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"There is something that is much more scarce, something rarer than ability. It is the ability to recognize ability." - Robert Half

When a promising employee struggles in a new position, leaders often struggle to understand why. Someone may seem perfectly aligned for a job but still not quite hit the mark.
The three circle model of job performance can provide great insight and light the past for a performance management plan. Imagine the three circles are overlapping with a common area in the middle.

Job Performance Model :

The first circle is cognitive & interpersonal competencies - are they able to do the job? The second circle relates to experience, skills, and education - do they have the necessary training and background? The final circle covers attitudes, interests, and motivation - do they want to do the job, and do it well?

The Four Factors of Success

Management expert Tom Foster says that success requires four factors:
  • Capability to do the job
  • The skills to do the job
  • Interest and passion
  • Reasonable behavior, which he defines as the absence of the extreme negative

As you can see, the first three factors relate to the three circles in the model. The fourth, reasonable behavior, is an outlier and it can have a significant impact on the other factors.

Let's examine the first three before touching on the last.

The three most critical factors of success, according to the model are:
  1. Capability: Can they do the job? Every role demands a particular set of cognitive skills and traits. You must evaluate whether or not the person possesses those traits.
  2. Skills: Have they done the job before? This is determined through resumes, skill assessments and reference checks.
  3. Interest and passion: Do they want to do the job? Someone can possess the hard, soft and cognitive skills to do a job, but if they aren't interested in what they are doing, engagement can suffer. How much they love their work can impact success.

You can see that the overlap of these three leads to high engagement and strong performance. This particular model was developed as a means for improving the hiring process. If a candidate possesses all three factors, they will likely be successful. But no hiring process is 100% accurate 100% of the time. If it were, we'd never have to talk about job performance management.

The Three Circle Model And Job Performance

When you have a new manager or employee on your team who struggles with success, this model can be applied as you develop a job performance management plan. As you answer the questions; Can they do the job? Have they done the job? Do they want to do the job?... you can drill down to the source of the performance issue.

If they have not done the job before, the answer can be as simple as a training and development program. If they do not possess the cognitive skills to do the job, or if the passion is not there, a conversation about the future is in order.

Think for a moment about the people who have left your organization over the last several years and apply the three-cycle model. I'm willing to bet you'll find clarity as to what went wrong in each situation, and you can use that knowledge to guide future employment decisions.

The Pesky Fourth Factor

That fourth factor that we touched on earlier is an outlier, but it is important: reasonable behavior. There will likely come a time when a solid performer begins to backslide. Their poor attitude can destroy their success and drag down those around them.
Temporary unreasonable or extreme behavior is likely the result of something going on elsewhere in their life. A death in the family, an illness, a divorce, issues with children, etc.

When things like this are going on, it's worth the time to sit down with the employee and have the conversation. Let them know that you understand life happens and you sympathize with whatever they are experiencing and coach them through separating that stress from work. It won't always work, but with a strong performer, it's always worth the time.

However, you must also emphasize their commitment to their role in the organization and performance is still expected. Empathize but do not abandon accountability.

Permanent unreasonable behavior could be the result of an personality flaw that you missed in the hiring process. You know these people when you see them because we've all worked with one or two in our careers. It is impossible to change this type of person, so focus on the performance issues while you are "freeing their future."

The three-circle model is not an exact science but rather, it is a tool for gathering information that will help you draw conclusions. The more you study the model and the more you practice applying it, the more realistic your conclusions will be, and the more effective you will be when faced with a struggling employee.


Larry Hart

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