What Leaders Can Do to Manage the Performance of Employees

June 15, 2015

A simple, yet effective method for managing performance reasons that the possible causes of failure can be categorized as either a lack of ability, or a lack of motivation. Perhaps more bluntly, the employee either does not have the information or knowledge needed, or does not want to comply with the direction given. As leaders, we often assume an employee’s performance is the result of malicious intent, which can cause tensions in any work relationship. These assumptions are flawed for two reasons. First, employees mean well, more often than these assumptions would suggest. Second, the assumption is simply a belief that is unsupported by evidence.

Since the problem has only two possible solutions, the elimination of one option provides strong support for the other. Therefore, a leader can effectively solve the problem by ensuring that the employee has all the necessary information and skills to complete the task. In doing so, the leader has either repaired the issue if the cause was a lack of ability, or determined that the cause of underperformance is a lack of motivation and can identify a course of action.

Ability is developed through three dimensions: personal, social, and structural. To address the first, a leader must coach his employees, and provide opportunities for deliberate practice such that the employee learns the standard procedure, and is comfortable with it. In the social dimension, leaders must leverage the power of the team and develop a culture around the correct behaviors. Finally, leaders can ensure the structural aspects are in place to facilitate desired behaviors. Most often, these aspects include standard procedures, dashboard tools, and visual cues or alerts that can make mistakes obvious and preventable.

It is only after we have exhausted these three dimensions, and eliminated gaps in skills, information, and ability, that we can conclude with any support that an employee has underperformed on purpose. In any case, consistent progress in each of these dimensions can remove barriers to achievement, reduce frustration, and allow a team to continually improve their actions and results.

By: Andrew Soave