As we approach year-end, members of organizational leadership are looking back at their team’s performance and setting goals for the New Year. Did your team meet the goals and objectives you had set out for this year? If not, what will you do going forward to address any deficiencies? More importantly, are you confident that you have the right team to achieve your goals for 2018?
Managers and HR executives dread these questions, because there is seemingly no easy answer. How can you accurately measure your teams past performance, and how can you confidently predict future performance?
Both of these points can be addressed by first understanding how individual characteristics and behaviors drive performance. A team is only as strong as the sum of its parts, so it’s in management’s best interest to understand specifically how each team member contributes to – or counteracts – organizational success. Recognizing individual team members’ competencies and shortcomings across a few key areas is the first step to developing effective performance management techniques, which will ultimately optimize your team for future success.
Concentration, or the ability to focus, is one of the most important traits for successful individuals to possess. An individual’s level of concentration can be determined by analyzing internal distractibility, external distractibility, and flexibility.
Internal distractibility refers to an individual’s ability to quiet their thoughts in order to focus on the task at hand. Chronic daydreamers, for example, likely have high internal distractibility. Having the ability to shut off your internal monologue can be especially important in a business setting. Have you ever been speaking to a colleague who appears to be listening, but clearly, their mind is elsewhere? You probably did not have much confidence in that individual’s ability to retain the information.
External distractibility describes a person’s ability to ignore irrelevant cues in their physical surroundings. If your work comes to a halt whenever you hear sirens passing by outside, or if you can’t help but eavesdrop whenever co-workers are chatting nearby, you likely have high external distractibility.
The third concentration factor to consider is flexibility. For example, an individual’s ability to multi-task is a general indicator of their mental flexibility. Consider the job of a waiter who has to simultaneously take orders, communicate with the kitchen, check in with customers, close out bills, and handle special requests on the fly. Having a high level of flexibility is critical to success in this type of position. Alternatively, individuals who are not able to juggle multiple priorities would be less likely to possess flexibility, which will certainly affect performance.
Awareness defines an individual’s sensitivity to their environment. The term can be further dissected by considering both internal and external awareness factors. External awareness describes an individual’s ability to monitor their physical surroundings; internal awareness describes an individual’s ability to monitor and control their own thoughts.
Awareness is one of the most important factors for individual success, and it’s closely related to concentration. At first, the two concepts may seem contradictory. How can you be constantly aware of your environment without becoming distracted by it? The solution lies in the individual’s ability to control their attention.
Consider the job of a truck driver who has to concentrate on their route, payload, dashboard controls, and – of course – the road ahead. Even if the truck driver is able to effectively concentrate on these requirements, they will not be successful if they are not also highly aware. Truck drivers must be able to react quickly when other drivers switch lanes, or when weather conditions change, for example. As an analogy, concentration is to your direct line of sight as awareness is to your peripheral vision. You must be able to concentrate and remain aware in order to see the full picture.
An individual’s interpersonal style is one of their most visible performance indicators, but also one of the most complex to measure. Interpersonal communications can be broken down into factors such as introversion, extroversion, self-expression, and confidence, although there are many other characteristics that interact to define a person’s interpersonal style.
Introversion and extroversion describe an individual’s reaction to social settings. There’s a misconception that introverts are shy and extroverts are outgoing. However, it’s very possible for introverts to be outgoing and extroverts to be shy. In fact, at a basic level, the differentiation between the two terms lies in the individual’s ‘energy.’ Introverts tend to lose energy in social settings, whereas extroverts become energized when social. If you find that you enjoy networking events, but feel completely drained when you leave the event, you may be high in introversion. If you find that you become weary when left alone with your own thoughts, you may be high in extroversion. As a side note, it’s important to note that the terms aren’t mutually exclusive; everybody possesses a certain degree of both introversion and extroversion.
Self-expression is another interpersonal indicator, referring to an individual’s ability to convey professional ideas, express frustration, and communicate support. An individual with a great idea will only be successful if they’re able to effectively express that thought in a professional setting. An individual’s ability to control the expression of their emotions is also important for performance. Of course, a team member who expresses anger aggressively may be difficult to work with – but a team member who is unable to express anger may end up feeling dissatisfied and unfulfilled, unbeknownst to their peers. The ability to express support is especially important in management positions. If you’re unable to support your direct reports, they’re likely to feel unappreciated.
Confidence is a key component of an individual’s interpersonal style. Having confidence in yourself instills confidence in others, so it’s especially vital for leaders to possess this trait. However, confidence can be impacted by self-criticism. While it’s important to recognize our shortcomings in order to improve, if you find that you really beat yourself up over minor mistakes, you may be highly self-critical – and your confidence will suffer as a result. Of course, nobody feels completely confident at all times; most people feel some degree of uncertainty before public speaking, for example. If you find that you’re constantly second-guessing your efforts, though, it may be beneficial to consider ways to improve your confidence.
Interactions Between Performance Indicators
Humans are complex beings with busy intersections of characteristics that all interact to create an intricate, dynamic personality profile. Recognizing performance indicators on a singular basis is only the first step to predicting an individual’s behavior; you must also understand how different traits interact with each other.
For example, imagine a salesperson who has high awareness and high external distractibility. Awareness is typically a very desirable trait for sales roles, as it’s important for people in these positions to be able to focus on the task at hand while also noting their customer’s nonverbal cues, for instance. However, awareness will not ensure success on its own. Since this salesperson’s external distractibility is also high, not only will s/he be fully-aware of the interactions with the customer, but also of cars passing on the street, people walking by in the hallway, the A/C shutting off, and other unrelated external cues. You can see how a person with this type of profile will likely be less successful in a sales situation than someone who is able to both focus and remain aware.
As another example, consider a CEO who is highly self-critical, has low flexibility, and high self-expression of anger. This individual may be prone to agonizing over minor mistakes, as they’re unable to control their internal monologue to stop the barrage of self-criticism, and as a result, they will lash out at peers.
Of course, there are endless combinations of core competencies that individuals may possess, and there’s no way to simply categorize people based off a few traits. However, if you’re able to identify the factors that are most important to an individual’s success within your organization’s specific culture, you can then measure your team members’ strengths in each of those areas. Recognizing key performance indicators on an individual basis, as well as understanding how to address that individual’s relative strengths and weaknesses, will lead to a stronger, more cohesive team – which in turn, contributes to a strong corporate culture.
Coauthor/Shawn G. Baker
Cochran, Cochran & Yale
Executive Search & Leadership Advisory
Cochran, Cochran & Yale
Executive Search & Leadership Advisory