable feedback from their manager regarding the performance of the task? Provide specific coaching and mentoring training.  Set specific expectations for the frequency of coaching and feedback.
Measures and Metrics Business Function (e.g., sales operations etc.) Does the employee know whether or not they completed the task correctly?  Is the feedback clear and specific? The measurement should be attainable, meaningful and visible to the associate.  Meeting or not meeting expected performance should have consequences.

A couple of points before you think this process is too hard.  For a big project, you may do all the items on the chart.  For a smaller-scale project, you may only need to place a couple of phone calls or talk to a few employees to move forward.  If the conversations raise concerns, then you need to look at the whole picture of performance.  Remember, if any of the performance issues exist, you won’t get the performance you are looking for and the training won’t stick.

Think of this as building a performance bridge to cover a skill gap.  The last step in performance assessment is making sure the bridge you are building fits into the road, or overall workflow.  If you built a solid bridge and attach it to a sandy mountainside, it will sink.  The questions you asked about the performance issue to fill the gap need to be asked of the overall workflow as well.  If the associate loves the task you are introducing, but hates the rest of their job, you still have performance issues that need to be resolved.

The tremendous benefit to the organization is that after providing the performance assessment service a couple of times, you will be relied on by management for more than training.  You will be on your way to becoming a performance consultant—a critical person in any organization.

Ken also wrote a series for manager skills. What other business skills do you want to know more about? Tell us in the comments!

Ken Burnett is vice president/director of training and business development for Bank of American Fork. He is responsible for training more than 300 employees on a variety of topics, including coaching and feedback for dozens of senior managers within the organization.

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