Form is Temporary, Class is Permanent…so what about Performance and Ability?

In a week when sport punditry seems to be the subject of every front page as well as back, it seemed appropriate that this old gem came to mind whilst reflecting on a couple of recent interviews. 

There’s been a thread running through some of my recent blogs around performance and attitude, probably not surprising considering that I’m job hunting and currently interviewing. I posted Hire for Attitude, Train for Skills a few weeks ago and it was well received. I posted it on RecruitingBlogs to a predominantly US audience and it received quite a lot of comment and sparked some fiery debate!

The follow up Past Performance is Relative was a rumination on how achievements and deliverables have to be looked at in the context of the structures, processes, environment and expectations of the business in which they are achieved.

Up until now I’ve been thinking of situations where you are hired because of previous performance but what about getting hired despite previous performance.

Hence ‘Form is Temporary, Class is Permanent’.

We’ve heard the saying many times, always in the context of top sportsmen/sportswomen who have lost form, they’re having a bad patch, not quite firing on all cylinders. It’s never doubted that a top performer who’s having a bad time will get their mojo back and be a top performer again.

I’m wondering if this sports truism translates to business. Particularly to sales businesses, most of whom are very fond of sports analogies.

Can a top performer who is currently not hitting their usual high standards return to peak performance? Do they need a new team, a new environment?

In business could we say that ‘Performance is Temporary, Ability is Permanent’

So I’ll use myself as an example.

During my interviews with recruitment businesses we will inevitably talk figures. There’s no real problem with my track record up until 2010, in fact I’ve been told by many that my figures for 2009 (a pretty poor year for the industry) are comparatively good. Don’t get me wrong, 2010 wasn’t a disastrous year by any stretch, just not a particularly good one. The figures were OK, but in context of previous years a bit ordinary. There were many reasons and contributing factors, which I don’t intend to bore you with here, but suffice to say that the year ending with the business being closed down is indicative.

As I would advise any candidate going for interview, I am honest and open about this. I’m asked about the positives, the negatives, why I thought it happened and what I would have done differently, and normally have a fairly frank conversation about it.

Back to the sports analogy.

I would describe myself as a good Premiership striker -certainly not a Rooney or Drogba…maybe a Kevin Davies – who regularly delivers 15 goals a season. I’m reliable, consistent, flexible and able to adapt to different systems and styles of play. I’ve just been through an unsuccessful season that’s ended with my team being relegated. I only scored 10 goals, and am being hard on myself. I’m out of contract and looking for a new club.

Any takers?

In football it would be a no-brainer. You can hear the pundits…proven goalscorer…role model for younger players…gives his all for the team…provide maturity and leadership…never gives up…consistent performer

So how does that translate to business?

If you are interviewing someone whose current form has dipped, do you back them to sparkle again?

What do you look for in these situations, and how do you assess whether their performance dip is temporary or permanent?

I would love to hear your thoughts….





7 thoughts on “Form is Temporary, Class is Permanent…so what about Performance and Ability?

  1. Another great topic and again the football analogies can flow.

    Any business leader would have to back a one proven winner. We all want good team players around us – so as the centre forward were you provided with the service you needed to make your season seuccessful?

    Was the midfield playmaker (your Fabregas or Modric!) providing you with the kind of ammunition you required to keep scoring?

    Were you being asked to do too much defensive work, being taken away from your primary task?

    Did your Manager know the how to get the best out of you – the old arm round the shoulder of kick up the backside?

    Management of people is just that – whether in the business world or on the football pitch – managers have to know how to get the most out of their team. Failure of an individual to hit targets has to be seen as much as a failure by management to get the best from that team member as it is failure for the team member themselves.

    And yes, in business too ‘form is temporary, class is permanent’.

  2. Wow! Great post Mervyn. Honesty builds trust. Honesty and trust are foundation stones for any relationship, business, personal, sporting, whatever.

    And when it comes to teamwork. Well have a listen to what the late great Joe Strummer said. He put it better than I ever could. Without people – you’re nothing!

    Thanks for writing this – I really enjoyed reading it.

  3. Bit late coming to this as it was referred to in a Twitter conversation tonight. To pick up on Damon’s point about “the manager getting the best out of you” the topic of form vs class to me sparks thoughts of the performance vs potential conversation. The most amazing sales person with a crap product, that is poorly supported and marketed won’t perform well even if they have the potential to be amazing. The penchant of HR professionals to the competency based interview (and it’s derivatives) does completely miss the concept of what the individual has the potential to achieve.

    In some organisations (not mind of course, no) so many decisions are made about prospects based on current delivery without looking at the potential of the individual. If you consider performance vs potential (there is a neat 9 box model ‘out there’) in my experience often very high potential people are sat in the middle performance box as they haven’t found the boss/role/organisation (delete as appropriate) to allow them to achieve their potential

    In psychological terms (and I can’t find the citation so forgive me) the best predictors of job performance are work trial and cognitive ability. Structured interview is pretty much up there but it isn’t the be all and end all and as Mervyn says in his original post so much of any individuals achievement is down to context!

    1. Thanks Rob, some very good observations.

      As you know, I took my skills into a whole new area with a company who judged me on what I could offer and looked at another area of my skillset that recruitment companies chose to ignore. Maybe there’s something in that – taking a much broader view of what the person in front of you has to offer.

  4. “Kevin Davies – who regularly delivers 15 goals a season. I’m reliable, consistent, flexible and able to adapt to different systems and styles of play”

    That’s definitely not a description of Kevin Davies. Sounds like you’re probably more of a Shola Ameobi or a Kevin Doyle type figure – never winning the Golden Boot, but a guy most of the good teams would love to have in the squad.

    The sports analogy is a good one – many great players struggle to adapt to structure, culture and playing style of the new team, having been recruited based on past performance. I’m sure the sports fans amongst us would easily be able to come up names from their own teams to illustrate the point. Of course, it can work the other way too – underachievers going on to greatness once they go to a team with the right environment.

    The lesson is here is obvious: know your own culture: understand what traits. behaviours & values separate your start performers with your under achievers and recruit against those, with the additional caveat being a collection of high achievers do not necessarily make a great organisation (see Real Madrid in ‘Galatico’s era, or Man City in this). Sometimes you also need a few unspectacular ‘solid citizen’ types of create the platform for the high performers to do their thing. That’s where someone like me comes in – the Lee Catermole of recruitment.

    Best wishes


  5. Performance is Temporary, Ability is Permanent. Got me thinking – ability can be permanent but ability without desire is worthless and that’s where management has to work to re-ignite desire of an under performing yet able member of the team. The 20 goal a season man who is going through the ‘barren spell’ that they all seem to suffer at least one point in their career.

    At the very first sales training course I was sent on the mantra was ‘it’s desire not ability’ – and although the sales process has matured and evolved the old mantra still holds true in so many ways.

    Lets look at Torres – past performance (makes him worth £50million) – but Hodgson and Ancelotti have both failed in making him live up to the price tag. Proven ability, proven class but no form. No doubt at all that playing in the right formation will help but only the re-igniting of the spark of desire will get him scoring regularly again.

    (Lesson number 2 to be learned from the Torres experience is always let your managers have an input into the recruitment process!!!)

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