September 2017

How To Identify Top Performers

Identifying top performers should be easy.

But it isn’t.


Because we lack data.

Think sport for a second: Take a player the Springboks are sorely missing at the moment (57-0 sore … eina!) – Warren Whiteley. A quick search for Warren yields the following: a herd of pictures. Obviously.

Top Performer Warren WhitelySource: Google

And we’ll quickly find general biographical information as well.Warren Whitely 2

Source: Google  

Warren Whitely StatsGood start, but no help in terms of performance. Dig a little deeper: thanks to Wikipedia for these stats. Now we’re getting somewhere: now we know he’s appeared 149 times for provincial and franchise teams and scored 125 points or 25 tries between 2008 and 2017. Pretty good!

He’s also represented his country 17 times and scored 15 points or 3 tries.

But the data so far doesn’t let us know why. It describes his track record in simple terms. But why did the selectors select him? Why at number eight? Why at Captain for the Lions and his country?

To understand this, we need to know more about his competencies, his habits, his personality and his leadership capability. This article hasn’t the space to explore all of these in detail but let’s dig a little deeper. That’s the incredible beauty of the internet. With the click of a few buttons, we can learn so much.

 We really get to know about Warren, when we read what the journalists, players and coaches have to say: for example, in SuperSport’s Insider column we get a glimpse of the reason that Warren leads the Springboks. The article is littered with praise for his rise to become the 58th Captain of South Africa: “… determination … overcoming adversity … proving critics wrong … rose from obscurity … desire to better himself … lead others … respect he earns from players … popular choice as captain … aura of respect … belief among the players that he leads … an ability to impact both on and off the field … loyal … determined to get to the goal that has been set … most consistent performer at number eight … resilient … right decisions under pressure … brings out the best in people … very fine rugby player … family came first … leads through actions … no grey areas … does everything at full pace … character … very calm person … cares a lot about his players … friends with everyone … has time for everyone … respects everyone … people’s person … good speaker … how calm he kept … doesn’t let the circumstances of the game take over and get him down. He stays in his character and he believes in the team, in the systems we have in place. He stays calm under pressure … calmness in pressure situations …”

And I’m only halfway through the Insider article!

What about harder facts? Look no further than this link and you’ll find Attacking Stats, Defensive Stats, Kicking, Error and First Phase Stats which tell a numbers story.

So why all of this in an article about identifying top performers?

Isn’t it obvious by now?

We need data.

It’s not good enough to talk to a few colleagues / managers / staff. It’s not good enough to look at historical performance ratings which you know are subjective numbers anyway.

We need data. And we need to build it consistently and thoroughly. By doing that, we identify the top performers, the middle and weak performers, the bad surprises and the hidden gems.Then we can begin to focus on retention strategies, talent management, employee engagement, human resource strategy, employee motivation and capability development.

But without the data, we’re just playing around like kids playing touch with a rugby ball at the local park.  We have no serious intent.

Thanks for reading this far. (If you got this far, you deserve a prize!) Until next week when we talk about employee retention, have a great weekend! Let’s trust that our Springboks will do us proud on Saturday against the also struggling Aussies! Cheers!

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Defining Work Personalities: Interesting, But Pointless?

We think. We talk. We assess. We debate. What we really need is action.

There are hundreds of assessment tools on the personality assessments

There are hundreds of tools in your local hardware store.

Common denominator?

In the hands of unskilled users, they’re dangerous.

In the hands of casual users, they have no impact.

Psychometric Testing

I’ve often met people who’ve pulled out a neatly filed psychometric test, personality survey (a favourite is Myers Briggs or MBTI), some form of career test or any of the multitude of personal profiles available in the market.

I ask a few questions:

  • Did you think it was accurate?
    • “Yes, mostly, a few things I thought were off …” is a common response.
  • What did the result mean to you?
    • “It was interesting.”
  • Did you change anything as a result of the assessment?
    • “I thought I might … go on a course … get some coaching … study further …”
  • So, what’s changed since you did the assessment?
    • “Nothing really. It was really interesting though … very accurate … my husband / wife / kids / friends laughed about how accurate it was …”

And herein lies the problem.

We feel quite comfortable to buy and complete assessments. The feedback reports or sessions reveal interesting pieces of information about us that we instinctively knew. Now, they’re confirmed by a ‘neutral third party’: the assessment. The reasons for our behaviour, competency, habits, and styles are exposed for discussion and debate.

But so what?

Click here to request a work personality assessment for your team

Examining Your Personal Profile

Great, you’re an extrovert, a detail freak, risk-averse, resilient, confident, impatient, altruistic, task efficient, conceptually fit, co-operative etc.

So what?

