Five Challenging Performance Problems and How Leaders Can Address Them

If only managing people were easy.  Your employee seems to be basically doing their job, but there’s room for improvement.  Could this employee who seems to be meeting the basic requirements for their job be dragging down their team members and ultimately the organization’s performance?

  • The “what” is good but the “how” isn’t. (I credit my former boss with coining that phrase.)  In this case, the employee may have good job knowledge and skills.  Their work may be outstanding or innovative.  But this employee works in a silo and doesn’t share important information or decisions with other team members.  Sometimes, this employee doesn’t follow the rules, disregarding internal deadlines or processes.  Other team members don’t want to work with this employee.  Communication breaks down among the team and departments.
  • Outdated skills. This employee doesn’t acquire the new skills that will be needed this year, next year, and beyond.  After a software implementation, this employee never seems to master the new program and continues to ask questions of others for months, if not years.  Others start to resent the intrusion upon their time and think that this employee should take more responsibility for learning the program.  This employee maintains the same workload, and the goal of increasing efficiency and capacity with the new software or other change is not realized.  Suddenly, this employee who may have a long tenure with the organization finds that the job has grown up around them.
  • Failing to achieve goals. This employee seems to always have an excuse for why they failed to meet their goals.  Even if the goal is rolled over into the following year, it isn’t achieved.  This employee dazzles their manager with many reasons why the goal wasn’t achieved, and all of them sound reasonable.  The organization doesn’t hold this employee accountable for results and gives this employee an “A” for effort.
  • Missing deadlines. This employee misses deadlines repeatedly, whether it is a deadline to submit a timesheet or the program for the annual conference.  They seem to be unable to switch tasks and instead may focus on only one thing until completion.  This employee is lacking time management and prioritization skills that help to ensure that they complete projects on time.  With the number of priorities constantly increasing in today’s workplace, this problem may only worsen.
  • Creating unnecessary drama and exhibiting behavior that does not align with company values and culture. This employee reads something into everyone’s behavior.  They think that their contributions are overlooked, and they feel slighted.  They may spend time complaining or talking about others.  They are not trusted or respected by other team members.  Organizational culture is directly associated with business outcomes.  Employees with behaviors that create drama detract from a culture that supports the successful implementation of organizational strategy.

To solve these problems, leaders need excellent communication skills and the discipline to use them.  Setting expectations for how people perform their work and interact with other team members is crucial.

  • Communicate crystal clear expectations. Leaders should set reasonable expectations for employees, making them aware of the expectations and giving them a chance to discuss them.  The challenge is clarity, and that comes from the leader taking the time to define what success looks like and communicate that to the employee.  Clarity also benefits from taking the time to listen to the employee’s questions and concerns, finding a path forward, and asking the employee to immediately let the leader know if there’s a challenge to meeting the expectations or goals within the established time frame.
  • Immediate and continuous feedback. Once the leader has set expectations and the employee is working toward them, the leader questions, observes, and provides feedback.  When the leader begins to sense a challenge to meeting expectations, the leader should provide feedback in the moment.  It rarely helps to wait to see if the situation continues.  The conversation will be much easier for the leader and more effective for the employee if it occurs in the moment and in the context of what happened.
  • Have the difficult conversations and make the difficult decisions. It’s human nature to seek pleasant and positive interactions with others, but it doesn’t help the employee to avoid the discomfort of giving feedback.  A leader is not being nice or doing the employee any favors by allowing them to continue performing poorly in their job—in fact, quite the opposite.  Most of the time, the employee is aware that they are not meeting expectations, although they might not want to take responsibility for it.  Leaders want to see their team members succeed, whether within their organization or somewhere else, and they have the courage to face difficult conversations because of this value.  Moreover, when team members see that the leader is honest and forthcoming with others, trust is enhanced.

These suggestions for communication can be applied to any of these performance problems.  Do you face any of these performance problems among your staff?