The performance pathway model brings the training and development process into visual perspective by highlighting the key factors that influence job performance. The performance pathway begins with the individual, moves outward over a timeline and ends with a measurable outcome.
Think of one or two employees whose work performance could use a booster shot. Keep those people in mind as you learn how to apply the model, or think about applying it to yourself.
Individuals bring many traits with them to the job. Some are functional, while others are dysfunctional. The “person” section of the model identifies eight essential factors that impact job performance: knowledge, experience, skills, abilities, awareness, values, motives and needs. As individuals grow accustomed to the job, these factors change over time.
For a high achiever, they change in positive ways. For example, their knowledge increases, their experience broadens, their skills develop, their abilities improve, their awareness grows, their motivation strengthens, their needs expand and their values deepen. Such a person is ready for change and will adjust to whatever comes his or her way.
Underachievers bring these same types of traits to the job, but they are looking to maintain the status quo rather than improvement. Typically, it takes them longer to become accustomed to the job. Meanwhile, they are searching for the minimum acceptable requirements and not thinking about raising their level of performance. The last thing they want to undergo is a transition.
Job demands are the conditions under which the person is expected to perform. Unlike a job description, which lists tasks and duties, job demands define work in terms of past, present and future expectations. For example, was the person hired or promoted into the position because of his or her past job performance, present job requirements or future job potential?
A “doer” would relish the opportunity for advancement and greater responsibility, while a status quo-seeker in the same job would be threatened by an increase in job demands. The underachiever would be content with a job that never changed, while a doer becomes bored without opportunities for growth and development.
Training and Development
“Training” relates to immediate, short-term upgrades and improvements. “Development” has an evolutionary focus related to future growth and long-term potential. The maintenance of individual skill levels is determined by the organization’s training and development philosophy. For example, if the philosophy is to hire or promote people who are fully trained and ready to perform, the organization must emphasize recruitment and selection processes. Under this strategy, the organization would expect higher levels of performance in a shorter period of time. On the other hand, if the strategy is to train and develop people on the job, performance expectations are lower, and people have more time to get it right.
Actions people take in response to their work environment are observable and either functional or dysfunctional. Job-related behaviors, if observed carefully, can provide leaders with the first clue that people are accepting or rejecting change. For example, leaders will see doers moving forward, trying new things and making change happen, while status quo-seekers, if not closely supervised, are holding back, avoiding anything new and reverting to the old ways.
Performance is the measurable outcome of the interactions between the person and his or her job demands, training and development, and behaviors. Here, at the end of the pathway, is where the leader discovers what is working and what is not. But it is also a beginning — a place to start again. Armed with the results, the leader is now in position to show the low performers and underachievers how to retrace their steps and target specific areas for improvement. They will benefit by walking through the model step by step while the leader points out where, what and how they can do better next time.
High performance is sustained by maintaining a balance between job demands and training and development, which means that the organization is providing education, in some form, in anticipation of future job changes. Leaders introduce new elements to the job only when employees demonstrate confidence in their current skills and abilities.
It doesn’t makes sense to wait until performance declines before providing training. Underachievers are reluctant to admit they do not know how to do something, which means it will be up to the leader to discover their weak spots and keep their job skills current.
The key to long-term growth is continuously assessing future job demands and then providing developmental opportunities for employees working beyond their capabilities. Keeping track of current performance is important, but knowing each person’s potential is even more critical.
As time passes and job demands change, followers accept that at some point in the future, they will need do things differently. However, if forthcoming duties and responsibilities are beyond their knowledge, skills and abilities, it will negatively affect them and drive the pathway downward — resulting in a performance loss, as depicted below.
In a dysfunctional scenario, leaders take action after the fact — belatedly providing training to the employees most negatively affected by the change in job demands. Rather than remedy a bad situation, this training may escalate the tension, because unless they make the purpose of the training clear, a clash in expectations is bound to occur between the leader and the impacted follower. The leader will expect performance to improve, while the follower is expecting to achieve equilibrium — to return to the pre-change level of performance. If post-change performance does not improve after the training, the leader decries the waste of time and money, and the follower receives a poor performance evaluation. It is no wonder change brings about fear.
There is wisdom in the saying, “The certainty of misery is better than the misery of uncertainty.” People would prefer to know in advance how change might impact them — the bad with the good. In a functional scenario, followers are prepared for the change in advance:
If leaders want positive acceptance of change, they should hold frequent meetings; publish charts, graphs and plans; and share their view of what is about to happen. It is up to the leader to create a vision of the future in the minds of the people most impacted by the change. Training people to prepare for change will affect their behavior positively and drive the pathway upward — resulting in a performance gain.