Yet, when employees have performance problems, we act like the doctor who thinks everyone has a headache and needs an aspirin. We sit down with them, tell them they're not getting the job done, and prescribe the same solution for all -- punishment or threats -- expecting that, somehow, they will get better.
With a little more skill and effort, we might discover the real basis for most performance problems and create solutions that give us much better results. To help struggling workforce performance doctors, we've developed a simple plan for examining, diagnosing, and solving most performance problems. It's called the Five-Step Plan.
Step One: The "Ahhh" Test.
This is fairly simple. Have the troubled employee sit on a chair in front of you, open his mouth, and say what he knows about the business. If all he can say is "ahhh" or "uhhh," he definitely has a problem that will affect his performance. A healthy employee will be able to tell you about your products and services in some detail as well as describe how the work is performed. He should be able to tell you what you are competing against and explain how well your business is doing.
If your employee shows any sign of weakness during this task, you should begin remedial treatment immediately with a liberal regimen of business learning until he or she can pass this test.
Step Two: The Coordination Test.
In this step, you must stand your employee in front of a whiteboard displaying a simple map of your organization structure. Direct the employee to select a marker and draw a line between his work unit and those he serves. Then have him draw a line from his work unit to those on which his unit depends. Ask him to explain what each identified group needs from the other to help the organization reach critical goals and what happens when needs are not met.
If your employee can't pass the Coordination test, he lacks line of sight. His perspective must be realigned with the goals of the organization and natural consequences that occur when others are not served well. To treat coordination problems, supplement a heavy dose of accountability for outcomes with additional business learning by allowing the employee to learn first-hand the problems others experience when the employee is less effective.
Step Three: The Agility Test.
This test assesses the employee's capabilities in the work unit or department. In this test, you must first identify responsibilities of the employee's work unit or department. Through simulations, on-the-job evaluations, or other assessments determine the level of technical cross-capabilities, decision skills, and resource management abilities of the employee.
A low level of agility suggests a serious training deficiency. This can be corrected with abundant technical cross training, mentoring, and management skill development regardless of the employee's current position level.
Step Four: The Flexibility Test.
This test is primarily a verbal assessment. Facing the employee, you ask her questions about her experience on the job. Here are the questions:
- Who makes decisions about implementing your ideas for improving wok processes?
- What have you done on your own outside of normal processes to improve your service to those who depend on you in the organization (or customers)? Why or why not?
- How have situations not covered by clear policy been handled by you and your work unit?
Step Five: The Reach (or Free Association) Test.
In this test, you must first construct a list of all essential resources required for the employee to perform the job by interviewing separately the employee and the unit leader. As you read each resource from the list, ask the employee to respond as to whether he can readily reach or access it without permission and use it according to his own expertise without direction.
Poor Reach or Free Association scores suggest a serious case of policy-itis that prevents the employee from readily accessing tools, equipment, people, or information needed to support work unit and organization demands. The remedy for this condition is confronting the offending policy or practice. You may also require supplemental leader training in trust, delegation, empowerment, and other performance enabling practices.
Although, it won't substitute for a thorough examination, the Five-Step Plan for improving performance can help with the most common ailments that show up in the workforce. It will help you develop your examination and diagnosis skills so you can choose the best prescriptions for your performance maladies.
Trying it on for fit:
Evaluate the actions you take and results obtained when dealing with performance problems. Do you rely on standard solutions of punishments and threats to solve most every problem? Do your leaders have the skills to examine and diagnose causes and the expertise or support to develop effective interventions? Can you identify successes that demonstrate high levels of commitment and performance from previously less effective employees? Try implementing the Five-Step Plan the next time you have a performance problem and test the process.
Send an email and let me know what you learn from your experiences. I would love to hear from you!