When performance is at stake, it is easy to get caught up in pinning blame on others. This is especially true in the workplace, where everyone is reporting to their respective supervisors and the pressure meet deadlines, quotas and industry standards is palpable and ongoing.
This is where the Lean Principle of ‘Respect for Others’ comes into play. Workplace pressures can get under your skin whether you are an entry-level employee or a high-ranking supervisor. They can also lead us to treat employees with less respect than they deserve. It is easy to assume that performance is suffering because the employee is simply not good enough at their job. But this conclusion makes the issue personal without reason. It’s better to take a step back and assess the entire situation. More often than not, you’ll find external factors at play.
Addressing poor performance begins with understanding its root cause. A range of factors are at play here. Consider the following potential causes:
- The employee has been poorly matched with tasks that are outside of their skill set.
- The work that you are assigning the employee may be too difficult for them to complete.
- The employee may not have had adequate training in relevant fields.
- The task or assignment may be too drawn out or time-consuming, leading to burnout and decreased motivation.
- The employee may not have access to the tools and resources necessary to successfully complete the task.
These are a few key points, and there are undoubtedly many more that apply. But even across these few, you can see a clear trend emerging. More often than not, poor performance can easily be linked to external factors that are outside of the employee’s immediate control.
To that end, the following are key areas to investigate when assessing and addressing poor performance:
Consider the employee’s skill set, taking everything from their educational background, natural inclinations and work history into account. Sometimes, a short, focused training session is all that’s needed to help a person achieve higher performance standards. For example, suppose you place a highly productive salesperson on your team in charge of a small team, thinking that the others could learn a great deal from this top performer.
However, this team does not turn out the results that you expected. You assumed that success and productivity were contagious, but you failed to consider the fact that this employee has been thrust into a position of leadership, without any background or training. It could be that some management development training is all it takes to place that employee on track for success. They know how land sales, but they are ill-equipped to lead others, and that’s no fault of their own.
Look at the environment in which the employee is carrying out their assigned task. Do they have access to all of the tools and resources that they need to succeed, or have they been left in a situation in which they need to improvise and take shortcuts just to meet benchmarks and quotas? Beyond that, is the area in which they work large enough, quiet enough, well-lit, etc? Don’t assume that your employees will let you known if they are poorly equipped.
Sometimes the task or project in question simply exceeds the employee’s ability level. Everyone has strengths and weaknesses, and mismatching an employee with a task outside of their skill set is a recipe for frustration – both yours and theirs. When ability is really the culprit – as opposed to environment, resources, etc. – then the best move may be to reassign the employee with a new task. Handle this with the right amount of tact, and no feelings will be hurt. The key is to frame the reassignment as needing the employee’s skills on another (potentially more important) assignment.
There are times when an assignment is simply too difficult for the employee to excel at. Perhaps the employee is inexperienced, or maybe the task is simply too difficult to begin with. In either case, the only way to really move forward is to reshape the task so that it’s easier to complete. Consider adding another employee to the team to lighten the load.
Zoe George is a writer for London Corporate Training (LCT), caters to the needs of businesses who would like to have their employees undergo management development training in human resources, sales, public relations, or finance.