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Highly trained employees…Unimpressive job performance…What are we doing wrong?

The good news is you may not be doing anything wrong. In fact, everything you’re doing is probably right. So don’t stop what you’re doing!

So, if we’re doing everything right, why aren’t our employees performing better? We train them with the best techniques available, classroom instruction, Web-based modules, and even interactive self-paced instruction. They’re getting good scores on the exams at the end of the class. But they’re not doing the job to the level that we need.

Training your employees to perform the tasks that make up their jobs is very important. You wouldn’t hesitate to tell me that poorly-trained employees do not perform well in the workplace. So why don’t all of your well-trained employees perform with excellence?

As a life-long teacher and trainer, I struggled with this question for many years. And as a safety consultant for manufacturing, the first thing I would tell you after an injury is that your employee needed to be retrained. It was a simple answer for a quick fix! More training equals fewer injuries. Job done! Not only was that my magic pill, but it is universally accepted by my safety peers. So, what would you do if I gave you this advice?

A classroom filled with very bored adult education students.

Well, since you’re the “expert” we would probably comply with your recommendation. But pulling our employee off the line for training is going to leave us short-handed. Plus, he has already been through this training and he knows what to do and what not to do. In our opinion, this would be a waste of time.

You’re absolutely right. Unfortunately, all that time I was operating out of ignorance. This does not mean that I’m an ignorant person. I’m sure you’ve heard the term “we don’t know what we don’t know.” That was me. I thought I had all the answers because that was what my education, training, and experience told me. I was smart about many things but I was ignorant of the fact that there was much more to employee performance than training alone. I was giving my clients advice that was not helping their company or their employees.

It was only after I made the conscious decision to expand my knowledge that I realized how much I didn’t know. Believe me when I say that my motives for engaging in this learning initiative were not entirely honorable. I hate to admit that I did it out of boredom. I was tired of sitting in the same continuing education classes year after year hearing the same information over and over again. I was like the guy in the picture with his head rolled back. And worse yet, this is the situation my clients were putting their injured employees in when they agreed with my recommendation for “retraining.”

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It was about this time that my mentor, John Maxwell, made a statement that changed everything. He said, “If you find yourself in a group of people and it feels like you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room.” That’s it! I was in the wrong room!


It was only after this discovery that I decided to take a risk and get out of my comfort zone. Don’t ask me how it happened (because I have no idea), but I stumbled upon the art and science of employee performance improvement. I found out very quickly that there’s much more to this whole process than training and more training. That’s when I discovered just how much I didn’t know.

I immediately went from being the smartest person in the room to being totally clueless. New information was coming at me from every direction and I felt totally overwhelmed but at the same time I was fascinated. For the first time in my life I didn’t care how dumb I looked, I was determined to learn all I could because I finally found the answer to that nagging question of why so many highly-trained employees produce unspectacular job performance. It wasn’t about what their organizations were doing but about what they were not doing.

Thoughtful confused handsome man has too many questions and no answer

After several years of study, I’m now ready to share what I’ve learned with manufacturing leaders around the globe. That’s why I created the Performance Evaluation Matrix (Matrix). Based on the work of Thomas Gilbert, affectionately known as the “father of human performance,” the Matrix is an adaptation of Gilbert’s Behavior Engineering Model that’s been the standard for many years. It includes five factors in addition to training that influence the performance of your employees and provides a simple tool to help you evaluate any employee or team in all six areas.

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So, now you’re telling us that there are six factors? What are the other five and where does training fit in?

Great question! Let me take each factor, based on its relative importance, and provide the details. I’ll warn you up front. Training is not at the top of the list.

Factor One: Tools, Materials, and Working Conditions. These are the things that your organization’s management provides to support and assist your employees. Working conditions include ergonomic, environmental, and safety factors. Tools are the instruments required to do the job. Materials include products and supplies. In order for each workers to perform their jobs effectively the layout and organization of work should be optimal, there should be adequate time to get the job done, ergonomic risk factors should be addressed, the required tools should be easily available and optimally arranged, and barriers and distractions should be minimal.

