What is performance in the workplace judged upon? What makes an exceptional worker? Being able to boil down the most important features is key to pinpointing the expectations of a worker’s performance. These key features are the critical elements.

Overview: What is a critical element?

A critical element can be defined as an aspect of a work assignment or designated responsibility that is so vital that a less-than-satisfactory showing on that aspect would be deemed unacceptable.The definition can be further extended to include an aspect of any process or machine whose satisfactory working order is deemed fundamental.

3 benefits of a critical element

There are some clear benefits to establishing critical elements that are worth examining:

1. Where to put the focus

One benefit of having critical elements is that it shines a light on where the proper focus needs to be.

2. Expectation

Another benefit of defining the critical elements is that it makes clear what expectations there are.

3. Eases decision-making

Being able to break down performance into just a few critical elements can help take a lot of guesswork out of important decisions like the promotion of employees.

Why are critical elements important to understand?

Understanding critical elements is important for the following reasons:

Know what is most important

Understanding what the critical elements are in a process, machine, or performance is very important so that you know what the most important aspects are. When it comes right down to it, in almost any situation, some things are more important than others.

Where to look first

If you have an understanding of what are the critical elements, you can prioritize where to look first for any issues.

Understand what you will be judged on

If you have a grasp of what the critical elements are and are being judged on your performance, you know where the bulk of your performance is going to be judged and can direct your energy accordingly.

An industry example of critical elements

A manufacturing plant is about to do a round of hiring for seasonal workers for the holidays. It is important for the organization to make it clear to these new workers what the most vital aspects of their work performance will be. During the interviewing, hiring, and training processes, it is to be made clear to these workers what the most critical elements of their work performance will be. These critical elements were decided upon by a group of team leaders and supervisors in a meeting for presentation to the seasonal employees using S.M.A.R.T. as the guide. This means that the critical elements drafted are: • Specific: The goals/expectations are direct and clear. • Measurable: The outcomes expected to be achieved are compared against a standard. • Attainable: Standards need to be realistic. • Relevance: Goals need to make sense in relation to the direction of the organization. • Timely: Results are measurable in relation to a set timetable. With all critical elements decided upon using these qualifiers, the team feels confident in presenting to the workers the most important aspects of their seasonal positions.

3 best practices when thinking about critical elements

Here are some key practices to keep in mind when determining what the critical elements are for your organization:

1. Don’t overdo it

When preparing to judge performance, make sure that the critical elements that are decided upon are truly critical. Every aspect does not carry the same weight as everything else. Being able to break down your critical elements into three to seven elements is best for nearly all work situations.

2. Synchronicity with your organization

Make sure what are deemed critical elements are in alignment with the mission and goals of your organization.

3. Use S.M.A.R.T. or M.A.R.S.T. when drafting critical elements

When drafting critical elements, you should make sure they follow either S.M.A.R.T. (Specific, Measurable, Aligned, Relevant/Realistic, Timed) or M.A.R.S.T. (Measurable, Aligned, Relevant/Realistic, Timed) guidelines.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) about critical elements

What are non-critical elements?

These are the performance aspects that are part of the assessment but are deemed to be less mandatory than the critical elements.

Are the critical elements always the same?

No. These can vary from organization to organization and even department to department.

Are critical elements based more on the short-term or the long-term?

An organization’s critical elements should influence decisions that are balanced in the short term but also guide the organization over the long term.

Critical Elements in Your Workplace

In any work situation, knowing what the critical elements are is beneficial to both the worker and the higher-ups. A clear understanding of expectations offers greater assurance that work can be achieved at a satisfactory level. Without defined critical elements, there is too much guesswork as to what elements are most important, and emphasis can be put on smaller, urgent tasks that are less relevant in the grand scheme of things.

About the Author