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
Last week I had similar conversations with owners at two very different businesses. I asked them:
“Do you have Right People… in the Right Job?”
If you have been in business for a few years, you start to realize that getting new customers isn’t the challenging,
getting “good people” who want to take care of your customers is far more challenging!
Before I tell you how to build a great team…
Let me ask you, “How many A- Players do you have?”
[Those that go above and beyond your expectations, are trusted, accountable and a good team player, open to feedback, eager to learn….]
If you have more than 25% A-Players, congratulations, you are in an elite group of small businesses! This is the foundation to build the rest of your team.
But until you get to +75% A Players, you don’t have the foundation in place to grow your revenue, profits, and customer
base without overwork and overwhelm.
When you don’t have the Right People:
Without a team of A Players, you are captive in your business, involved in daily activities, fire-fighting, and are the only one who drives results. You may feel hostage to the low performer or toxic employee, for fear they will make trouble or quit and leave you hanging. You worry that things are falling through the cracks, you chase people down to find out if something was done, and you get interrupted all day long with questions and “checking” routine decisions. You feel like you can’t leave for more than a few days, and you pay for it when you go on vacation.
When you have the Right People, sometimes they are not all in the Right Jobs:
Perhaps you have promoted a good employee to a new role, but she is struggling adapting to the new demands. You hired a new employee who seemed like a perfect fit, but he is not working out as expected. “Old-timers” are slow to adopt new ways of doing things and resist changes you want to make. You are frustrated with young employees who learn fast but leave in a year or two because they say you don’t have any future opportunities for them.
If any of these situations sound familiar, you are not alone!
Most of us focus on hiring A Players to help us achieve our company goals, but once they are on the team we don’t give them the tools to be successful or reach their potential.
For our current staff, we are not sure how to build up their capabilities and performance. They have settled into the
habit of “good enough” and the status quo.
You are left wondering how to light a fire under the average Josie, and how to turn around the performance or attitude
of your most challenging employees.
You don’t want to be the bad guy or the witch, your attempts at coaching have not worked, and it is just easier to
tolerate mediocrity or do the work yourself. Or worse, your best people keep picking up the slack, but they may be
reaching burn-out or are frustrated with you.
If you wonder how some businesses seem to be easy to work with and have a great team, they have the Right People in the
When you have this, your trusted team works together to make good decisions (good for the customer and good for the
You don’t have to oversee every sale and every customer, yet you are confident that things are being done right and
customers are happy. You have a sense of control, and trust that the business on target for healthy growth.
The team initiates and implements process improvements, for fewer hassles and more sales without working harder. This
allows you to finally take time off guilt-free and worry-free.
This concept is credited to Jim Collins who wrote about this in his book “Good to Great.”
1. Define the Right Things
2. Evaluate if you have the Right People
3. Ensure work is Done Right
You can read more in my detailed guide, Building Your Team, Right People…Right Jobs. Click here or below to download.
The (busy) life of a small business owner
When you started (or joined) your business, you did a lot of work yourself. As the business grew, you added staff to take care of the daily “work” yet you never seem able to get yourself out of everyday responsibilities.
Your days are busy but progress is slow, and you go home feeling like you didn’t accomplish anything. A 40-hour week seems like a luxury.
You would like more free time, but you are afraid to leave since problems surface and you “pay for it” when you come back.
You have a big list of ideas to improve your business, but these never seem to get started [much less finished].
The cycle repeats
You might even have hired someone new to take some of your workload, or started “delegating” some of your work to others.
But despite your best efforts and good intentions, your to-do list is long and your days are filled with endless calls, meetings, and requests that eat up your time.
Or someone recently quit, leaving you and the team hanging. Now you spend your precious time interviewing and training the new person (which you hate), and then catch up for the lost time.
Frustrating, isn’t it?
It’s an endless cycle. Every Monday you start out with big plans for the week, only to leave Friday with not much progress to show for all your hard work. Some days you feel so burnt out and overwhelmed, you think about exiting the business.