Two Asian industrial workers in metal factory with electrical grinding tool and power drill machine

But Ronald, we do provide all of this, so what’s the big deal? Our plant is state-of-the-art and our employees are happy with their work environment.

I’m sure you provide everything that’s on the list and that your plant is a great place to work. The Matrix allows you to take a critical look at all of the factors and go a step further to determine what constitutes “good” and what it takes to be” excellent.” In addition, you have the ability to evaluate each of six factors on two levels. You can capture the supervisor‘s perspective (level one) and you can discover the perspective of your employees (level two). Comparing the two will provide key data and confirm the accuracy of management’s assumptions.

Since you listed this factor first, does that mean that it’s the most important one?

Yes. Based on a study conducted by Peter Dean on Gilbert’s Behavior Engineering Model, those subjects who were interviewed listed Factor One, referred to as Resources, as the most important performance driver. The Matrix includes a weighting factor for each of the six performance areas based, in part, on Dean’s study.

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Okay, which factor is next?

Factor Two:  Information & Data. This includes performance standards, data tied to performance, and job analysis. Every employee should know when and how to perform the expected job tasks. The employee will bring some education and experience to the job but well-defined, up-to-date performance standards and clearly understood job procedures are necessary for exemplary job performance.

We agree that information and data are important because it impacts every aspect of our company. We live in a world of data every day and we measure everything. So we should make a perfect score on this element, right?

Worker and manager in industrial factory discussing acceptance of machine

I certainly hope so. I expect that you will score high on the level one assessment because your supervisors are confident that their employees have been provided with comprehensive instruction on how to perform their assigned tasks. But the bigger question is how well do the workers understand their performance expectations and how they affect the overall production process? You can discover this through a level two assessment by conducting a one-on-one interviews with the employees. You just might find that they not able to define their performance expectations as clearly as you would like them to.

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We agree that it makes sense to interview our employees to confirm that they fully understand the information they’ve received. But we’re still confident that we’ll score high on both the level one and level two assessments. Okay, so what’s the next factor?

The next three factors all carry the same weight. The first of these is Factor three: Regular Feedback. Workers must clearly understand what they are to do and must be told how the results they are achieving match the job expectations. The key here is consistent feedback. The time between task performance and feedback should be should be short enough to prevent uncertainty. Feedback should be based on expectations from one event to another and between workers. Effective feedback emphasizes positive performance followed by opportunities for improvement. In the level two assessment employees are interviewed and observed to quantify the amount, type, and effectiveness of the feedback they have received.

Feedback is very closely tied to the Factor Two, Information & Data. In Gilbert’s Model, he combined them into one factor. However, in the manufacturing environment, I believe they are two separate but related activities. Even though feedback is probably the easiest of all the factors to for an organization achieve, it is often the most neglected area.

Why is that?

Because as leaders we’re very good at providing negative feedback, telling our employees where they’re falling short and offering instruction on how to improve their performance. But we’re not so good at providing positive feedback as a means to reinforce acceptable performance. If your supervisors are being honest with themselves, they will probably have to admit that their score on the level one assessment is not as high as they would like it to be. Taking it to level two and asking the employees how they feel about the feedback they receive will usually confirm the level one score.

Comic explosion with text Great Job, vector illustration

Okay, you got us on this one. This is an area we can all improve in. So, let’s move on to the next factor.

Factor Four: Consequences, Incentives and Rewards. Workers should clearly understand the results or consequences of the work they do. Consequences are events or effects produced by a tasks performed by the workers. Incentives and rewards are the stimuli that influence or encourage workers to perform their jobs. Incentives, which can be internal or external, should include monetary incentives (raises, bonuses, etc.), nonmonetary incentives (recognition, material rewards) and career development opportunities. Workers should be rewarded or provided with incentives that maximize positive work performance.

Ronald, are you telling us that we need an incentive program? We’ve had incentive programs in the past and they haven’t worked. And recently we’ve heard some negative things about using incentive programs. We don’t think they’re worth the time and effort.

