Why do I need to know staff performance levels?

Differentiate staff to provide the right support.
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Differentiating Staff Performance

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“The greatest leader is not necessarily the one who does the greatest things. He is the one that gets the people to do the greatest things.” -Ronald Reagan

How do we get people to do great things? We must have continuous conversations with those we lead. These conversations vary from relationship development to providing feedback for improvement. Research indicates that employees want to improve their performance. This improvement comes about when specific, timely feedback is provided. The feedback is accepted in a positive way when the leader has first developed a relationship with the employee. The leader knows the employee and customizes the feedback for that person to support the best opportunity for improvement.

For us to provide feedback to appropriately support varying performance levels, leaders assess where employees fall on a performance curve. Differentiating and placing staff on the performance curve is fluid. The expectation is for performance to improve as feedback and development is provided by the leader. Placement on the performance curve also helps a leader consider the type of performance conversation needed to help an employee improve.


Research in business and in healthcare support a performance curve that typically looks like the one below.

Effective performance management requires continuous conversations with employee. A leader engages with all groups of employees, but in different ways. The first step in this communication process is for the leader to determine the performance level of each employee. Remember, the goal for the leader and the employee is to move the placement of the employee toward the right side of the performance curve.

Research tells us that leaders spend 80% of their time with low performers. Just think, 80% of our time with 8% of employees. We want to reverse this trend. We want to spend our time with the 92% of employees who want to perform at high levels. If leaders engage in coaching conversations with the majority of our staff throughout the year, performance will improve.

Are you ready to think about your employees? Let’s look at some basic characteristics of employees in each area of the performance curve.

High Performer

  • Positive attitude
  • Solves problems; comes with solutions
  • Exceeds goals
  • Adheres to policies and procedures
  • Always a learner
  • High commitment to team

High Solid Performer

  • Influenced by high performers
  • Identifies problems; not confident in solutions
  • Adopts best practices
  • Willing to update skills and increase knowledge
  • Achieves goals
  • Wants to continue to improve and may need coaching

Low Solid Performer

  • Influenced by low performers
  • May need more experience
  • Willing to update skills and improve
  • Achieves some goals
  • Interested in professional development

Low/Subpar Performer

  • Points to problems in a negative way
  • Positions leadership poorly
  • Reluctant to update skills
  • Does not achieve goals
  • Demonstrates little commitment to the organization
  • Comes to work with a negative attitude

Always remember that the purpose of grouping employees is to differentiate the approach for feedback and improvement. High performers will continue to perform at high levels when the leader recognizes them for high performance and offers possibilities for development. High performers also want more responsibility, which is supported by the leader. The approach with low solid performers is to provide specific feedback on a skill set at a time and a specific expectation for improvement that includes support and a timeline for achievement. This group of employees don’t know what they don’t know so the leader is prescriptive with feedback to provide what is needed for improvement.


Connect to the Heart

Thinking about and plotting staff on a performance curve can feel a bit mechanical. While this task is guided by the head, it is a prerequisite for connecting to the heart of employee performance. The ability to have meaningful conversations that support growth of individual employees is only possible once a leader has an accurate picture of each employee’s current performance. Differentiating staff is not just about placing a name on a curve, but about reflecting on opportunities to maximize each employee’s potential.

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