Level Up Your Team: How to Assess Performance and Drive Employee Development

People & Culture

Do you shudder at the mention of an employee performance review? I do. We’ve all heard about how important it is to do them. And we’ve probably all experienced how utterly painful that process truly is, for both the employer and the employee. But you do need a way to assess how your team is performing so you can ensure employee development.

Luckily, there’s a better way to assess talent and level up your team. We’re not talking about performance reviews here. We’re talking about a fast, agile way of assessing your team to 1) discover whether people are in the right roles; and 2) Evaluate the people who aren’t and find ways to help them either level up or get out of the business.

Have You Got the Right People in the Right Seats?

In his fantastic book Good to Great, Jim Collins talks about how if you have the right people in the right seats doing the right things, your business can achieve just about anything. We’ve talked before about how to get the right people in the right seats. Once you have the seats defined and the people in the seats it’s important to take a careful look at how those people are doing to make sure they are performing as expected.

Talent Assessment to Inform Employee Development

In his book Topgrading, Dr. Bradford D. Smart introduces a process called talent assessment. By the way, while this is an amazing methodology, this book is best left to HR professionals who appreciate the intricacies of the hiring process. 

The talent assessment process looks at your team in terms of a 2 by 2 grid. On one axis, is the cultural fit of a person in your organization. On the other axis is their productivity in their role (or seat). The way to assess talent using this concept is as follows:

  • Employees who end up in the top right-hand corner are your A-players. They’re the rock stars who are both a great cultural fit and super productive.
  • Those who are in the top left-hand corner (high cultural fit but average productivity) are called B-players.
  • People in the bottom right-hand quadrant are a poor cultural fit but highly productive, making them toxic A-players. 
  • People in the bottom left quadrant are a low culture fit and low when it comes to productivity. These are your C-players.

When we work with clients at Incrementa, we go through this talent assessment every 6 months…with an exciting little twist. We’ve adapted the Topgrading framework into a 3 by 3 grid to capture gray areas because let’s face it- the world isn’t black and white! 

We found that our clients would say their people sometimes fall into one category, and sometimes another. For example, someone may exceed expectations sometimes and merely meet expectations at other times. Our modified framework allows us to account for this.

How to Assess Where to Focus Employee Development

When we do this talent assessment, we look at everybody on everyone’s teams and assess whether they’re below, meeting, or exceeding expectations for cultural fit in the organization. Then we do the same for productivity.

After this exercise, you end up with a proportion of people who are A-players. Those are the absolute rock stars who have the highest impact on your business. You want to maximize that percentage as much as possible.

You have B-players, who are also great (hint: this is where employee development comes into play!). They’re productive and fit into the organization, but sometimes they could use a bit of coaching. They may stay B-players, but you may be able to help them become A-players.

And then you have the rest of the team, including C-players. C-players who rank lower on productivity but higher on cultural fit are either

  • in the wrong seats 
  • there’s an issue of competence

They fit in well at the organization, but there is some reason they’re not productive enough. The ones who are good when it comes to cultural fit but ‘meh’ on productivity are the people you want to try to move into the B-player category. You want to allow them to level up to become either better in their role or discover they’re in the wrong seat. 

Are Values the Issue?

For employees who are below expectations on cultural fit, you need to ask yourself whether this is an issue with core values. People are who they are – core values are not likely to change, so if someone doesn’t fit in the organization due to a mismatch in values, don’t expect much change in cultural fit. You need to carefully consider how someone like that impacts the business you’ve so lovingly cultivated.

Is Behaviour the Issue?

It may be that it’s a behavioural issue, which means they’re not doing things right or aware of the impact it’s creating. In this case, you may be able to coach them to improve. You can encourage employee development by getting them some coaching to help them recognize their behaviour and help them improve their score.

Is Being a Total Jerk the Issue?

Where coaching probably won’t help is with the brilliant but toxic jerk. Although these people are amazing at their job, they also do plenty of damage by undermining the core values and culture of your business. If they don’t change their tune after weekly coaching, feedback, and course corrections, it’s in your best interest to give these people the boot.

The Way Forward for Leveling Up Your Team

The outcome of the talent assessment isn’t just a scoreboard showing you your A, B, and C players. It’s a tangible starting point for creating an action plan to help people you’re looking to level up.

It’s a way for leaders to take accountability for their team and decide what action they’re going to take over the next 90 days to level up C players who have great cultural fit but low productivity.

In my work as a business strategy consultant, I always advise my clients to make sure it’s very clear to their teams what success looks like. You train to develop competence, which creates better and better results. As they deliver, you can give them more responsibility.

Eventually, you switch from training to coaching. When you switch to coaching, your people need to think more on their own, which is more effective for improving behaviour than training. This creates even more confidence, which will help them level up faster. This is all part of shifting from a leader/follower model to a leader/leader model.

One of the most important things about this cycle is that it requires real-time feedback. 

This is my beef with the traditional performance review. There’s no learning if you wait 6 months to provide feedback. You need to notice the good and the bad as close to when it happens as possible. You need weekly one-on-ones (even if only 15 minutes) so that you can drive steady, incremental progress. You need to be able to reinforce the good things that are happening and catch the bad things in time.

Want help thinking through how to level up your team? Feel free to contact us to learn how we can help. 

Mike Knapp


Mike has been helping businesses achieve their goals for more than 20 years. He believes there is a better way for business owners and leaders to build their businesses and achieve their big goals. As a Gravitas Impact Premium coach, he leverages the 7 Attributes of Agile Growth™ to simplify the art of strategy and discipline of execution.

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