5 Reasons for Poor Employee Performance

Why employees don’t do the work expected of them and how to help  them improve

BY KATE ZABRISKIE

5 Reasons for Poor Employee Performancecan’t believe we spent a huge amount on customer-service training, and our staff still doesn’t consistently give great service. What a waste!

We sent out a memo explaining the summer dress code. I thought it was pretty clear, but the intern showed up dressed for the beach. In addition to having bad fashion sense, he seems to have problems with reading comprehension.

She does the minimum, and that’s it. Why she doesn’t take more pride in her work and our business, I’ll never know. It’s extremely difficult to have her on my team. She’s a real energy drain.

Sound familiar? Probably. At any given moment, there are legions of employees busy “working” but not doing the work their managers expect them to do or, worse yet, doing their work in ways that hurt morale, productivity and the bottom line.

Perhaps a few of those frustrating employees have a professional death wish—but most don’t. In all likelihood, they are as frustrated by their performance as you are. The onus is on you, the manager, to identify and implement the fix.

For starters, you must come to terms with the five core reasons some members of your team aren’t performing to your standards.

Reason one: They can’t.

If you expect people to do something they can’t do, don’t be surprised when they fail. For example, if the receptionist is supposed to greet guests, answer the phone, order office supplies, clean the kitchen and cure infectious diseases all by himself, is there any wonder he can’t get it done?

The fix: Take a hard look at what you ask your team members to do. If some of them are not meeting your expectations, be sure those expectations are realistic and reasonable. Truth be told, assigning tasks to people who, for whatever reason, can’t complete them to your standard, means you’ve brought the situation upon yourself. Quit beating yourself up: Change the person you task or change the tasks.

Reason two: They don’t know how.

All too often people are thrown into a job with little or no training. They learn on the job, bring what they knew from their last job or teach themselves. They wing it—and most of the time it shows. If you are holding people accountable for performing tasks for which they’ve had no training, you’re going to frustrate the employees and hurt morale. It’s as simple as that.

The fix: Train people on systems, processes and desired behaviors, and do it often. Good organizations teach forward, as well as learn from their mistakes. Spend some time thinking about what needs to be completed in a certain way. For example, if everyone is supposed to answer the phone, “Good morning, Poplar Grove Mattress Company, this is __________. How may I help you?” then you’d better tell them. Give them a script if necessary. Show them how to do it with a smile, and do it yourself when you answer the phone.

Reason three: They don’t know they aren’t.

People are not telepathic. When you fail to make clear your expectations in terms of both quality and quantity of work, and when you fail either to correct substandard performance or praise good performance, you have no cause to complain. Setting clear expectations and providing regular feedback matters.

The fix: If an employee’s unsatisfactory performance is chronic in spite of training, managerial direction, and on-the-spot correction or praise, it is time to schedule a one-on-one meeting to review goals and expectations. Employees should know where they stand within an organization. A failure to tell people whose sustained job performance is unsatisfactory is cruel and a failure to document the meeting  is derelict. Your direct reports and your organization deserve better.

Reason four: They don’t think it’s important.

Sometimes people know the rules and they ignore them because they don’t think the rules are that essential. How could someone reach that conclusion? It’s easier than you think. If managers don’t model desired behaviors, reward people for demonstrating those actions and coach their team members to preclude deficiencies, they’re sending the wrong messages. Park in a spot reserved for visitors a couple of times. How long do you think it will take others in your purview to start doing the same thing?

The fix: Walk the talk. It’s as simple as that. Hold yourself accountable first and foremost. Next, recognize and reward what you want to see and address any shortcomings on the spot. Of course, this doesn’t mean becoming a patronizing zealot and thanking people for doing things they should be doing such as wearing clothing to work. Rather, it means having standards and sticking to them. If you’ve talked to the intern about observing the dress code and the next day he shows up looking terrific, acknowledge his effort. 

Reason five: They don’t want to.

On rare occasions you may encounter someone who is capable, trained and operating in a learning environment but who still fails to meet expectations despite repeated coaching and counseling.

The fix: Document, document, document and keep that poison apple away from the others in the barrel. There are times when people are simply not a good fit for a job and you need either to move them somewhere else in the organization or out of the organization altogether. Be kind, firm and quick to act. The better your documentation, the easier the process will proceed. 

Nobody ever said managing people was easy. It’s not. It requires time, thoughtful planning, hard work and moral courage; in short, it requires leadership. That said, the payoffs can be huge for the employee, the organization and for you.

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