To illustrate, we’ll talk about Joe whose recent performance hasn’t been up to snuff. Joe has been on the job just a short while, and although he made it through his probationary period with promise, Joe has never really shown consistently high production numbers. Lately, they’ve actually been slipping. Since Joe is one of several operators working under the same conditions, and he’s the only one struggling, we’ll set aside the work system as a potential culprit in Joe’s lack of productivity and focus our attention on personal performance factors.
If Joe isn’t cranking out enough widgets, it may be because he isn’t aware of how many he is expected to produce each day. He hasn’t been around that long, and perhaps nobody ever communicated expectations. He may, likewise, not know how many widgets he completes. Joe may be kept in the dark as to how many widgets are reasonable to produce, or he may not think that it’s possible to produce more than he does under his present circumstances. Joe may have a cognizance problem.
Fixing Joe’s cognizance problem is usually fairly simple: Just make sure Joe gets an hourly or daily update on his output. Better yet, let him track his own output, and let him see what others are producing. Coach him to achieve specific goals following up at regular intervals.
I f Joe’s lackluster results aren’t the result of a cognizance problem, it may be that he lacks essential job knowledge, skills, or abilities. Joe may not really know how to produce widgets very well. Or, maybe he knows how to do it, but isn’t very good at it. He might need to develop his widget making skills or simply get more practice doing it correctly. Of course, it’s possible that the ugly truth for Joe is that he should have followed his mother’s advice and become a doctor because he just isn’t cut out to be a widget maker. In any case, Joe’s problem may be a lack of competence.
If Joe lacks competence, he will need technical help to develop his knowledge, skills, and abilities as a widget maker, and time to practice what he learns. If that isn’t enough to get Joe’s skills to the standard, Joe may need encouragement to study for the Medical College Admissions Test and try to make his mom happy.
Assuming Joe has neither a cognizance nor a competence problem, he falls into the 90% of employees with performance problems that bosses label as “no fire in the belly.” This is a problem of cause. If Joe has a hard time engaging in his work, fails to show passion or drive for getting results, or simply shows little or no commitment, he suffers from a lack of internal motivation or cause for action. This is a much more complicated problem than a lack of cognizance or competence.
In this case, Joe probably doesn’t feel accountable for achieving results beyond what he needs to keep his job. He may tell himself that he can’t do better until something outside his control changes, like getting a new machine or a boss that knows how to run the shop like Joe would. Besides, when things go wrong, it’s the boss that takes the heat, so why should Joe stress out about it?
Joe’s boss has his work cut out for him. Helping Joe isn’t going to be easy. If this is Joe’s problem, Joe’s boss will need to find out what’s behind Joe’s lack of motivation and make changes in his own operating practices hoping they will influence changes in Joe.
It may be that Joe has no sense of how his work affects the larger group. In fact, he probably has no idea what happens to the widgets after he finishes with them and they get carted off to who-knows-where. Chances are he, like most of us, doesn’t know what the widgets are used for, how much they’re worth, or much of anything about the widget business whatsoever. In studying Joe’s problem, Joe’s boss may find out that Joe has a negative attitude especially when he gets worked up about how his suggestions are ignored, things don’t get fixed, and tools are always locked up. He may learn that Joe once expressed interest in learning about the widget finishing process, but was told to just focus on his current job and let others worry about everything else.
Since cause for action is influenced by how well a person like Joe understands his work in the context of the greater process and key success indicators, Joe’s boss may need to help Joe become much more knowledgeable about widgets, work processes and the business as a whole. Likewise, providing opportunities for Joe to have more flexibility in his work, try out ideas, and expand his skills taps a fundamental principle for stimulating intrinsic motivation. Joe’s boss should make sure Joe has the tools and equipment he needs to do the job and that things get repaired. And it wouldn’t hurt for Joe to hear directly from the employee in the next workstation, or external customers, when his work creates problems for them. That would do wonders for his perspective.
If, in spite of the efforts of Joe’s boss, Joe doesn’t turn the corner, it’s likely that Joe is one of those rare individuals that choose non-engagement, and Joe’s boss will have to resort to traditional methods of motivation hoping for Joe’s compliance. That’s about as good as it will get for Joe’s performance.
In the end, if Joe’s boss does a good job of addressing cognizance, competence, and cause, there’s a high probability that Joe will have the wherewithal to produce better, have a greater sense of commitment to the customer and organization as a whole, and become energized to turn things around. And to the relief of Joe’s boss, he will learn that dealing with an employee like Joe doesn’t need to read like a mystery after all.
Trying it on for fit: If a performance problem isn’t caused by an ineffective work system, it most likely results from a deficiency within one or more of the three personal performance factors of cognizance, competence, and cause.
Instead of resorting to the default response of holding people accountable for minimal levels of compliance, first try diagnosing employee performance problems according to the performance factors below and apply appropriate solutions:
- Cognizance: Performance awareness.
- Competence: Performance capability.
- Cause: Performance engagement.