Sunday, April 11, 2010

How to Deal with Low Performers

The other day while in the Gemba a production lead asked for some advice.  As we were talking about the performance of a new work cell the lead expressed some concerns about an individual’s performance.  At first I thought this was a question in how to discipline employees but upon further questioning of the situation I realized this was really about dealing with a low performer on the production line.

As we create cells and learn to balance the work content in the cell the flow of the line becomes dependent on everyone meeting their expected outcomes.  Low performers tend to stand out and can become a bottleneck in the cell.  Most employees want to do a good job at work and experience shows that our systems general dictate performance.  A production lead should use this simple 5 step checklist to determine what to focus on when trying to improve an individual’s performance. 

1) Are the tools and equipment the person is using calibrated and working properly?

2) Are the parts and materials they are using within specifications?

3) Has the person been trained?

4) Have the expectations for performance been made clear?

5) Has there been regular feedback on performance?

An answer of “no” to any of these questions will indicate an area for which focused improvement is needed.  If you find you can rule out all these questions then your options are limited.  You must now consider an important distinction between those individuals who “can’t” do the work and those who ”won’t” do the work.  If you can find another area for the individual who can’t keep up in the cell then you should do so.  In the other case you will need to consider a formal progressive discipline system for the “won’t” workers.  With this formal discipline system you may find that many of those in the “won’t” group find a way to meet the expectations.

Many times our discipline systems don’t include dealing with low performers in this manner.  This leaves a tremendous burden for our production leads to deal with.  If we are committed to lean production, management must provide a system to support disciplined adherence to the standard that applies to all.  I am reminded of a saying from a fellow lean practitioner, “You deserve what you tolerate.”

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  1. Tim,

    I'd add a number 6--Is the person following the process?

    Nice post.
    Jeff Hajek

  2. That's a great core list.

    I would add a number 7...

    Are there any ergonomic aspects interfering with the performance of a shorter than average/taller than average person?

    I have seen this manifest itself in places that are not obvious at first sight.