Determining the cause of a performance issue can be like being a detective– here is a list of 11 major reasons employees “don’t do the job” with possible solutions.
1. They don’t know what to do
2. They think they are doing it
Solution: I read many job descriptions—hundreds per year from dozens of organizations—rarely do they clarify for me the specific job activities and key results areas, much less how the job will be measured. It is difficult to hold someone accountable to results when the manager has not made it crystal clear what those results should be and what s/he has to do to get those results. Otherwise employees just take their best guess and do what seems to be the most urgent.
3. They think something else is more important
Solution: A great survey report showed that employees only agree with managers on 1 out of 3 priorities! Frequent coaching and follow up makes sure that what a person is working on is the highest priority for the job and department. An employee does the best she can reading the tea leaves to guess what her manager thinks is priority. Don’t make them guess… also, remember employees often don’t have the broader view or much information outside of their own activities (and yes, the more they do the better decisions they will make.)
4. They don’t know how to do it
Solution: Work with employee to identify skill or competency to enhance with training, create a training plan with a timeline and hold employee accountable to stick to the plan (even if it means reminding her manager to schedule the time or resources).
5. They are uncomfortable doing it
Solution: Sometimes a little training can increase someone’s confidence and they become “comfortable” with the task and then perform it regularly. More likely this is a symptom of job fit—someone’s personality traits or competencies are not aligned with those required to excel in the job. A classic example is “asking for the sale”— a person who is cooperative (lower assertive) can be trained for years on sales techniques and given scripts, but he is always uncomfortable closing. For job fit, the remedy is to change the job duties to ones that correspond with the person’s strengths and attributes.
6. They lack the competency needed to do it
Solution: Depending on the type of competency, the person may benefit from more training and development. However, many competencies are a function of personality traits that are ingrained and difficult to change even with extensive training. For example, “planning and organizing” is a set of traits and habits that your employee may not have and will be challenged to overcome in a role that requires tracking and pacing their work on month-long project. In many cases, the solution is finding a better job fit for the incumbent’s competencies.
Source: Feedback/ Recognition
7. They can do it but don’t want to
8. They are rewarded for not doing it
9. They are not rewarded when they do it
Solution: This is fundamental psychology. People do what is measured and recognized and rewarded. If they are not rewarded (or worse, “punished”) for doing something, most people stop doing it. Sales people don’t like to do paperwork—but they also don’t want to be reminded that they were late 9 of the last 10 weeks—this is powerful feedback.
Often the signals sent by managers are unintended. Do you reward your poor performers by giving extra work to others that you can depend on? Do you remember to praise and even publicly recognize the team that worked last weekend to finish up a project?
10. They don’t know why they should do it
Solution: Some people will blindly follow rules, but most want to know the “why” behind something that they are asked to do. It they believe a task or process is x (insert label here: low importance, arbitrary, a waste of time, or just plain stupid), no amount of training will effect a change in behavior. You might get begrudging compliance but that is about it. To get commitment, you have to explain the “why” to change the belief. (Until they believe his IS important, worth my time, etc.)
11. They think their way is better.
Solution: Read the solution above… plus this often happens when you ask someone who is good/ comfortable with the “old way” and now you have a “new way.” And in the beginning, the old way is better since an employee is more comfortable and competent in the old way. A big part of culture change and process change is to overcome the belief that the old way is better.
A key personality trait is openness to new experiences and some people are not. They will cling to the things they know how to do. As a manager you will need to support and coach these employees through the pain and fear that comes with change. Recognize that this is more deep seeded than just a training issue, but a consistent personality trait or a cognitive filter (belief) and be patient and supportive, and work through changing the belief, not just behavior.
As a client’s manager once stated, “if we have 100 people then we have 100 different personalities.” It’s your job as a manager to figure out what is the cause and the solution that works for all the unique individuals on your team.
Read the Short Guide
When I speak with business owners and managers, they all seem to long for this illusive state of “accountability.”
Typically they mean a desire to trust that employees are doing the Right Things, and are “kept in the loop” when issues arise or things are not being done. Instead, most report that they have to keep a close eye on everyone’s performance, chase people down for status updates, put out big fires because they are not told when a tiny spark starts, and spend a whole bunch of time following up (dare I say nagging?) to get projects moving forward.
