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Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Reasons for Poor Performance

I have to believe when a supervisor thinks that he/she is dealing with problem employees that there is usually another explanation than the employee came to work that day to do a bad job.  Maybe 5% out of a workgroup have been allowed to be low performers so long that they are demotivated, and don't care, and are beyond salvaging.  These employees need intervention to be managed up or out of the organization.  See the blog on "Giving Feedback" on how to deal with what I was mentored to call 2/3 employees.  With this blog I want to talk about some of the other more common causes of lowered performance that may not be so obvious, but must be addressed for the organization to reach peak performance.

When an performance issue occurs, do you think that the employee came to work that day with the attitude to perform below expectations?  I just don't think so.  The Gallup Organization tells us that people thrive in an environment where they can do their best work every day.  So what factors could prevent people from doing their best work every day?


Early in my career, there were times when I was expected to make Chicken Salad out of Chicken Sh_t.  One of our roles as leaders is to make sure that our team members have the proper tools to do their jobs.  This process starts by interacting enough with them (i.e. rounding) to ask that question.  I started working on ambulances in the days when they were gasoline burners before they were switched to diesel burners.  The gasoline burners were notorious for overheating given the rigors of rapid response, followed by idling at the scene, followed by rapid transport.  Mechanical problems were certainly not rare.  Employees who spend hours upon hours of their shift repairing, switching out equipment, or looking for absent equipment tend to become cynical.  It is so easy for this cynicism to come out in their interactions with patients, customers, and co-workers.  I am not saying that the leader is responsible to provide the absolute best in class of every piece of equipment, but certainly, when we ask someone to do a job they must have adequate tools.


One of the more telling assessments to make after an incident of poor performance is to simply ask, "tell me how you were trained to handle this situation." It has been my experience that you expose deficiencies in both your initial orientation program and your ongoing training when you hear the answer.  The problem is VARIATION.  We should be shooting for consistency in how our new people are oriented.  However, how it usually goes in a busy environment is that we put the new person with one of our more experienced "preceptors" or "field training officers".  These individuals may or may not have had formal training in how to precept others, and may or may not meet together as a group to work on interrater reliability to assure that they are evaluating new employees consistently.  Each new employee gets a little different orientation which results in wide variation in performance once each person puts their personal "twist" on how to do each job.  If there is one word that an Education Director or Training Officer should have as a motto, it should be CONSISTENCY.

Another issue present under this section is the drive to push people through a prescribed orientation process.  One of the best processes I have seen involves a careful assessment of where each new candidate is and then modifying their track of orientation to where they need the most work.  Some people, based upon their past experiences may be able to be competent in a new role in days where others may take months.

The last issue I want to address here is the tendency to put an item for increased focus in new orientation after an incident, but fail to add that item in ongoing annual re-training.  Higher reliability organizations train almost constantly.  Unfortunately, healthcare has not always apportioned sufficient dollars to training and education to get the results that are expected.


So, this couldn't be it....you're reading a blog to sharpen your skills!  This is when your peers come into play.  Employees tend to perform at the lowest acceptable level.  This is influenced by both the lowest performing member of the employee group and by the most easy going manager in the management group.  Employees who continually see one of their peers getting away with something tend to migrate toward that behavior.  Sort of a "bad apple" effect.  With regard to the most liberal manager, if you are managing as part of a group, it is hard to hold to high standards if one or more of the group is trying to play buddy.  The management team needs to spend some time to agree upon the minimum standard behavior to eliminate the "bad apple" effect and to spend time on consistency within the group.


There are a lot of situations that could be used as examples here.  Some, the employee may not be aware are causing a problem in the workplace.  An employee who is not being productive to the level expected after the manager has assured proper training must be assessed for other reasons for poor performance.  Over the years I have been shocked by some of the things that employees have done that endangered their positions.  Some of the more frequent distractions seen today are:

  • time on phone with personal calls (This could be initiated by the employee or a needy significant other)
  • time on internet (email, shopping, chat rooms, gambling, games, facebook, etc)
  • excessive meal time and breaks
  • watching television
If there are performance issues related to personal distractions, the manager can look for engineering controls such as locking down internet access and installing surveillance cameras to monitor employee activity.  


Once reasons for Poor Performance are identified, they must be dealt with.  The biggest danger is that other employees will begin to lower their performance to the performance they are observing in their co-worker.