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Posted by on May 27, 2014

Employee Performance: Do You See the Big Picture?

467847421Linda, a supervisor of an eight-person analysis team, went home every night for a week frustrated that her team wasn’t getting the job done. She shared her frustrations with her husband over dinners, “Maybe this team just doesn’t have what it takes. Charles and Kelly don’t seem to understand some of the analyses we do. And, Jose and Pat just seem apathetic most of the time.”

Linda’s husband asks, “Wait, didn’t you invest a lot in training those four last year? Remember how many dinners I ate alone because you were doing their work while they took classes?” Linda sighs, “Yeah, I thought things would get a lot easier when they improved their analytics skills. I even made sure they knew how strongly I felt about investing in them and their careers.”

Linda faces an issue that many supervisors face each day. They often ask: What influences employee performance? How can I improve their performance?

More factors impact performance than many of us realize. Some of these factors include:

  • Skills
  • Ability
  • Attitudes
  • Personality
  • Background and experiences
  • Motivation
  • Organizational culture
  • Work context

Linda might want to consider all of these factors as she tries to figure out why they are performing lower than her expectations. Here are a few hypothetical scenarios that relate to each factor:

  • Skills: Despite having sent the four team members to training, the analysis software that is used on the job is different from the one used in training. Additional training in the analysis software that the team uses may be needed.
  • Ability: Some of the team members don’t have the attention to detail that analysis work requires. They may perform better in a different role.
  • Attitudes: Jose and Pat are apathetic because they feel they are still regarded as junior team members even though they have advanced analytical skills.
  • Personality: Charles and Kelly are reluctant to ask questions about their work assignments in a team meeting because they are introverted.
  • Background and experiences: Charles has a background in financial analysis, which is quite different than technical analysis that Linda’s team does. Some of the concepts are the same, yet the work is different enough that Charles has a hard time using his background in his current role. Kelly comes from a family of technical analysts who take pride in one-upping each other, so she feels self-conscious about asking questions and prefers to figure things out on her own.
  • Motivation: Pat was turned down for a promotion last year and doesn’t feel that his performance is being fairly rewarded. Jose feels that any extra effort he puts out is rewarded with more work.
  • Organizational Culture and Work Context: Linda’s predecessor answered questions from the team with, “Don’t we pay you to know the answer to that?” Over time, the team stopped asking questions; the team’s norm soon became one of figuring things out on their own instead of working together to address challenges.

Linda’s choice of solution depends, of course, on which of the above factors are operating. A likely next step is for her to gather additional information, perhaps by meeting with each team member. Linda, like most supervisors, will probably feel nervous or unsure how to approach this meeting or how to phrase her questions.

The important first step for Linda is to recognize the many possible explanations for her team’s performance. By considering a wide range of possibilities, she is more likely to get to the root cause and then be able to take the right action to get her team back on track.

The good news is that Linda, and you if you find yourself in a similar situation, don’t need to struggle on your own. Both employee performance conversations and building a team can be difficult. But, you can learn strategies and tactics to become a more effective supervisor

Like many teams, each member of Linda’s team had specific career development issues. To ensure that the solution fits the unique issues they face, Linda’s team could be assessed so that a custom performance improvement solution could be implemented.

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