Defining Performance Problems

An integral part of working with and through people to accomplish desired results is taking corrective action when it is needed. Discard any fear that upholding high standards hurts relationships with your team members. On the contrary, avoiding corrective action and failing to help each member make a positive contribution to the team projects an impression of weakness and is a sure way to lose the respect of your team members, diminish your authority, destroy motivation, and jeopardize the results you are seeking.

When problem behavior occurs, the first step in correcting it is to define the real problem. Find out whether the employee can perform in an acceptable manner. Ability to perform depends upon adequate training, supplies, materials, and information, all of which are part of the work environment. Ask questions to learn whether the employee knows what performance is desirable, knows how to do the job, and understands the requirement in question. The answers you receive reveal whether the problem involves training. If it is a training problem, provide the instruction needed.

If training is adequate, next find out whether anything in the environment is preventing satisfactory performance. Are the necessary materials available? Is equipment in good order? Is information available about standards, deadlines, or other pertinent details? If a problem exists in the environment, it is your responsibility to solve it.

When you are sure that the employee can work successfully but behavior is unacceptable, the problem is one of motivation. Learn to ask pertinent questions and to listen attentively as you seek the best solution to motivation problems.

Problems in job performance are best handled by comparing the employee’s actual performance on the job to the required performance. Making that kind of comparison prevents broad statements like these: “Lisa Watson isn’t a team player,” or “Dan Reynolds has a hostile attitude.” Compare those broad, personal attacks with these specific, factual performance-related comments:

  • Expected Performance: Carla McCall, a customer relations representative, is expected to express the company’s apology for any inconvenience experienced by the customer.
  • Actual Performance: Carla McCall expresses an apology only when her supervisor is listening.
  • Expected Performance: John Dawson, an advertising representative, is allowed a maximum of six days per year sick leave which is expected to cover all normal needs.
  • Actual Performance: John Dawson has called in sick on seven occasions for a total of nine days in the past six months.
  • Expected Performance: Sondra Miller, a marketing assistant, is allowed to take 15 minutes twice a day for breaks.
  • Actual Performance: Sondra Miller habitually takes a 20-minute break twice a day, and on Monday morning and Tuesday afternoon this week she was away from her work station for half an hour.

As you address a minor inadequacy in performance, your purpose is to identify the problem and get the team member’s commitment to accept responsibility for solving it. To accomplish this objective, state the problem calmly in terms of behavior; then say in a matter-of-fact tone, “Tell me about it.” Listen carefully to what the employee says. Until the employee obviously has nothing more to say, resist any temptation to insert comments, make judgments, or ask further questions. This approach gives you a great deal of information that you could gain in no other manner. Avoid asking even carefully phrased questions that may suggest to the employee that you want to hear a certain type of answer. The simple request to “tell me about it” leaves the door open for employees to analyze their own behavior and find a satisfactory solution. Once a team member is confronted with the reality of unsatisfactory performance or behavior, a reason for change exists.

When the person has fully explained, express your personal confidence in the team member’s willingness and ability to resolve the problem. State clearly the changes that must be made and the time frame you will allow for making them. End the conference positively by securing the team member’s commitment to change and expressing your willingness to talk further about the problem if the person feels the need for additional dialogue.

Leadership Management® Institute
Reprinted with permission
Strategic Essentials is a Managing Partner for Leadership Management® International, Inc.

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