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Three keys to solving performance problems

Certain words and phrases evoke fear and anxiety in any manager: performance problems, performance reviews, performance plans and performance feedback. Yet understanding, evaluating and changing employee performance are key responsibilities of every manager.   

No one would disagree – fixing performance problems is difficult and painful, especially when the performance problem has remained unresolved for long periods of time. Managers need a structured and “user-friendly” approach to solving performance problems.   An approach that is:

  • Actionable – diagnosing the problem while identify solutions. 
  • Based in “root causes” – targeting the underlying cause of the performance deficiency. 

Here are three questions managers can ask to solve the stubborn performance problems employees often face.  These questions are diagnostic and prescriptive –defining the problems and identifying potential solutions – and based on the common reasons employees fail to perform.

  1. Does the employee have a clear definition of “job success?” Before an employee can be successful, they need clear expectations and direction from their managers that reflect job success.Without a definition of job success to direct everyday work, employees are doomed to poor performance.Floundering – not focus – becomes the norm.
  2. Is the employee receiving helpful feedback and information about their progress or lack of progress toward this definition of job success? Employees need easy-to-understand feedback and information about their progress and success.This allows them to either continue working as they have been or make necessary corrections.Without usable feedback, employees lack the daily guidance they need to be successful.
  3. Are the tools, material, equipment, decision-making data and expertise employees need to do their job available at the moment they are needed? To complete daily work, employees need access to various resources, both tools and people.  If access to a resource is difficult or impossible, employees do the best they can with what they have – and usually perform poorly.

These questions highlight a powerful approach to solving employee performance problems.  Performance deficiencies are seldom caused by incompetence or laziness.  Instead, they arise when employees lack the support they need to work successfully.

When employees fail to perform, managers must act – and act quickly – to provide the job support the employee needs to work successfully.

  1. Avoid reinventing the wheel when solving performance problems.  Look at the common root causes behind failures to perform.
  2. Avoid knee jerk reactions when facing performance deficiencies.  Instead use an inquiry-based approach by asking well-crafted questions to gather more information. 
  3. Performance problems are rarely “people problems” but usually rooted in lack of support.

Consider these key issues:

  1. What are the common causes of your employee performance problems?
  2. How do you diagnose and solve performance problems?  How effective has that been?
  3. What do you need from your employee if you are to help them perform at higher levels?
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Timothy LaMacchio

Timothy LaMacchio is the owner of www.GoToManagers.com. A Lean Six Sigma Black Belt, he works with organizations to connect everyday “desk-level” work to strategic business goals. Tim solves a problems root cause --- not just the symptoms.  His practical solutions develop people and the environment people need to perform. Tim's work is about providing new knowledge and skills and achieving business results. Contact Timothy at tel@GoToManagers.com or 303.917.5775

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