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What Is the Best Way to Describe High Performance?

A new dashboard is needed: one that describes standout and unmatched performance rather than exceeding or excellent performance.

When someone does a great job delivering results, how do you describe what they’ve done?

When the product of their efforts goes beyond what is expected, what words do you use to capture the moment?

Performance appraisal is viewed as mainly an HR thing; a system developed by human resource professionals and used by organizations to rate how well an individual is fulfilling the role expected of them.

And in most cases the terms of reference — the context — for the evaluation is their position (job) description.

Whatever is defined in the job description as key result areas gets appraised.

I’ve always had difficulty with the traditional appraisal system because it’s not particularly helpful in identifying brilliant people who should be watched for the highest leadership opportunities.

Standard appraisal systems typically describe what the individual has achieved over the appraisal period — generally the past year — then the appraisal moves from this narrative to choosing a performance category such as, for example, “excelling,” “exceeding,” “fully satisfactory,” and “unsatisfactory” relative to the standards of their position as well as the specific objectives they were given.

A person given an “excelling” rating will have demonstrated that they had consistently exceeded their role standards and delivered more on every objective given to them than was expected.

The problem is that the performance description is entirely based on the person and their accomplishments; it’s a very narrow perspective on their capabilities. By its very design, it provides little value in terms of comparing how this person performed relative to others.

The use of performance evaluation committees tries to provide a forum where individuals can be compared. I present the evaluations of my people to the committee and others do similarly and then we subjectively compare them to see if we can agree on who has demonstrated the better performance. 

The acrimonious debate always ensues over who the “winner” is with no one wanting to admit another employee is better.

And it’s this very perspective that is relevant when it comes to identifying the high potential people who should be in senior leadership positions.

It’s ALL about comparing people in terms of what they’ve achieved and the mark they leave on the organization.

To feed the need for leadership, a new performance dashboard is needed; one that moves away from “excelling” and “exceeding” performance to “standout,” “unmatched,” and “incomparable” performance.

We need to identify people who stand heads and shoulders above everyone else; individuals who are the ONLY ones who do what they do. People who achieve results in a way that others don’t; who don’t rely on benchmarking and best practices as their guide.

THESE are the individuals who should be tagged for the future opportunities that come available and THESE five key results areas should be the anchors of how their performance is appraised.


Number of Tries

Incomparable performers try more than others. They understand that success rarely happens with a single shot but rather as a result of how many attempts they make at getting it right. So these people take risks and are a constant buzz of activity as they try this and try that, until they find the right formula.

There is no appraisal methodology that I know of that tracks and measures a person’s effectiveness in making tries, and yet it is a key ingredient that separates the amazing ones from the commoners.

Successful people try more than others.

A contrarian approach.

Standout people look to go against the flow; they observe the most common approach others would likely employ and they go in the opposite direction and do a 180.

“What if we did the reverse?” is a question that pushes them against the momentum of the common solution and exposes opportunities others can’t see. They look at a best practise and ponder what would happen if it were turned on its head. They love inventing “outrageous” methods and concepts and apply them to their work.

The owner of The Heart Attack Grill in Las Vegas went totally against the flow when he decided to open a restaurant that offered “deathly” food — the Octuple Bypass Burger has 20,000 calories. Outrageous indeed!

What’s more outrageous than marketing heart attacks?

Storytelling.

The ONLY ones tell stories to bring their work to life and capture the imagination and support of those around them.

They add emotional appeal to what they do. They know if others are only intellectually aligned with their work, it’s insufficient to garner their unwavering support; they need to be emotionally hooked.

So they tell a story of what it would look like when their solution is implemented. For example, if it’s in customer service, marketing or sales, their story could describe the enhanced experience the customer will realize. There is no better way of defining the benefits of the solution being worked on than painting a picture of the outcome through a story.

Storytelling excites people to act.

Serving others.

Unmatchables perform at nose bleed levels because they ask “How can I help?” constantly, particularly when they engage a team to resolve an issue.

The only way teams can deliver is if they are able to do their work unencumbered by the internal grunge that typically gets in the way — policies, rules, procedures that are barriers to their progress.

Unmatchable performers make it their number one priority to cleanse the working environment of noise and clutter for their teammates, greasing the skids for people to deliver more than what is expected.

Looking through a different lens.

Like-no-other people look at opportunities in a way others don’t; they are constantly looking for different ways to achieve a task. Every time they are presented with a challenge no matter how big or small, they ask themselves “How can I do this differently?”

The need for these people to put their own twist on what they are doing pervades their thinking so that it is automatic; they don’t even think about it.

“How can I do this differently?” is embedded in winners.

Let’s change the way we search for people who are truly remarkable; who are distinct from the common herd.

Measure how well individuals standout from one another in performing their roles.

For it is THIS tribe we need leading our organizations.

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Roy Osing
Roy Osing

Roy Osing (@royosing) is a former President and CMO with over 33 years of executive leadership experience. He is a blogger, content marketer, educator, coach, adviser and the author of the book series Be Different or Be Dead.

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What Is the Best Way to Describe High Performance?
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