Employee performance is one of the most important outcomes in management and organisational life. A high performance indicates that people have done an excellent job and work to the best of their ability, whereas low performance suggests people can do better. But it’s not always clear what people performance is and how it can be measured.

Our research draws on the latest evidence to explore the definitions of individual and team performance and how it can be measured in practice, and evaluates the best models that can be used to explain what drives it. This will support HR leaders to develop a strong understanding of performance within their workforce.

  • See the practice summary for the main insights and practical recommendations for action. 
  • See the scientific summary for our methodology and technical information on the research and study references.

People performance: An evidence review | Practice summary

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Scientific summary: People performance definitions and measures

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Scientific summary: People performance models

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Key learnings

Why is people performance so important?

Improving people performance is a central issue for HR professionals and managers, both to guide their own decision-making and to make the business case for investing in people. To reliably track and increase people performance, employers need a solid understanding of what constitutes performance, how best to measure and report it, why it varies and what factors increase or impede it.  

Why is performance often difficult to measure?

In some jobs, understanding and measuring performance is straightforward – for example, in measuring how many products have been made in a day. In many jobs, however, it is not always clear what constitutes people performance and what specific outcomes should be measured at either an individual or team level. 

What are the three main definitions of people performance?

  • Task performance: this relates to specific activities included in one’s job.
  • Contextual performance: this relates to activities that go beyond one's job remit which benefit the organisation as a whole (for example, coaching younger workers).
  • Adaptive performance: this refers to the ability to respond to unexpected changes (for example, handling crisis situations).

Employers should identify common forms that ‘task’, ‘contextual’ and ‘adaptive’ performance take in their organisation and provide illustrative examples of ‘what good looks like’ to all employees. 

Why is measuring performance useful?

There are two main reasons for measuring performance:

  1. Data can be used to set objectives for employees, to motivate them, to hold them to account and to inform decisions on pay and promotions.
  2. Data can be used for developmental purposes to inform decisions on training and resources.

Which models of people performance are most evidence-based?

To understand or explain performance more fully and guide effective action to improve it, it is best to focus on more than one model. We recommend the following:

  • The Job Demands-Resources (JD-R) model: this focuses on individuals and includes the physical and psychological factors that enable them to perform.
  • The Goals, Roles, Processes and Interpersonal Relationships (GRPI) model: this focuses on teams and factors that help people work together effectively. 

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