So I ask you, is your organization allergic to deadlines? (Thanks to a client for this vivid phrase). What happens when someone is given a task? Do they keep track, report back when progress is made, keep everyone updated, agree to a reasonable deadline and then meet it? How often does this happen (just one person or almost everyone)?
After a client monthly update meeting where there was no progress to report on 6 projects (again), the owner looked at me and said “is this because of me?” Sadly, yes, many managers and owners are allowing their employees to be less than accountable. In fact, many build an atmosphere where this behavior is inadvertently rewarded.
What can you do to create an “Accountability Culture?”
Focus on results
My client was having weekly status update meetings (a great start) but people came without “doing their homework” or had loads of excuses … every week. What message does this send to those that actually hit their commitments and to those that do not? People still do what is rewarded—if going above the norm to actually completed an assigned task is ignored then I might decide not to bother next time. Conversely, if I “get away with” reporting no progress every week, this rewards me as I didn’t have to do anything extra.
Get specific- “Soon” is not a deadline
People do what is expected and measured. If a weekly team meeting includes assigning reasonable deadlines and then people report back that they completed the task by the deadline, this builds an organization with results focus. If one out of ten employees reports every week that “I didn’t get to that” what implied feedback does the one shirking Sally get? After about 3 weeks of eyebrow raises and uncomfortable silence, Sally just might be motivated to complete her tasks so she can report back they were done on time.
Set direction and “inspect what you expect”
The first step is to set expectations (results expected and by when) and then, yes, follow up. As a manager, you should have a list of all the projects and other commitments with who is assigned to each task and a deadline for each. This provides a bird’s eye view of everything promised so that you can keep track of who is doing what, and what is due this week/ month. This makes regular, routine follow-up more of a rhythm and less of a foot race.
Be flexible and solve problems
Of course, urgent requests come up and roadblocks are encountered. Make yourself accessible and helpful to re-prioritize and re-deploy resources so that key commitments can be met as much as possible.
Recognize effort and results
Especially if you are slowing moving towards full team accountability, recognize small efforts to change and celebrate even small results achieved. Remember it takes 10 positive comments to change a behavior and 4 positive comments to maintain a current one. And be careful to not publicly criticize those that miss deadlines and targets—keep the reports factual and without judgment. Just the mere reporting that something wasn’t done can be feedback enough. A good management rule to follow is the 4P’s- Pound in private, praise in public.
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“Every company has a culture, whether they like or not. It’s an undercurrent, sometimes silent, sometimes outspoken.” (Tom Foster management blog)
Culture is the #1 factor that influences employee attitudes, actions and results and cannot easily be overcome by standard “motivational” tools (pay, incentives, performance reviews).
This post is an excerpt from a report of the 2012 Human Resource Roundtable was held at the Harvard Club in New York City.
“How many of you have worked in more than one organization? How many of you have noticed different attitudes, habits and ways of doing things? Did that cause different values and behaviors to show up? Culture is the unwritten ground rules. Everyone in an organization leads culture.” Senn Delaney, consultant.
What is culture?
- Culture is creating a sense of who you are as an organization and representing that culture in everything that is done in the organization.
- Culture is the history of the organization that defines how things get done.
- Culture is the attitudes, belief sets, values, written ground rules, and unwritten ground rules that set the tone of the organization.
Why does culture matter?
- A healthy, high-performance culture impacts financial performance and increases employee engagement (often twice that of low performing cultures).
- Companies with a strong and aligned culture perform better financially, are more resilient and last longer.
- Culture is a top concern for CEOs (fourth on a list of “top risk concerns”) and should be a critical part of a CEO’s strategic focus and business model.
How to change your culture (short list)
- Get consensus on organization direction and goals
- Build and communication the business case for the change and goals
- Communicate the required beliefs, values and activities (Culture) to support the goals
- Recognize and reward those employees that become committed and engaged with the direction (behaviors that support the Culture)
“The leader is a critical part of change; they either enable or create the culture.” — Craig Ivey, president, Consolidated Edison Company of New York Inc.
Read our related Blog post— Are your employees aligned to achieve organization’s goals? Some signs this is lacking….
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