Management Essentials – tackling a performance issue

As part of our series of free management and personal effectiveness webinars, the 6th March (10.00am – 10.45am, UK time) will feature “Management Essentials” and cover core topics such as, the difference between a manager and a leader, leadership styles, performance management, and clear communication with your team.

As a kind of prelude or warmup, this post focuses on an issue most managers – both new and experienced – can find a challenge: what to do when a member of the team is not doing some part of their job?

A helpful model

Models make everything better. Or at least, a good model makes something complicated appear much simpler. Such is the case with the model in Robert Mager and Peter Pipe’s 1997 book, “Analyzing Performance Problems”. In a sense,Mager and Pipe have distilled performance management (or, more accurately, dealing with a failure to perform) into a clear and simple flowchart; a version of which is presented here:

What isn’t happening?

First, you need to describe the problem. What exactly is not being done? And who should be doing it? You’re looking here at the gap between what should be happening and what is actually happening.

Is it relevant or necessary?

This is an acknowledgement that just because a task is on someone’s job description does not necessarily mean it is worth doing. Circumstances and priorities change and so do jobs – though not always at the same pace. Ask yourself what the consequences of doing nothing are. If there are no consequences then maybe the only thing you need to do is amend this individual’s job description so they’re not expected to carry out irrelevant duties?

Do they have the required knowledge or skill?

Before we assume that the individual is choosing to ignore part of their job, let’s first check that it’s actually possible for them to do it. If they don’t know how, then it’s hopefully an easy fix. Though if they’ve had training or been coached in the task before, that raises other questions.

Have their duties or job changed?

Likewise, before we jump to any conclusions (they’re deliberately avoiding the task, they’re lazy, they just don’t care, etc.) let’s just check this performance problem isn’t a result of some external change beyond the control of the individual. If it is just a change in role then arrange some time for coaching and practice and then assess the performance.

Does using this skill ‘punish’ the individual?

We all have things we find stressful and/or that we just don’t like to do. Maybe it’s a lack of aptitude (e.g. the task involves figures and the individual hates maths) or perhaps it’s that the task brings them into contact with someone they don’t like or have a history of difficulty with. Assuming it’s possible to remove the ‘punishment’, do so.

Is avoiding the task ‘rewarding’?

Still looking at the consequences of doing or not doing the task, is the avoidance actually positive in some way for the individual? Again, maybe it’s just that they don’t like it, or maybe avoiding the task gives them more time to spend on other, more enjoyable duties. You may need to clarify the business priorities here, or add some form of incentive to motivate them to do the task.

Does using this skill matter to the individual?

This question homes in on the question of motivation and priorities. They can do the task but they don’t personally see it as important. Clarify the priorities and explore how doing the task and using the required skills can benefit the individual.

Are there any obstacles to doing the task?

Moving the focus away from the individual for a moment, what about external factors? Maybe there are other systems, or colleagues, or circumstances which make the task more difficult than you realise. Maybe you can mitigate those factors, maybe you can’t  but first you need to know about them… and if they can’t be removed, maybe you can find a compromise.


Finally, if all else fails…

If you’ve simplified the task and/or removed any identified obstacles, and the lack of performance continues, then it’s probably time to consider a more formal performance management route, including being clear about the potential negative consequences (ultimately, dismissal) if the situation doesn’t change.

The key benefit of using a model like Mager and Pipe’s flowchart is that, as a manager, you’re applying a systematic method of analysis rooted in asking neutral, objective questions. There’s no need for emotion or personal judgement, it’s simply a question of the job and ensuring they’re equipped to do it.


For more on managing performance (and much more!) sign up for our free 45-minute Management Essentials webinar, starting at 10am on 6th March. Or if you just want to know more about what we offer on manager’s role, give us a call on 01582 463460; we’re here to help.

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