It’s one thing to run assessments that range from R400 ($30) to R20,000 ($1500) per person. Another to extract value.

Value is a function of Action.

We assessed our team and discovered that 7 people don’t fit their roles. So far, we have moved 3 of them into new roles, 2 have left the company and the remaining 2 remain in situ for various reasons.


Besides moving people, we need to find new people. We remain focused on growing our workforce with the right people in future so that we begin to improve our organisational capability.

Then we check that performance has begun to improve. Typical measures include:

  • People Cost as a % of Revenue: is it dropping? This either means revenue is rising or cost is dropping or both.
  • %Conversion of Proposals into Business: are we getting better at closing deals?
  • The number of months without a SHEQ incident: are we improving our safety record?
  • %CCMA cases won: are we improving our labour relations process and compliance?
  • %Project completed OTIF on or under budget: are we delivering good projects within time and cash budgets?
  • %Turnover and Ave Tenure of Top Performers: Are we keeping our best people for longer?
  • %People meeting their targets or more YTD: are we improving productivity?

If these and many other measures are improving, our use of assessments and other interventions might be creating value.

Work Personalities vs ROI

Unfortunately, too often, the assessments are done, read and forgotten. So too is the improvement work to be done. People move, we all get busy and the paperwork is filed.

Interesting but pointless. Without action.

What to do?

  1. Define the preferred improvement measures and targets.
  2. Calculate the resulting ROI of any intervention.

This is key and should get the attention of the CFO at least! This is different to the measures and targets. For example, we could do a project to improve sales performance.

The measure might be Average Revenue per Sales Person. The Target might be: 20% higher than current.

The ROI is the Additional Revenue Generated less Initial Intervention Costs (1st year). Year 2 onwards: Additional Revenue Generated less Ongoing Additional Costs.

  1. Gain interest and commitment to the ROI from all stakeholders
  2. Define the plan, implement and track
  3. Provide regular feedback to all stakeholders to maintain interest and focus
  4. Show value.
  5. Repeat elsewhere.

It’s not good enough to deliver training, do assessments, run projects or write reports if there’s no focus on action.

Without action, it’s all just noise.

Like giving a politician a microphone.

Or listening to the Springbok coach finding the positives in losing 57-0 to the All Blacks.

Noise. Not Action.

Until next week, let’s take action!

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Summarise and Score: What Does “Capability Data” Mean To Your Bottom Line?

Correlating Capability and Performance

Four weeks ago, we started exploring a key topic for all organisations: How to improve sales?

Last week, I demonstrated a Capability Scorecard. I developed this scorecard because we talk so subjectively about people. We use anecdotes, feelings, interviews, 360s, assessment tools, simulations, opinions and references to measure people.

But we don’t summarise and score.capability data

We make a decision and we move on. If the decision proves to be wrong, well, that’s life. If the decision proves to be right, excellent. But we don’t often interrogate or store the data for future reflection. Managers move, HR people move and all the intelligence gained during one generation of staff is lost for the next generation of staff.

Maybe we HR and training people, consultants and line managers could learn from finance. Companies can review past financials and compare to the present. Finance runs on a continuous track of data that can be historically analysed at any time. But HR? What do we know about the success of our appointment, transfer and promotion decisions last year?

Capability Data

We might know what our staff turnover rate is. But what does 5, 7 or 9% tell us? Wouldn’t it be far more interesting to have this number broken into 4 numbers:

  1. Capable Performer Turnover: 2%
  2. Incapable Performer Turnover: 2%
  3. Capable Non-Performer Turnover: 2%
  4. Incapable Non-Performer Turnover: 3%

Isn’t that more granular?

  • Should we stress about number 1?
  • And applaud number 4?

But if we have no capability data, we can’t stress or applaud anything. We can guess: I think Joe’s talented, let’s put him on the fast track. Why? He’s a good guy. Why? In whose opinion?

The Capability Scorecard enables an interrogation of our opinions.

And enables a correlational analysis. See Figure 1 below.

Capability and Performance

Figure 1: A graph correlating capability to performance. Each dot, an individual.

The correlation doesn’t suggest causality. It simply says that people who score higher on selected capability factors tend to score higher on performance. And those who score lower, score lower on performance too. In a perfect world, the correlation would be 1. But in our imperfect world, the correlation will always be lower than 1. But that’s ok. We’re building information about people, our most valuable (and expensive) asset.

If we can establish causality between capability data and performance data, what does mean for:

  1. Recruitment
  2. Promotions
  3. Transfers
  4. Succession planning
  5. Training and development choices

It should mean a lot. It means we have the beginnings of a predictive model which assists us to make better people decisions. And if we keep building and correlating the data, we improve the model until one day, we have a clear understanding of what it takes to consistently recruit, develop, transfer and promote capable people who perform.

