(July 2015)

How to use this guide

This framework is a thought exercise to get you thinking about how you can improve your performance. If you receive performance feedback that you feel is too fluffy and you don’t know how to act on it, this guide may help you nail down what your manager is trying to communicate and what you can do about it.

This is not a comprehensive encyclopedia of performance types and strengths and weaknesses. It does not lay out all possible foibles or virtues. There are plenty of possible weaknesses you may have that are not listed here. Or you may have a combination of strengths and weaknesses from different levels. Take this guide for what it is. People are not archetypes.

How to gauge your level

It’s hard to assess one’s own performance. The best way to assess your level is to sit down with your manager (or whoever is responsible for your output) and discuss it honestly. You can then reference this diagnostic tool for ideas on how to improve.

Level 1: Best Effort

It’s pretty evident what you should do to improve if you’re not putting in your best effort, right? Put in more effort. That’s why “Best Effort” is our first level of performance. Keep in mind there are six whole levels higher than Best Effort. Don’t let the name fool you, there’s a long road ahead.

What Best Efforts performance looks like At this level, you receive orders and work to what you consider to be the best of your ability. However, you may leave tasks unfinished if you feel you don’t have the time or energy to accomplish them. As long as you show up and put in your best effort, you consider yourself to be doing a good job. You show up when you are told to show up, and leave when you are allowed to leave.

What Best Efforts leadership looks like If you have direct reports, you manage them by defining the hours they are to work and the effort they are to put in. You hold them accountable to working those hours and putting in good effort. If they did that but their goals weren’t accomplished, you figure it probably wasn’t a good goal. After all, don’t goals exist to motivate us to do our best? They’re all arbitrary and artificial anyway.

If your team members don't receive orders or they have spare capacity, they can hang out on Facebook until they hear from you. Good job on completing your work ahead of schedule, team!

Your approach to developing leaders is to teach them how to be punctual and work hard, and how to instill this ethic in others.

The Weaknesses of Best Efforts performance You can't be counted on to make sure that an assigned task will be delivered on time with absolute certainty. Deadlines will start slipping as soon as your workload is too heavy to be covered in your shift. You make excuses for your failures and believe that you are not at fault for them. How could you possibly be expected to deliver X in Y timeframe? You used your best efforts and the task wasn’t completed. You believe it is self evident that the performance expectation was unreasonable given the fact that you tried hard yet still didn’t accomplish it.

Frequent sayings that highlight the weaknesses of Best Efforts performance “It's not my fault the job didn't get done, my baseball schedule came out and I had 3 games in a row! It was crazy!” “I didn't finish the task because you didn't give me enough time!” “I didn't hit the sales target because you didn't give me enough leads!”

How Best Efforts can improve to the next level Be reliable. Accomplish the tasks you say you will accomplish, in the time you promise you will accomplish them, regardless of what personal sacrifices you need to make. Think ahead as to whether there are any personal reasons that could compromise your ability to complete this task as promised, and make accommodations to ensure that the task will be finished, without any effort needed from your manager. If you believe a task is not achievable, communicate that at the time it is assigned, not at the time that it is due.

Also, drop the defensive attitude if you have one. It holds you back and is frustrating to others around you.

Level 2: Task Execution

Got it, you say. I’ll work overtime, holidays, skip my wedding anniversary, and whatever else I need to do to accomplish the tasks I’m assigned. Nothing will get in my way. I’m going to kill it. I am an unstoppable execution machine.

What Task Execution performance looks like You own a checklist and you make sure everything on there gets done. Your manager says jump, and you ask how high. You receive orders and accomplish tasks competently, but may not know or care about why someone is asking you to do the tasks you have been assigned. It doesn’t matter; you’re going to nail them regardless of the reason!

What Task Execution leadership looks like If you have direct reports, you manage them by delegating tasks to them and giving them the information needed to complete them. You hold them accountable for completing those tasks. If something fails outside of your team’s task list, you don’t hold them responsible. After all, if it wasn’t on their list, it should have been on someone else’s. That’s a failure of the higher ups! If your team members don't receive orders from you (because you’re busy executing like a manager) or they have spare capacity, you expect them to seek out more tasks from you. You expect them to seek clarification and feedback on their tasks as necessary. However, you do not expect them create new tasks for themselves independently. After all, tasks come from the top. Your approach to developing leaders is to teach them how to delegate tasks and hold others accountable.