Monday, March 4, 2013

Confusing Behavior with Performance

(Photo credit: Force Health Protection and Readiness)
"When we make judgments about the competence of human conduct, we often look at performance from the wrong vantage point. We often confuse behavior with performance.” ~Thomas F. Gilbert, father of human performance technology 
In Human Competence: Engineering Worthy Performance, Gilbert writes of a story (pp.13-15) about how a bunch of undisciplined workers work side-by-side with well-trained, disciplined workers. The essence of the story is that the behavior of the undisciplined workers did not hamper their performance. The undisciplined workers actually outperformed the disciplined workers.

My intent is not to discredit highly-skilled, elite workers—they are often our most productive workers. However, I go back to Gilbert who says “Behavior is a necessary and integral part of performance, but we must not confuse the two. Unfortunately, we often do. To equate behavior and performance is like confusing a sale with the seller. Naturally, we cannot have one without the other.” Just because you are highly-trained and a member of an elite crew does not automatically equate to high performance.

Fire leaders have within their organizations disciplined and undisciplined workers. All too often, the behavior of the undisciplined worker is a supervisor’s main focus. What value do you place on performance? What cost do you place on behavior? Gilbert notes, “No sensible person tries to modify other people’s behavior just because it is there, or their performance just because it can be done. When we set about to engineer performance, we should view it in a context of value. We should not train someone to do something differently unless we place a value on the consequence—unless we see that consequence as a valuable accomplishment.” He goes on to state that what we really want to engineer is “worthy performance—in which the value of the accomplishment exceeds the cost of the behavior.”


TA Demings said...

I think this is a great topic and I'd love to see it examined more in depth. The question this poses is what is more impotent--to have a firefighter that is strong and fit, can hike quickly up a hill, operate a chainsaw with great skill, etc., but pulls pranks on the other crew members, uses foul language, has the habit of answering their personal telephone during meetings... OR to have a firefighter that is adequate in fitness/hiking/chainsaw operation but is well-mannered, respectful, and polite.

While I definitely agree that there is a difference between getting the job done with some goofing off here and there and goofing off without getting the job done, one of the things we must be aware of in the fire world is that everyone watches what we do.

It's great to have strong firefighter, but if he or she behaves badly it can cause problems in crews, give a bad impression to the public or to other fire personnel/overhead and be pretty negative overall.
And in that light it seems to me that behavior and performance go hand in hand. A firefighter cannot get a good rating on a performance evaluation if their behavior is inappropriate.

So, what then is the difference between performance and behavior? And why is it so important to not get these two things mixed up as a leader of a crew or as a supervisor with the responsibility of giving performance evaluations?

Pam McDonald said...

You make sound points, and I appreciate your willingness to provide dialogue. Very few people comment on my topics, so I appreciate yours.

As you know, safety is our number one priority. Any action or behavior that compromises the safety of the individual or the crew is unacceptable.

The context of the behavior issue was less about "fooling around" and more about forcing a crew to act a certain way to obtain performance. I have seen leaders who are so regimented that their crews fail to perform out of spite. When the leader eased up, the crew responded.

I, too, believe that we are always in the public eye. As public servants we have a duty to act with respect and integrity at all times.

You pose great questions for thought. Hopefully, others will join the discuss.