Manager’s ABC’s of Solving Employee Performance

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Guest Post by Barry Ogle

If you were like me in the early days of your management career, you likely struggled to gain understanding of the root causes of employee performance issues. Often I found myself awash with ambiguity while focusing on the effect and not the true cause. Of course, it didn’t help matters any considering that some of these employees spent their energy quietly resisting my earnest endeavors to discover the real culprit of their inconsistent performance. I sought to remove performance obstacles and provide resources to help them achieve results while holding them accountable for their part in our working partnership.

Finally, after years of dismal failure of my own inconsistent performance in the area of solving employee performance issues, a clear path forward began to crystallize. I wish that I had discovered this simple process years earlier in my career. I call it “Manager ABC’s.”

The “C” stands for Cognitive.

Here’s how it works. When meeting with an employee to seek understanding of the causes of their low performance, their manager should always start with the “C” and work backwards. It’s the knowledge component of the issue at hand and always answers the questions of “What.” In other words, does this employee know what they are supposed be do in the given situation. This is the easiest component for a manager to resolve either with training or perhaps by providing a simple explanation of the performance expectation on the spot.

Questions for solving “C” may include:

  • What is your understanding of your role in this initiative?
  • Are there some things about this initiative that you don’t understand?
  • Do you understand the linkage between your individual performance and the big picture?
  • On a scale from 1 – 10, with 10 being the highest level of understanding, how would you rate your own understanding for this initiative?

The “B” stands for Behavior

However, if this employee possesses the knowledge, then the manager transitions onto the next component which is the “B” for Behavior. Sometimes, employees know what to do but they just don’t know how to do it. They are lacking in a skill. For example, someone could read a book on learning how to swim, take a test and pass it, but do they really know how to swim? Not until they are placed in water do they or anyone else really know they can swim. Managers can also easily fix this underlying issue by providing deficient skill development training.

Questions for solving “B” may include:

  • What do you consider to be your strongest skillset in regard to this initiative?
  • What do you consider to be your weakest skillset in regard to this initiative?
  • On a scale from 1 – 10, with 10 being the highest level of skill development, how would you rate your own skillset for delivering results for this initiative?

The “A” stands for Attitude

And, lastly, when the manager clearly understands that it is neither a lack of knowledge or underdeveloped skillset, the only component left to consider is the employee’s Attitude, or letter “A.” Managers can only indirectly impact this component. This has to do with one’s motivation and values. Managers should encourage and use their sphere of influence to persuade, but ultimately, the employee decides the outcome.

Questions for solving “A” include:

  • What would motivate you to step up and provide consistent results?
  • Is there anything in our culture that is hindering your performance?
  • As your manager, how can I best support you in your decision to step up?

Here’s how I coach managers today when they find themselves in this situation with a low performing employee. As their manager I would say something like:

It is in my own best interest that you step up and perform consistently at the desired level. I don’t have the power to make you do so. This is your choice. However, now that I know that you know what to do and you know how to accomplish it, I will no longer allow you to persist in the status quo. You get to decide whether to step up or step out (of the organization) within the given timetable. Should you decide to step out, it will require me to take a chance with someone else. It’s easier for me if you will just step up and perform. As your manager, let me know how I can best support you.

Psychologically, this approach empowers the employee as they feel in control. However, they should be placed on a performance management plan and managed accordingly.

In summary, managers have direct impact on developing the cognitive (knowledge) and behavioral (skill) components of an employee’s performance. However, they only have an indirect impact on changing an employee’s attitude. It’s always best to hire in the attitude you need and then provide the knowledge and develop the skills for success on the job.

Barry Ogle serves as the Chief Momentum Officer for Business Momentum Group, Inc. As a consultant, he works with a variety of organizations targeting executive coaching, leadership development and organizational effectiveness. You can connect with Barry on LinkedIn or email him directly @ Barry@BusMomentum.com

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