Righting the Ship: Managing Performance Problems in the Workplace

Addressing an employee’s failure to do what’s asked of them is a common challenge for many managers.  When performance is subpar, managers can get very frustrated and postpone action because they don’t want to have “the talk” with their employee. While poor performance issues certainly shouldn’t be routine, managers should be prepared to deal with them as part of their day-to-day responsibilities of managing performance problems.

4 Common Causes of Managing Poor Performance

Performance can get off track for any number of reasons, however four of the most common causes of managing performance problems are:

  1. The manager hasn’t clearly communicated their instructions. If the employee doesn’t know what to do, it is usually a communication issue. The manager owes their employees clearly defined direction and expectations. Under the gun to achieve deadlines, a manager may rush the explanation of the project to an employee. This rushed explanation may omit critical steps, leading to quality issues, re-do’s, lost time and squandered resources. All of these managing performance problems can be avoided by simply setting aside the appropriate time for communication and ensuring that the employee fully understands the task at hand.
  2. Employees don’t know how to do what is being asked of them. The manager is responsible for effectively training and developing employees in order for them to understand exactly how the job needs to be performed. This includes providing the necessary support for skill and knowledge development, in order to do their job effectively. Often, a manger will dump a task on an employee and call it delegating. When the employee fails, managers either chastise the employee or decide against delegating in the future, lamenting, “if you want something done right, do it yourself.” Adept leaders know that effective delegation is a comprehensive process of training and support that ensures the task has been appropriately transferred.
  3. The employee doesn’t know why they are doing a certain task. If it seems unimportant and is not effectively linked to other aspects of the organization, employees could become distracted and bored in their role. Effective managers make sure that employees know how their task fits into the bigger purpose. A great example can be seen at our local children’s hospital. No matter how minor or mundane their work may seem, employees there are encouraged to share stories of how their work connects to the purpose of improving children’s health. When these “connect to purpose” stories are shared, employees understand the impact of their work and the importance of it in the bigger picture.

  4. The employee just doesn’t have the ability. Sometimes it just comes down to an employee’s lack of fit within the position or the organization. This is a managerial hiring and placement problem. Some candidates may present an image that differs from who they truly are, which is only discovered when they start the job. Everyone who has ever managed has made hiring mistakes. The key is to recognize it early and take quick action. The action can either be to part ways or reassign the employee to a role that better fits them. While some employees may flourish in a new role, be cautious that you are not just transferring the problem to a new location and avoiding a difficult decision.

Ask Yourself What You Can Do to Make Improvements

Not all employee performance can be impacted by the manager. Significant changes in personal life circumstances can suddenly make a productive employee struggle to get the job done. Major upheavals in corporate culture can create previously unseen performance issues. Whatever the apparent cause, as the manager, it’s important to ask yourself what you can do to make improvements.  You will get to the root of the majority of performance problems when you ask yourself, “Does the employee know what to do, how to do it, why it needs to be done, and does he or she have the ability to do it?”

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