Plagued with Poor Performance? Seek Out the Hidden Causes


By Odette Pollar,

Poor employee performance is caused by many factors. It is not uncommon for a supervisor to blame poor performance on a lack of motivation or on an initial error in hiring selection by the company. Without taking the time to identify the true causes of unacceptable work, the manager risks making a costly mistake. The seemingly simple way to solve the problem is to fire the employee and rehire. On the surface, this “easy” solution is actually very costly, often unfair, and a great drain on time, energy, and resources for the organization. Often performance problems are caused by poor management or inadequate systems, not bad employees. Consider the following nonperformance issues.

They Are Confused About What to Do

Very few people thrive in ambiguous situations. Employees who must guess what you wish them to do or are confused by unclear direction can feel as frustrated as the manager who is not getting back satisfactory work.

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Create accurate job descriptions and update frequently. Supplementary charts and lists that explain the cycles of the workflow, i.e., certain tasks are daily, weekly, or monthly, are helpful particularly for new staff. Identify, discuss and explain the specific behaviors you expect.

They Do Not Know Why They Should Do It

Many employees are unsure of the relevance of the work they do. Does it improve the customer experience, decrease costs or help R&D streamline a key process?

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Explain the purpose of their position, and outline how it fits in with the goals of the organization. Be sure to demonstrate how their specific tasks interrelate with other departments or teams.

They Do Not Think You Will Check on Progress

This is often the case with a new manager taking over from another. If the past manager rarely checked that assignments were completed or suggestions carried out, employees learned to wait before doing new things. "If no one checks, does the work really need to be done?"

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Always assign due dates, and be sure to check on progress. No matter how busy you may be the employee needs to know that assigned tasks are not frivolous, transitory or unimportant.

They Believe Something Else is More Important

Priorities shift continually. Employees' priorities may be different from the managers'.

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Set priorities on projects at the time they are assigned. A weekly review of their task lists is helpful. When your priorities shift, remember to relay that information so staff can make adjustments. A weekly meeting is an efficient process for both parties to communicate any changes that have occurred which may impact deadlines.

They Believe They Are Doing What You Requested

Performance feedback is always important. If employees hear nothing, they are likely to believe that all is fine. This is an instance where a less than glowing review at evaluation time comes as a shock.

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Rather than waiting for formal review times for feedback, give employees performance information regularly.

They Fear to Fall Short of Impossibly High Standards

Working for a perfectionist often erodes people's self-confidence and morale. When standards are too high, no amount of work or accomplishment is ever good enough. When staff is faced with this situation, high performers can actually begin to fail.

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Identify the acceptable level of performance for specific tasks. Everything cannot be done perfectly. Time and resource limitations impact how often an internal memo can be rewritten for style versus substance.

They Think Their Way is Better

Some employees believe that their assignment is to reinvent their jobs.

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Be clear about expectations. Request that people work a couple of months using the existing systems. Then request input about procedures. Accept changes that are improvements, but when their idea will not work, sell them on yours.

They Get Rewarded for Not Doing It

Poor performers can often skate by because the manager only gives them easy assignments.

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Hold all staff accountable to a work standard. When assigning difficult tasks, monitor progress more often.

Odette Pollar is a nationally known speaker, author, and consultant. President of the management consulting firm, Smart Ways to Work based in Oakland, CA, her most recent book is Surviving Information Overload. Email to share your comments, questions and suggestions: Visit us at: call: 1-800-599-8463.

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