Thursday, March 12, 2009

Job Performance

For at least a year now, the notion of job performance has been sloshing around in my head. My first exploration of this topic was my still unfinished essay on passion versus engagement. I just read "The Interview Question You Should Always Ask", which suggests that if someone's extracurricular interests are in the same domain as their work subject, they are likely to be a star performer on the job. And today I had a discussion with my friend and colleague about firing people for poor performance.

I often use writing as a way to explore ideas for myself; this blog is as much for personal therapeutic purposes as anything else. So now is as good a time as any to throw out some stuff on the topic of work aptitude.

One of the biggest questions I've been pondering for a while is, what is a reasonable amount of commitment to give your employer? The extremes are obvious: be the bum that gives up, quits, and/or allows himself to get fired at the first hint of difficulty; or, martyrs himself to unending, heart attack-inducing, sleepless dedication to solving any problems in his periphery.

I believe that where you land on that "dedication continuum" is related to, if not a predictor, of your job performance. It's just a fancy way of saying that your effort will generally be reflected in your review, assuming you're in a position that's reasonably well-suited to your skills. (In other words, if you're trying to be a doctor with no medical training, or working an assembly line with a PhD in astrophysics, this generalization doesn't apply to you.)

There's another continuum to be considered as well, and that is, how hard is it to actually put for the effort? When you see someone who is truly at the top of their game, you might think, "they make it look so easy!" But they really are putting forth a lot of effort, it just comes naturally to them. That's one side of the spectrum; the other is someone, generally not famous, but still successful, that is visibly working like mad to achieve and maintain the success. Think about someone putting their health at risk because they are working so hard to achieve whatever it is they want.

The point is this, there are two variables: (1) the amount of effort you're willing to put into the job, and (2) your will to put forth that effort. Obviously one affects the other: if you have no will, you are unlikely to put forth any effort.

I think what the "Interview Question You Should Always Ask" article linked above is getting at is this: people who truly love their work will naturally have the will to put forth the effort required to be profitable for a potential employer. This conclusion is fairly obvious, sure, but the article is just exploring one method of ascertaining a job candidate's interest level in the work's subject matter.

My "passion versus engagement" essay's take on this speaks to the establishment of the will that drives effort. Passion means that will comes naturally; people who are passionate about their work are the ones that make it look easy. People who are neither passionate nor engaged about their work make it look hard---they are the ones too stubborn to give up, but still put themselves through hell make the grade. Engaged people are somewhere in between: they'll occasionally go the extra mile, but don't expect them to do it every day; they make the routine stuff look not-too-hard; they are above average but below super-stars.

So my question is this: what if your passions don't pay? You're at a disadvantage no matter what job you apply for---if you're competing for a job with a passionate person, you're not going to get it. Until you figure out a way to profit from your passion(s), you have to resign yourself to being engaged. So the next question is, how do you find an environment that fosters engagement? How do you maintain integrity, and still land the job when you say, "This work isn't my passion, but I'm willing to put in a reasonable amount of effort?" Won't that flag you as a putz?

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