I’m not telling you to adopt an incentive program. I wrote an article on this topic a few years ago. You can download and read a copy by clicking here. What I am telling you is that motivation is key element in human performance.

Unfortunately, you have very little impact on an employee’s internal motivation. New hires bring their own self-motivation to the job. The important thing is to know how to identify and hire motivated people.

On the other hand, you have total control over the external motivation of each worker through the use of incentives and rewards. Everyone likes to be rewarded for a job well done. Those who perform with excellence get promoted. Those who underperform may be demoted or terminated. As you can read in my article, incentives come in different shapes and sizes. What’s important is that your workers have goals to meet and they are rewarded for reaching those goals. Incentives can be financial or non-financial as long as they encourage the desired performance and discourage unacceptable performance.

A crowd of people celebrating and partying with their hands in the air to an awesome Dj. High ISO grainy image.

Another important motivation factor is to help your employees understand the value of their work in the bigger picture. How does their job impact other manufacturing processes? How does it impact the organizational mission? Workers will perform with a higher level motivation if they understand that what they’re work isn’t just a job, but it has a significant impact on other operations, the organization, your customers, and even on the society.

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That makes sense. Okay, we only have two factors left and we haven’t talked about training. Are we going to get to that soon?

Yes, that’s in Factor Five: Skills and Knowledge. This includes the degree to which the worker’s skills and knowledge match the performance requirements of the job. New employees will bring a certain level of skills and knowledge to the job, based on their education, experience and the effectiveness of their previous training. Your organization must identify the skills and knowledge that are required for the employee to attain the desired level of performance and compare that to their current qualifications. Training is then used to close the gap between the two.

So, you’re telling us that training has the same weight as incentives and feedback but carries less weight than information and tools and materials. We’re still having a hard time accepting that after so many years of putting training at the top of our list.

Up until now, that’s all you’ve been told. But now that I’ve given you this new information, your old assumptions are being challenged just like mine were a few years ago. I’m not saying that training isn’t important. It’s very important. What I am telling you is that it’s not the only means to improve employee performance. Relying on training alone will result in minimal impact. But when training is used in conjunction with the other factors it will have a significant impact.

Engineer Teaching Apprentices To Use Computerized Lathe

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It looks like we’re ready for the last factor. Does this have a lower weight than the other five?

Yes, Factor Six: Individual Capacity carries the lowest weight. This includes the degree to which workers possesses the capacity (ultimate limits to which an individual can develop any function given appropriate training and environment) or ability (the physical, mental, or social powers inherited or acquired by the individual) to perform or learn the job. This is the one factor over which the organization has the little influence. Let me explain.

Your company can control Factors One through Five. You can decide how much time and effort is put into providing the needed tools and materials, establishing the working conditions, providing information and data, giving regular feedback, developing incentives and rewards, and conducting employee education and training. But unfortunately, you have limited ability to add capacity to someone who wasn’t blessed with it. Because of this, your organization must be able to accurately identify an applicant’s capacity and place them in a position that matches their abilities, if one exists.

Attractive stylish middle-aged manageress conducting a job interview with a female applicant looking at her quizzically with her CV in her hand

So, what do you think of everything you’ve heard about the Matrix?

It’s very interesting. We can’t wait to download the document and use it to evaluate our employees. You’ve helped us to see things in a way that we’ve never thought of before. If we can use this tool to identify performance issues and develop a strategy to address weaknesses, our organization will be much stronger. We’re not going to stop our training but we’ll use it more strategically to complement the other factors. Our people will be excited to find out that they don’t have to spend so much time in class and on the computer listening to instruction just because we told them they had to. Thank You making the Matrix available to us.

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The Matrix will allow your organization to evaluate the performance of an individual employee or a team of workers and close identified performance gaps based on best practices in all six factors. Why wait? Order your Matrix now so you can achieve best-in-class employee performance and gain that all-important competitive edge.