Have you ever said, "We've got a training problem," because someone wasn't doing what he or she was supposed to be doing? You're not alone. Managers everywhere send themselves and their associates to training programs such as, "How to Motivate Others," "Plant Safety, and "The Art of Delegation." There is nothing wrong with that, unless, of course, the training is viewed as the only possible solution—the quick fix.
The same managers often complain, a few months later, that the course didn't seem to change the associate’s behavior, even though the course appeared to have a good instructor and the right content.
Solutions to problems are like keys in locks: They don't work if they don't fit. Sometimes the solution is to provide information or techniques; if the employee doesn't have the knowledge, instruction is likely to help. But when a person does know how and still doesn't perform, you can teach until the end of time and not solve the problem. Here is a series of questions, offered by Robert F. Mager and Peter Ripe in their book, Analyzing Performance Problems—Or You Really Oughta Wanna' to help you determine the right solution the next time you are faced with a performance problem: Are they able? Is this performance discrepancy due to a skill deficiency?
This is a pivotal question all managers should ask themselves, before spending budget dollars on a training remedy. Another way to ask yourself this question is, "If the person knew they were going to be fired without it, would they still be unable to perform the task?" If there is a genuine skill deficiency, then you could consider training as a primary solution. If a skill has never been learned, or has been learned in the past but forgotten, training with on-the-job practice and feedback is an appropriate solution. Sometimes a simpler solution, like providing a procedures checklist, or arranging on-the-job training will work satisfactorily.
Are they willing?
If you have determined that the person could do it if he or she wanted to, you will need to ask a different set of questions. Obviously, training someone to do something they already know how to do doesn't make much sense.
There are four main causes of this particular kind of non-performance:
1. It is punishing to perform as desired;
2. It is rewarding to perform other than as desired;
3. It simply doesn't matter whether performance is as desired;
4. There are obstacles to performing as desired.
Let's look at each one. Is the desired performance punishing?
People learn to avoid things that cause pain. An example of this is, "You did such a good job on that report, I'm going to let you do all of them from now on." If people feel that they will be punished, if they perform as you desire, they will avoid doing it your way whenever they can.
The key is that it's not your view of the outcome that's important here. You must look through the eyes of the other person and ask yourself, "How might he or she see the consequences of doing it?"
The answer may strike you as ridiculous, but you had better take it seriously. Consider the "rate buster" in industry who turns out more work than anyone else. It is likely that the resulting hostility from his or her peers will be perceived as punishment for performance, and he or she will slow down to the level of the group. If you think your associates aren't performing because to do so leads to unpleasant results (from their point of view), try to find ways to reduce or eliminate the negative effects and to create or increase desirable consequences.
Is non-performance rewarding?
The idea here is to examine the payoff for their behavior. For example, some people have learned not to stick their necks out more than they have to. Their problem is often seen as a reluctance to take responsibility. These may be people who have repeatedly been raked over the coals for wrong decisions. They have learned to avoid that unpleasantness—and protect their careers—by making very few decisions. Or, perhaps they had a micromanager who wanted to do everything himself, so they gave up trying.
When you hear things like: "He's not ambitious," "He doesn't care," or "She procrastinates," look further, to see if there is some payoff for non-performance.
Does performing really matter?
Sometimes a problem persists because it simply doesn't matter whether or not the employee performs. If there is nothing to make it worth doing, it will tend not to get done. Late or sloppy reports often result from this lack of consequences—“Does anyone even read this report?” Make it matter.
Are there obstacles to performing?
Sometimes things like working conditions, how the work is structured, or the reporting relationships, can be the problem. For instance, employees with multiple bosses will tell you how it can affect their performance when they are given multiple, or conflicting, directions.
The obstacle to the desired performance may even lie with you. If you don't explicitly tell your associates what is expected of them, and give them regular feedback on their performance, you may be the biggest obstacle to their success. Besides a lack of information, look for the lack of authority, lack of time, poor equipment or uncomfortable surroundings.
Finally, use training programs wisely. They can only be a solution if they address the right problem. Examine the payoffs and punishments behind the problem performance.