And deep down you know this can’t be the way to grow your business.
What could be the cause? Why are you doing so much in your business?
Because you don’t have the team you need to support you—a trusted, reliable team.
If you did, you would be comfortable letting them handle the daily activities.
You would be confident that they are doing a great job: growing sales, caring for your customers, making great decisions, while keep you updated on progress and achieving your ambitious business goals.
So let’s explore some possible reasons you don’t have a reliable team.
Reason 1: You are under-staffed
Sometimes you truly don’t have enough staff to cover the work to care for your current client base. People are spread thin and are just trying to keep their heads above the water. Obviously if everyone is handling a high workload, it’s hard for you to be confident everything is being done well.
Perhaps you just added a burst of new customers, or you have a seasonal bump in demand, or you are in the process of training a newbie.
Teams under pressure, overworked, and stressed are notorious unreliable.
You may think hiring is the answer, but it isn’t always the best solution to start.
When you address the other reasons (below), this usually increase the effectiveness, capacity, and therefore the reliability of your current team.
Reason 2: You have low performers
You likely have at least one person who is not performing well.
It might be someone whose job changed but their skills didn’t keep up, or they are struggling with the workload or an aspect of the job, or they are slow in taking on new responsibility. They might have inconsistent output, working hard some weeks and slacking off others.
You tried feedback, coaching, or training with short-lived improvement.
When someone on the team has sub-par performance, of course you don’t feel you can rely on him or her.
Reason 3: You have people with attitude issues
Sometimes you have people who do an adequate job, but it comes at a price. They give you or co-workers a hard time, grumbling and complaining when you assign work or ask for a status update. They might be toxic to peers, openly difficult to their supervisor, or continually resist change.
Just like the low performers, Debbie Downer and Toxic Theo aren’t your go-to people either. They may do the work (if you are willing to put up with the negativity), but it’s a good possibility they may not do the work well.
When you avoid performance correcting conversations with low performers or those with attitude issues you are not building a reliable team.
What most managers do is “reward” unreliable people by taking work and giving it to a more competent high performer. A great solution? No, but you would rather give work to the reliable. So you are stuck in this “catch-22.”
Both these types of employees drag down the reliability of your team, lower your confidence that everything is under control. Because it isn’t under control.
Even more importantly, “unreliable co-workers” is a main reason top performers quit, so ignoring these issues can force out your reliable ones!
Reason 4: Your “open door” has a line of people asking for help
When you let people pop on by to run things by you, you are enabling “problem bringers” instead of developing “problem solvers.”
“Hey boss, what do you want me to do about this? Mr Z called and wants to know what is happening with the new thing” These continual interruptions fill up your day, and distract your ability to focus on anything else.
Remember the biblical parable about “teach a man to fish, and he eats for a lifetime”? It’s the same for decision making.
When you are the source of problem solving you also become responsible for the decision, and enables a co-dependence on your input and guidance.
If you can’t rely on your staff to make good decisions without you, you will be chained to the office, worry when you are not there and be called 10 times on your vacation.
Reason 5: Your process is broken
Sometimes it’s not the people who are unreliable, it’s the process itself that causes problems, delays and customer issues.
If there are 5 people who are involved in the process to convert a proposal to delivery of a new sale, there are at least 5 places where the handoff can be incomplete or inaccurate or dropped entirely.
Sometimes your people are doing their best struggling through the convoluted and flawed process. To improve the human-side of reliability, check the underlying system.
If your good performers sometimes have issues with reliability, it might make sense to look at the work flow for effectiveness and efficiency.
Reason 6: You resist delegating
Hey, I get it. You need to trust first before you delegate.
If you can’t be sure the work will be done timely and accurately, you keep control of that task yourself. Even if it is boring or you hate the task.
I find that owners I work with have two main reason they don’t delegate.
One reason is the “it’s easier to do it myself” syndrome. Yes, it will take 20 minutes to show someone once to do this 10 minute task, but remember it’s 10 minutes every week (=500 minutes a year, 8+ hours.) So consider your time investment choices carefully.
