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Assessing Performance (Part 2) – A Question of Standards

February 25, 2008

In the previous post, I described what we can and cannot use from the training session as a measure of the student’s performance. As I also pointed out, an assessment is really just a comparison and what we need now is that benchmark to compare the performance against.

Ironically, its this part of the equation that is most complex. Not because of the nature of assessment but because of the nature of organisations. There a are several available sources we can use to establish our benchmark:

  • Ourselves: we measure the student’s performance against our own. In a competency based environment I am either competent or not. Right? Therefore, if they perform like I do, they must be competent.
  • Co-workers: Same argument as above. This has the benefit of using a wider pool of competencies and an impartial observer (you)
  • A model: Grab a picture in your mind of a perfect or minimum standard student – why not even use one that you know of?.
  • Workplace standards: Use documented standards and practices to establish a measure of competency.

So which is correct? Well all of them may seem so if the circumstances are right but only one will always yield reproducible results. The last one. We always use workplace standards as the performance benchmark for competency. The first three have two main problems, subjectivity and mystery. Different trainers (and the assessor for that matter) could have different views or interpretations on what constitutes competency and the student will have no reference to base their own assessments. No longer do we grade on a curve.

It comes down to standards

In every workplace that I have visited there are the standards, an then there are ‘the standards’. I’ve come across three main groups of these, each playing a role in how work is currently being conducted.

Category One: These are documented by the organisation as either acceptable practices, preferred procedures or a performance benchmark. They may be driven by legislation, best practice or customer demand but the key thing is that they are written down and referable by every employee in some way.

Category Two: These are the ‘grey standards’ that are common knowledge or the way every one does it. They are not effectively documented and are generally absorbed rather then learned. These are ‘the way it is done’ and over time, the reason may even become lost (but that’s the way we’ve always done it).

Category Three: These are the personal standards or preferences that tend to vary with the employee and unfortunately, also the trainer. These are the way people like particular things done eg John likes it done this way, but don’t ever let Peter catch you doing it like that. They are not documented (effectively at least), but most team members are aware of each other’s preferences and adjust their practices according to the team at the time.

This array of expectations can be very confusing for the student and lead to performance conflict, especially if the student has to adjust their behaviours depending on the current training team. It is a lose-lose situation. The solution (although not an easy one) is to eliminate category two and three standards, or at least highlight what is required and what is technique.

Additional measures

It doesn’t end here of course because we have addressed only half of the performance benchmark. In our pre-brief, we can set the student additional goals as performance measures that may or may not relate to the organisation’s performance standards. Typically short-term goals are relaxed standards for the purpose of providing intermediate targets for the student. If you and the student agree to a goal, it is a performance measure.


Now that we have the performance and the benchmark, we can compare the two to establish success and failures, strengths and weakness, positive behaviours and negative ones. Remember however, the focus is on improvement and not highlighting the student’s shortcomings. We need to focus on moving forward and with every point that we make, reinforce the positive / remedy the negative.

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