Some big rocks may be bigger than others; some key job responsibilities are more critical than others. How do you determine the most important items?

The easiest way to determine what the most important key responsibility in a subordinate's job is to imagine that you're having a conversation with that person. The individual asks, "Boss, what do you think the single most important part of my job is? If I were to excel in only one area, which one would you have me do my best in?"

What would you say? Whatever you would say, that's probably the most important key responsibility in the individual's job.

Now imagine that the person says to you, "Boss, I am just overloaded. I simply can't do everything that I'm supposed to do. If I had to eliminate one thing from my job, which one of my responsibilities do you feel is the least important?"

Again, what would you say? Whatever your response, it indicates the area of least importance.

One of the great advantages of spending an hour in a performance-planning discussion is that it allows the manager and the subordinate to talk about issues like this so that the individual will concentrate time and attention on those areas that have the biggest impact on the organization's success.

How do you determine a method for evaluating someone's performance in meeting their key responsibilities?

In addition to identifying what the key responsibilities of a position are, the manager and the individual need to discuss how the person's performance will be measured and evaluated.

There are fourand only fourgeneral measures of output:

1. Quality

2. Quantity

3. Cost

4. Timeliness

Notice that the last measure is "timeliness," not "time." That's because in measuring output, it's more useful to focus on timeliness adherence to schedule, meeting deadlinesthan it is to think about clock and calendar time.

There are also two kinds of specific performance measures:

1. Quantitative

2. Descriptive

The manager and the individual will determine for each of the competencies, the goals, and the key job responsibilities how the individual's performance will be measured.

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In determining the way the individual's performance will be measured, start by identifying which of the four general measures of output are the most important. Is the most critical indicator of success the number of units produced? Or is the quality of the finished product the primary concern? Or is getting the job done at the lowest possible cost the most important thing? Or is it meeting the schedule?

It's likely that more than one output measure is important. That's goodthe more measures you have of performance, the more accurate and valid the assessment of performance is likely to be.

Then ask yourself how you'll determine how well the job has been done. What will be your sources of information? How will you find out how many sales calls Mary actually made? What will tell you whether the deadline was met or missed? How will you know that the products Cindy produces are of high quality? And exactly what does "high quality" mean?

If the key issue is quantity, it should be fairly easy to find numerical measures that will indicate production. Numerical measures will also be easy to find when the issue is cost or timeliness. But how do you evaluate quality when there doesn't seem to be anything to count?

Start by looking for numerical indicators that will tell you about the quality of the performance. But, remember, valid quantitative, numerical measures of quality are frequently difficult to assess. How do you evaluate the quality of a pianist's performance? It is not the number of notes struck. How do you evaluate the quality of a priest's work? It is not the number of confessions heard (though one valid measure might be the number of souls accepted into heaven, but we don't have access to the data).

Too often, the search for quantitative, numerical, countable measures of quality is fruitless, and we end up using bogus measures simply because they are easily quantifiable. For example, it would be a mistake to evaluate the quality of a programmer's performance based on the number of lines of code she writes. The critical determinant of quality programming is the ability to write elegant and parsimonious code. Likewise, the quality of a linguist or translator's performance should not be evaluated by the number of words translated. What the job requires is the ability to capture nuance; simply counting the words the linguist translates provides no indicator of that rare skill.

Particularly when we are assessing the quality of an individual's performance, the measures that are most appropriate are not quantitative but descriptive. We may find little to count, but a qualified judge can accurately describe the quality of the performance.

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