Tactical Advantage?: Tips for Balancing the Two Types of Employee Performance

Employee Performance

There is more than one way to assess employee performance.

While the evolution of cloud-based technologies and mobile devices has altered the corporate landscape, some things never change: Employee performance remains the benchmark for long-term enterprise success.

But despite best efforts to monitor performance, many organizations struggle with decreasing staff efficiency. Regular performance reviews, long a staple of HR monitoring and oversight, actually have the opposite of their intended effect, increasing employee stress and reducing overall performance.

What's the disconnect? According to a recent Harvard Business Review (HBR) article, there are two types of employee performance — and most companies emphasize only one.

The Performance Gap

The HBR piece identifies two performance types: tactical and adaptive. Tactical performance is defined as "how effectively your organization sticks to its strategy," while adaptive performance is "how effectively your organization diverges from its strategy." In the context of employee performance, this is the difference between the ability to follow established rules and the ability to implement creative solutions.

It's no surprise that most organizations only measure the first type of performance, since it's far easier to collect data about tactical compliance than adaptive solutions. This also helps explain why many employees experience high stress leading up to performance reviews: They may be worried that tactical deviations may cost them salary or status, while adaptive efforts go unnoticed.

There are several benefits of encouraging a mix of both performance types. First, employees are more likely to bring up problems with existing procedures. HBR references a study that found that workers at an electronics factory who were expected to follow specific process guidelines improved overall performance 10 to 15 percent when given the freedom to innovate. In addition, adaptive performance can help improve customer service. A related HBR study showed that call-center teams could double their close rate and more effectively address customer complaints with room to go off script and create new approaches.

Finding a Balance

New performance metrics? Check. Better results? Check. So what's the downside? Simple: Overemphasizing either type of employee performance in the enterprise. Here's why: Tactical processes exist for a reason — to provide reliable, consistent structure. If employees deviate too far from established standards, the results may not reflect corporate mandates. Adaptive performance, meanwhile, goes severely underused, with many organizations favoring "carrot and stick" methods over intrinsic staff pride and purpose in their work.

For best results, combine both types by recognizing their categorical value:

  • Tactical: Consistency and Compliance - Tactical performance measurements are well-suited to compliance-specific tasks that require organizations to meet exacting requirements, as well as to tasks that demand consistency. Consider the case of customer service: While locking staff into script-based interactions isn't ideal, businesses need consistency in greeting, basic call structure and follow-up. Ideally, think of tactical performance as a guideline. Staff should use it to inform key interactions, not govern their behavior moment to moment.
  • Adaptive: Satisfaction and Innovative Solutions - Adaptive performance, meanwhile, helps ensure customer satisfaction and develop innovative solutions. If employees are empowered to address customer concerns directly or raise red flags about potential process issues, consumers leave satisfied and organizations discover better ways to complete basic tasks. That said, a solid tactical foundation is required to provide basic structural support.

It's also critical to implement effective monitoring techniques that let HR leaders and managers evaluate both adaptive and tactical performance. Your best bet may be to skip or reduce your reliance on yearly performance reviews and opt for ongoing, real-time feedback and discussion with staff. This helps recognize current contributions and quickly address any tactical or adaptive overinvestment.

Need a tactical advantage to improve employee performance? Recognize the value in both sticking to policy and reinventing the wheel.