Diagnosing Performance Issues

Today’s Karen Gately blog addresses workplace performance issues. Are you having difficulty describing how or why a staff member is under-performing in their role? We provide some strategies for dealing with this complex situation and help you to diagnose performance issues – bringing you a step closer to getting the very best from your team.

The first step in addressing poor performance is understanding and articulating the difference between what is happening and what should be happening.  Often my team and I work with leaders who are struggling to identify the specific issue they are dealing with, let alone being able to put strategies in place to support the person or team to improve.  Once the issue at hand is understood it can be equally difficult to understand what is causing the problem. To guide them through this challenge we recommend leaders ask themselves a series of questions designed to enable them to accurately diagnose the problem and (by understanding the underlying contributing factors) determine the most effective solution.

What is the performance discrepancy?

  • The difference between what is being done and what should be done
  • The specific behaviour being performed or not being performed
  • The specific outcome being achieved or not being achieved

What does success look like?

  • How will you know when they are demonstrating the desired performance/ behaviours?

Is it important i.e. does it matter?

  • If it matters, why does it matter?  What would happen if left unaddressed? Sometimes we get caught up focusing on issues that ultimately have little impact on important priorities.  Our energy is best spent on leveraging strengths and addressing important issues rather than focusing on inconsequential weaknesses

Are your expectations reasonable?

  • Given their capabilities, resources available and the environment in which they are working, will they be able to deliver upon your expectations?
  • Have you provided the training necessary to equip them with the knowledge or skills they need?  This is a common issue when we hire someone knowing they aren’t quite where they need to be, we plan to upskill them and then fail to do that – but we hold on to hopes and expectations that they will deliver to our full expectations

 Does the person know what is expected?

  • Are expectations clear and understood? Is it possible that a lack of clarity around priorities is contributing?
  • Are standards of performance clearly communicated?  Do they understand the difference between poor, average and good performance?  Do they know at what level you are expecting them to perform relative to their skills and experience?

Is it a skill/knowledge deficiency?

  • Could they really do it if their job depended on it?  If yes, perhaps the issue relates to motivation and engagement
  • Are their skills adequate for the required level of performance?  Perhaps they are relatively inexperienced and need greater guidance in order to learn to apply their skills to meet the standard of performance required
  • Could they do it in the past? Did they once perform as desired?  Could it be that they have lost interest, or are feeling demotivated? Perhaps they are bored.
  • Is the skill used often? Is it possible that they have forgotten how to do it?  This can happen when a task is performed relatively infrequently making it difficult to retain and apply information and lessons learned.

 Are there obstacles to performance?

  • What prevents the person from performing well? For example, are there:
  • Conflicting demands on the person’s time?
  • Restrictive policies that prevent the job from being done well?
  • Physical distractions that interfere with performance?
  • Are they experiencing personal issues (e.g. relating to health or family) that are interfering with performance?

Are there consequences that discourage performance?

For example:

  • Is it punishing to perform as desired? Are you inadvertently discouraging good performance? e.g. delegating more work, thereby placing more stress and pressure on the person?
  • Is non-performance rewarding?  For example – if they ‘fly under your radar’ do they get to go home and maintain work/life balance; but if they excel and are on your radar instead work long hours and take on more without recognition or reward?
  • What does the person get out of their current performance in the way of reward?
  • Are you inadvertently rewarding non-performance/inappropriate behaviour? For example, some people are promoted for achieving results without regard for the manner in which they achieved those results.

While there are many workplace examples I could share of consequences that discourage performance, I will share one more close to home.  Growing up my parents would frequently ask my older brother Ronan or I to make them a cup of tea.  As teenagers this was a great inconvenience and unwelcome interruption to the far more important activities in our lives.  Over time I began to notice that more often than not I was the one asked to make the tea.  Despite my protests, eventually it reached the stage that only I was ever asked. Years later I was complaining to my brother that I had been treated relatively unfairly and that he had been the more privileged child. Using the tea making workload as an example, I shared my disappointment in my parents for not treating us more equally. With great delight and his infamously cheeky grin, my brother shared an infuriating and yet amusing insight – the real issue was my talent!!  He had at some point realised that if he made the worst cup of tea possible, eventually my parents would give up asking him to make it.  Despite their efforts to provide him with further training, he shared with me his strategy of using the tea bag multiple times thereby ensuring a poor outcome.  His devious plan had worked – he figured out that performing poorly could indeed be rewarding!

L-R: Siobhan, Ronan (tea bag workload strategist) and Karen (high performance tea maker).


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