And that’s good for the bottom line, for morale and for the people themselves.

I’d welcome your comments. If you think I’m smoking my socks, please let me know. Thanks once more for reading this blog. We change track from this series next week. I finish the week in Windhoek and look forward to a family reunion back in Joburg over the weekend. Cheers!

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The Secret Sauce. What Success Actually Looks Like.

Measuring Capability

Three weeks ago, we started exploring a key topic for all organisations: How to improve sales?

Last week, we converted some of the questions we need to ask about sales people into what I call a Capability Scorecard.

I suggested that the 25 questions we could ask about sales people can make the task of building this information too daunting and tiring to bother. Especially for sales management! When you’re an:

  • assertive,
  • target oriented,
  • extroverted,
  • impatient and
  • big picture, low detail kind of sales manager
  • with less interest in conceptual problem solving and
  • more interest in meeting the current target,

developing a long and time-consuming scorecard is unlikely to be interesting. I’ve seen sales managers go glassy eyed when I present summary findings. That’s funny. I’ve done all the leg work and all they have to do is look at the summary findings for 45 minutes!

But I get it. I’ve worked in sales by default for decades and my own preferences are similar to those above. I’ve just learned though that avoiding analysis work can lead to chasing your tail because you don’t understand the drivers of success. And in sales, that’s crucial.

So, a compromise: the scorecard below has two purposes:

1. demonstrate the structure and
2. content of a capability scorecard

I’ve only used two capability factors per category to provide us with 10 items in total, down from the 25 that could be used based on the questions we posed last week. It’s better to start with the core issues and to build data over time as it becomes obvious. When you start with too many factors, people get tired, the data is often more subjective and the impact on performance less obvious. More is less.

Click on the image below and you can download a copy for yourself to edit and play around with. Feel free to change the KCAs and KCIs to suit your environment. If you edit and score it for one of your people or yourself, send it to me. I’d be interested to see your effort!

An example of a Capability Scorecard for Sales

(Naturally, you could create a scorecard for any role)

Click on the image below, or you can download a copy for yourself to edit and play around with. Feel free to change the KCAs and KCIs to suit your environment. If you edit and score it for one of your people or yourself, send it to me. I’d be interested to see your effort!  PDF | Excel

Example capability scorecard1

So here goes: The scorecard above has the following columns:

  • KCAs: Key Capability Areas: the areas of Capability we’re focusing on
  • KCIs: Key Capability Indicators: the measurement chosen for that area, preferably in objective numbers or words/statements, not long descriptions as is often the (subjective) case.
  • 4 columns of standards: Most of us are used to 5 point scoring systems. They’re fine. I just prefer 4 point scorecards because they force a view away from average up or down.
    1: The individual is not capable
    2: The individual has some capability but it isn’t up to standard
    3: The individual is capable
    4: The individual is highly capable

Technical note: You’ll notice that KCI 5.2 has a scale of 0%, 80%, 100% and 120%. This simply means that any score:

  • below 80% is a 1,
  • between 80% and 99.9%: 2,
  • between 100% and 119.9%: 3 and
  • 120%+: 4.
  • Weighting: How much do you think the item should influence the overall score? You’ll notice that I’ve rated education at 5% but discipline at 20%. Why? Simple. Sales is a numbers game: prospects to calls to appointments to proposals to deals. Get slack anywhere in the cycle and your numbers hurt. Being educated won’t fix that no matter how you game the system. I’ve met people in sales who aren’t well educated, who don’t look very professional, who don’t present very well, who people may not even like. But they do the numbers. Religiously, week in and week out. And they’re the top performers.
  • Score: the rubber hits the road here: The score is not the number in each row. It’s the column number from 1-4. So if Gerhardus got 8 for Shadowmatch, he scores 3 in the score column. If Busi has been in sales for 7 years, she scores 2 in the score column. The maximum score is 4. You can get fancy with decimals but that’s not our purpose here. We simply want to show you that a person can be scored for his or her capability.
  • Comment: I’ve used the comment column to make points about the KCIs. You can use this for anything.

 If you struggle to use the form, send your version to me at with a note about the problem. I’ll assist you.

I hope this has been a useful blog post. Thanks again for reading it. I always enjoy writing the weekly blog and appreciate your comments even more. I mentioned a trip to the bush last week. Had a fantastic break at Mongena in the Dinokeng Reserve just north of Pretoria. Shout out to Matt and Johannes who hosted us and gave us great memories to take away with us. See a collage of the weekend below.

Next week: Correlating Capability and Performance to build a Predictive Model to save us time, money and pain. The whole point of the process. Until next week: Cheers!

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