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A Model of Job Performance

Back in 1979 I put together a model of job performance to help with some process improvements we were doing at Digital Equipment Corporation.  Here’s the model:

I ran across the model when was going through some old papers, and I thought you’d like to see it.  Here’s the explanation of the model that accompanied the diagram:

The model shows that an individual’s performance is a function of three primary elements: Motivation, Skill and Tools.

An individual’s Motivation depends on his/her personal needs and the ways in which the work environment satisfies those needs.

Skill is a function of an individual’s Capabilities and the Job Training that the individual is given.  Capabilities, in turn, depend on mental and physical aptitude, experience and education.

The Tools used for a particular job enable an individual to multiply the effect of his/her Skill in order to increase Job Performance.  [The tools depend on the job, but computer systems are often used as tools for knowledge workers.]

The point of doing the model was to look at the various variables involved in achieving superior job performance, and then to go through the variables one by one to see where improvements could be made.  Some of the variables are determined by the hiring process: picking people who are capable and who are motivated to work in your environment.  Other variables are changeable after hiring; you can always give an employee better tools, better training or a better working environment.

Current Observations on This 1979 Model
I worked in manufacturing at DEC, and so my group focused on improving the performance of a manufacturing worker.  Many of the manufacturing jobs we were trying to improve have been replaced in today’s world by robotic factory tools, and so if we did a model like this today we would be more focused on Knowledge Workers.  I think the model for Knowledge Workers would be similar, but a few clarifications are needed:

  • The term “Job Training” is a bit misleading in today’s world.  There are many kinds of training, including professional training (how to carry out the day-to-day activities of your profession), tool training (how to use a computer system, application or some other kind of tool), simulation training (using a simulator like a flight simulator to see how you would do job tasks in an environment that tolerates failure), and shared best practices (learning from the way other people do the job).
  • The word “Tools” also seems a bit dated, although conceptually the category is still valid.  Most of us hear the word “tools” and think of hand tools like a hammer or screwdriver.  But an iPhone or BlackBerry is a tool.  A spreadsheet is a tool.  A browser-based computer application is a tool.  Anything that helps you enhance your job performance is a tool.
  • In today’s world of autonomous decision-making, context is an important — and often omitted — part of the thought process used by a knowledge worker.  Context is provided by the leadership of the business through statements of strategy and direction.  It’s not enough to tell an employee what to do — you have to provide a set of principles for the employee to follow when making decisions.

Overall Conclusions
The world has changed drastically since 1979, and yet human beings are pretty much the same.  I still believe that motivation, skill and tools are the three keys to job performance.  Giving people what they need is still the best way to motivate.  And training is still the best way to turn capabilities into skills.

What do you think?  What factors are missing from this model?  How would your model be different?

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Jeff Staddon September 7, 2010, 1:06 pm

    My best work experiences have come from merging a deep understanding of business context with strong technology skills. Almost all knowledge workers live in silos–particularly the “IT silo” and the “business silo”. People living in silos have little idea of what exists outside of those silos and simply don’t perceive the abundance of “low hang fruit” available just outside the walls. I’m not sure where this fits in your model, but realizing this can be a huge productivity amplifier.

    • Harwell September 7, 2010, 3:02 pm

      Interesting comment, Jeff. So you’re saying that productivity is enhanced by a broader perspective on the overall job and its context within the company. I would agree with that. If nothing else, having that perspective helps you to focus your efforts on what’s truly most important. And while that doesn’t help your job efficiency, it definitely helps your job effectiveness.

      See an article I wrote, “The Best IT Organization in the Country?”