One of the most popular sessions we cover in our management training is managing poor performance. We are asked many questions about specific people in their teams who are just not performing as they should.
Before we can deal with under performance, we have to understand whether it comes from lack of ability or low motivation? If we diagnose this incorrectly, it can lead to lots of problems later on. If you believe an employee is not making enough of an effort, you’ll likely put increased pressure on him or her to perform. But if the real issue is ability, then increased pressure may only make the problem worse.
Low ability may be associated with amongst others; low individual aptitude, skill, and knowledge; over-difficult tasks, evidence of strong effort, despite poor performance or a lack of improvement over time.
We need to consider that fact that people with low ability may have been poorly matched with jobs in the first place. They may have been promoted to a position that’s too demanding for them. Or maybe they no longer have the support that previously helped them to perform well.
There are there five main ways to overcome performance problems associated with a lack of ability. Consider using them in this sequence, which starts with the least intrusive and make sure you take time to these methods in one-to-one discussion with your employee.
This method involves focusing on the resources needed to do the job. Has the job grown since they first took it on? Do they actually have what they need to do the job? How many times have you seen someone leave because they couldn’t cope with the workload only for the manager to decide they need to recruit two people to do all the work? Ask them what additional resources they need, listen for points of frustration and then look into these claims yourself to see if it’s true.
Consider providing additional training. Explore with them whether they still have the up to date skills to fulfill the job’s expectations. Many employees find it difficult to admit that their skills are insufficient for today’s demands. Make it easier for them by telling them that you recognise that things are changing, especially with technology and discuss together what skills do they need to develop.
After trying the first two methods, you may find this is insufficient. If you value the person’s strengths and experience in the organisation, consider refitting the job to the person. Are there elements that can be re-assigned? Try out different combinations of tasks.
Is this person a square block in a round hole? Perhaps there is a role in your organisation that would better suit their personality and skills.
Finally, only as a last option if the person is still unable to perform through lack of ability, the kindest option may be to be honest with them and ask whether this job is really suitable for them. Nobody likes this conversation and from our experience it is often a relief for the person themselves as it may easier for someone else to tell them than admit it themselves. Always try to help them consider what career might be more suitable.
Head of Training
Originally published: 2 January, 2013
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