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Just What is a "Performance Problem" Anyway?

Many times managers tell me they have an employee with a performance problem and they just can’t seem to get the employee to fix it. This is always funny to me because upon further discussion, I often...

Many times managers tell me they have an employee with a performance problem and they just can’t seem to get the employee to fix it. This is always funny to me because upon further discussion, I often find it is the manager who has the problem, not the employee.  Managers often have unclear expectations for employees and/or do not clearly communicate the expectations they have. 

For example, a participant in one of my sessions once told me that whenever she leaves the office, she expects her assistant to “handle things.”  This manager was frustrated because when she gets back to the office, there are often unanswered phone messages.  When I asked the manager if she explained to her assistant that she expected all phone messages to be answered when she was away, the manager responded meekly with, “Well, no, not exactly.” 

Here are a few questions to ask yourself before you begin to address an employee’s “performance problem”:

1.   What is the unacceptable behavior that is not meeting your standards?  You should be able to answer this question in behavioral terms.  If it is an “attitude” or a feeling you have, stop right there.  You must be able to give specific, behavioral examples so the employee knows clearly what they should stop or start doing.

2.   What do you want the employee to do differently?  If they are not doing something the way you expect them to do it, what do you prefer they do?  If you can’t state your expectations clearly, in behavioral terms, how can you expect the employee to be able to meet those expectations?

3.   How will solving the problem or changing the behavior improve productivity, safety, confidentiality, or adherence to policy?  If there is not a compelling reason for the employee to change their ways, why should they change?  We all need to know the “why” behind any change that affects us.  If you can’t give a reason why the employee should behave differently, then you probably shouldn’t be bringing up the issue.

When addressing a performance issue with an employee, the problem or issue must be clearly defined and relevant to the job.  In other words, it should not just be your pet peeve.  Before discussing the issue with the employee, make sure you have considered the impact your discussion will have on the employee and on their overall performance.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR


Marnie Green, Chandler, AZ, USA
Marnie E. Green is Principal Consultant of the Arizona-based Management Education Group, Inc. She is the author of Painless Performance Evaluations: A Practical Approach to Managing Day to Day Employee Performance (Pearson/Prentice Hall). Green is a speaker, author, and consultant who helps organizations develop leaders today for the workforce of tomorrow. Contact Green at http://www.managementeducationgroup.com 



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