Functioning organizations are never at a lack for problems requiring
solutions, but the reason for why those problems occur are seldom
clear. Far too often, leaders blame their employees for failures and
assume they must be trained, transferred, threatened, disciplined or
replaced in order to fix problems. While it is inevitably true that
some employees do cause problems for organizations, it is irrational
and wrong to think that defective employees at are the root of all
performance problems. Good leaders realize that employees are
part of a system and that if substantial numbers of employees are
seemingly causing problems, the fault is probably systematic rather
than personal. New leaders' goals should be to fix the system's
performance rather than casting about for targets to blame. To
accomplish that leaders must carefully analyze performance problems in
the context of the organizational system they occur in before
attempting to remediate the problem.
A systematic performance analysis should address the following
questions in order to place performance problems squarely in the
context of the total system:
- Were performance standards realistic and known to affected employees?
If not, how could standards be created/adjusted/disseminated?
- Were all materials, supports and skills necessary for good performance available?
If not, how could they be more consistently supplied?
- Was good performance adequately motivated?
If not, how could employee motivation be improved?
- Was performance feedback available and relevant?
If not, how could feedback be improved?
- Were there extenuating circumstances that interfered with good performance?
If so, how could they be remediated, if possible?
A first area of performance failure analysis should address whether
performance standards exist, are clear, and whether employees knew
about them. If standards did exist, did employees know about them and
understand them? It's not enough to hide important procedures in a
handbook; employees often need to be trained. If standards exist but
upon examination are vague or were not understood the solution needed
to correct the performance problem might involve simple clarification.
If few employees meet the standard, the question of whether the
standard is realistic and achievable should be considered.
A second area of analysis suggests a resources review wherein a leader
explores whether employee's performance was adequately supported.
Material supply problems might need to be addressed. Alternatively, the
problem might be remediated by supplying proper training.
A third area of analysis is to examine the consequences of performance.
Do employees get correction when they do something wrong or are they
left to flounder? What happens if employees do things right? It is
essential for the new leader to examine the timeliness of feedback
about employee performance. Feedback on performance should be frequent,
relevant, accurate, specific, and understandable.
A fourth and final area of systematic analysis involves
considering the context in which the problematic performance took
place. Do employees have the individual physical, mental, and emotional
capacity to perform? How do they perform compared to their peers? Were
there any extenuating circumstances that interfered with appropriate
performance (e.g., recent terrorist acts, family stress or illness,
changes in the organization, etc.)? If any such events did exist, was
there any way to mitigate them so that performance would not be
affected. Even good people show performance problems when under great
stress. New leaders do not leap to blaming. Rather, they try to solve
problems. While inevitably, employees will be encountered who will need
to be let go due to their poor work ethic or incompetence, the new
leader should not assume that this is the case without being secure in
the knowledge that other correctable possibilities for failure have