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Performance Improvement; a 3-step sequence

January 07, 2008

Do you ever wonder about the basic components or building blocks that characterize when people are improving performance versus when they are not?  I’m trying to describe the way we think and behave when we are making a change to our performance level… or not.  I’m struck from a simple counting perspective, at how often the number three (3) comes up. 

Here’s an example: from a cognitive or “way of thinking/perceiving” framework, identifying your top 3 objectives or goals, seems to be a grouping that works for people.  It’s enough initiatives to make an impact.  The number 3 is also a small enough group that it solicits some important priority work behind the scenes… “Hm, now what are my top 3 goals?”… something that creating a list doesn’t do.

Here’s an example from the behavioral side: “What are the next 3 things you need to do to be successful?”  Again the number three seems to represent a good working number.  Enough content to get something going.  Not over-whelming.  For larger projects, that have hundreds of sub-tasks, we often double the number 3 to get to 6, and ask for an entire project or goal to be broken into only 6 buckets.  This serves us well in helping people both plan and layout that plan in ManagePro, our project and performance management software.

Here’s another look at performance improvement and the number 3 that I’ve had a lot of fun with, but it has to do with sequencing, as opposed to grouping.

Let me preface it with this observation:

Performance improvement happens when you work 3 steps in the correct sequence.

            And this one

Lack of performance improvement is the same 3 steps, it’s just that #2 is reversed with #1, and #3 is mostly bypassed.  Let me explain.

I repeatedly see an important 1 – 2 – 3 step sequence to “improved” performance, maybe to life as well. And this sequence applies to all sorts of areas, but the steps must be applied in the correct sequence.

Here’s an example of the 3 step sequence around which we build ManagPro:

Step 1. Prioritize/Plan your work, Step 2. Work the plan/your priorities, Step 3. Track/document your results

From a time and effort standpoint it looks sort of like a bell curve.  That’s probably only interesting to me, but here’s roughly the same sequence in a way I know you’ve heard before.

Step 1. Ready, Step 2. Aim,  Step 3. Fire. 

Here’s the interesting thing.  Not improving performance, staying with the past, staying stuck, however you wish to phrase it, also works off of the same sequence, but in a consistently different order. 

When you’re not improving performance, you do step #2 first, then do step #1 if you have time, and step #3 usually under deadline or a requirement of some sort.  If performance is really bad, you will see people start with #3, and work backwards one level at a time, usually under duress and with protest.  That means they put together a report (#3) if they have to, actually get a list together of what they are doing (#2)  if they really have to, and actually create a plan (#1) less frequently then their annual physical check-up 😉

Here are some examples of step 1,  step  2 sequences that work best when done in sequence, not reversed. Note that when you start with #2 and say “I’ll get to #1 when I get a chance”, you rarely get back to #1 in a quality way before you run out of time for the day.

Performance Step #1                   Performance Step #2                             Step #3
1. Goal or outcome,                    2. Task/to-do                                        3.  (Finish – as defined by tracking,

1. Commitment, values               2. Go with the opportunity                       measure, document, follow-up)

1. Planning                                 2. Action

1. Plan your day,                        2. Open your email/voicemail

1. Gather the facts,                     2. Make a Decision

1. Better.                                    2. Easier


Food for thought.  What if there’s no mystery about about performance management?  What if it is a dance, a 3-step dance you just need to practice and be good at?

1 Comment. Leave new

Lorita Incorvaia
June 7, 2012 2:40 am

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