Individual performance is contextual

“I might be put under performance improvement plan in upcoming performance appraisal, what should I do?” I received this frantic call from an ex-team member Shweta (not real name). I had a long chat with her, trying to understand where things went wrong and helping her work out options.

This conversation brings to fore the nuances of individual performance and its crucial links with other organizational elements (which mostly go ignored).

First, let me share a bit about Shweta. We had hired her from campus. A fresh post grad in management, she was a bundle of energy. She was affable and a good team player. She had a knack of looking at a task from different perspectives and come up with creative solutions. She was diligent and good at execution. Her performance was exceptionally good (in fact, far superior to some folks with years of experience).

After working with me for 3 years, she moved to a different role. I hated to lose her, but I also wanted her to learn and grow as a professional.  She did well in her new role as well. The same year, she was identified as a hi-pot.

She successfully worked with one more organization before taking up the current role. Unfortunately, she has not been able to settle well in current role. In the recently completed mid-year performance, she was rated below average. She was afraid that she might be put under performance improvement plan in year-end performance appraisal (or be fired).

Having directly worked with Shweta for 3 years (and seeing her from a close quarters for some more years), it’s hard for me to imagine her as a poor performer. But, here she was on the verge of being fired.

I am sure we know people who were excellent performers in one organization, but failed miserably in another. The reverse is also true. At personal level, I can recollect times when I performed exceptionally well, and times when I did just about average (it was same work)

So, what drives individual performance?

Definitely the individual – his or her capability, past experience & exposure, ability to learn quickly, adapt to next work environment etc.

Context in which the individual performs is equally important. It includes elements like manager support and feedback, clarity of role, work culture.

Context becomes even more important if the individual is new to an organization or role.

Overlap between individual ability and the context leads to performance – larger the overlap – better the performance.

Unfortunately, performance appraisal in most cases, focuses only on the employee, not so much on the context.

In few weeks, performance appraisal season will hit most organizations in India.

Are we (managers mostly) prepared to create the context through the year – leading to a larger overlap – the zone of high performance?

Are we ready to consider performance holistically, rather than viewing it from a single lens?

Points worth considering – what say?

All the opinions shared here are personal. They do not represent opinions of any organization.

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