The other reason is that a prior delegation was a disaster or just a big pain. You had to chase the person down for an update, nag them to finish it, they did it wrong, or worst of all created a big problem. Painful conclusion: brings you back to reason one- it’s easier to do it myself.
If you want to build a reliable team, you must improve your skills in coaching and training to achieve a successful transfer of work that doesn’t belong on the to-do list for a CEO or manager.
Reason 7: Desired Results are not clear (or rewarded)
You may not realize it, but if you are like most business owners, you are not clear about desired results or clear about priorities.
Most decent employees try to figure out what “Done Right” looks like and to do their best with the resources and tools you give them.
If you don’t measure or track any results, they may not know how they are doing. Absent of any data or feedback, most people assume that “no news is good news” and they are doing their job to meet your expectations.
So the “unreliable” don’t know it and don’t have any reason to change.
You also may not be rewarding the trusted reliable ones. Those that step up are given more work, those that duck and cover are given less work, and everyone gets a 3% raise and about the same year-end bonus.
Consider the messages you are sending with feedback, recognition and pay—is it rewarding reliability?
Reason 8: You can’t find good people to hire
Yes, I advise that you should improve your current team performance first.
But the lack of “good people” to hire is part of the reason you accept low performance or poor attitudes. You feel hostage because if you address the issues they might quit, and a mediocre person is better than no person.
You probably also dread the hiring process and rush to fill an open position. You take the “best” applicant, even if you worry they won’t work out.
If you settle for third-string players on your team and in your new hires, this is definitely a reason you don’t have a reliable team.
After you read this list, how many reasons do you have?
How many of these issues exist on your team?
If you have 3 or more, you likely don’t have a reliable who you trust to delegate work, run daily activities and work on projects to grow the business.
The Solution: Building Your Team Model
To build a reliable team, you need the Right People in the Right Jobs, Doing the Right Things
Next Step: Read the Guide
Would you like to learn the exact steps to go from stuck in the day-to-day to building a trusted reliable team?
Click to Download the detailed guide:
Building Your Team: Right People… Right Jobs
“Chase left our conversation abruptly. Across the plant floor, he had spotted a problem and rushed to make a correction. He was apologetic on his return. “Sorry, but this is why I called you today. I feel like a two armed octopus. There are eight things that need to happen, but I can only work on two problems at a time. Things get out of control about fifteen minutes into the day. And they never stop. At the end of the day, I look at my boss’ list of projects and the important things never seem to get worked on. There is always a crisis.” (Excerpt from Tom Foster management blog, 11/28/14)
Do you have an employee who is struggles with performing in their new role (either a new hire or an existing person who you gave a different responsibilities)?
How do you think “Chase” is feeling? Delighted this new position is overwhelming? Going home feeling a sense of accomplishment? Feeling like a success? Most likely Chase is disappointed and frustrated, as he wants to do a great job and feel competent.
After all, you thought he had what it takes to this this job well. And you hold the keys to finding out if this is a temporary training issue or a mis-match of his attributes to what is required to fill the role.
If you have a Chase on staff, I recommend evaluating for job fit through the following steps, and then jointly outlining a plan to give him the training, tools, and support to potential succeed.
If you both make an effort to develop his knowledge, skills, and competencies, he has a fair chance to do well.
Three main causes of performance gap, based on ability:
- Person isn’t ready—needs more skill development
- Person needs systems- may excel if given a structured process to plan and monitor work
- Person isn’t a fit to job role- lacks key competencies that are difficult to develop in short term
Your Action Steps
- Evaluate for job fit- identify the cause of gap
- If coachable gaps, jointly create and implement a training action plan with Chase
- Develop and coach on process and systems
- Coach weekly towards improvement. If slow progress be patient and keep going. If there is no noticeable improvement or it is not lasting, more intervention is needed.
See next article for tips on a 90 day coaching plan for performance improvement “Always a Crisis— Part 2”
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net