Before we get started, I should tell you what this blog is all about. It’s about sharing tips on how business owners can improve their employee training. To the uninitiated, there are many pitfalls involved with a poorly executed training program. My goal is to help you better navigate the people development minefield based on my successes, and--more importantly--my failures. My game plan: start at the high level with the decision to use training, then determine how to begin once you decide training is the answer, and then share various training options and choices.
You know the scene – managers are sitting around complaining, "Performance stinks! What are we going to do?!"
As an experienced training and development specialist, you think I would love to hear someone answer, "Let's offer training!"
Ironically, that’s not the case.
Many managers think training is one of the first options to address performance gaps. I have learned otherwise. I believe peak performance is the result of many variables all working in tandem with each other. Poor performance occurs when one (or more) of these variables is missing. Since looking at ALL the variables involved with performance is a bit complex, we'll simplify the situation and use a model of four variables to examine performance:
Structure involves the company’s culture, performance management systems (if any), compensation policies, internal communication plans, progressive discipline process (if any), etc. The critical question here is whether these factors support/reward high performance and address poor performance.
Competence looks at whether and to what extent the employee knows how to do his job (or understands what is expected of him).
Ability deals with whether the employee possesses the knowledge, skills, and ability (KSA) necessary to perform her job according to acceptable standards.
Willingness is a simple—yet critical—factor. The question: Is the employee actually willing to perform his assigned duties?
If the problem is with Structure, it’s possible the company is set up or employees are managed in such a way that good performance is punished and/or poor performance is rewarded. How can this be? Have you ever seen more work assigned to a good employee because a poor performer wasn’t carrying his weight? That’s punishing good performance. Have you ever seen a poor performer transferred to a different unit or department rather than being terminated? That’s rewarding poor performance.
Rather than jump to “train them,” determine what policies, procedures, and processes need to be created or refined to better support and encourage performance: utilize pay-for-performance, bonuses, incentives, and other employee-specific rewards to facilitate and acknowledge desired performance. Simply paying employees to do a job isn’t always enough (as much as we’d like it to be). We are very social animals and paying attention to the human triggers of “status” and “fairness” pays strong dividends (more about these triggers in a later blog). Concurrently, you need to deal head-on with poor performance. Identify systems you need to create and implement to address non-performance. A progressive discipline process that includes clear steps to address poor performance is a simple and effective solution. The key component: strong managers who can and will closely manage performance and use the process. Part of this step may also involve (finally?) addressing your poorly performing managers.
A gap in performance due to Competence may be addressed by simply checking in with the employee on his understanding of the expectations of the position. It may be what he thinks you expect and what you actually expect are out of alignment. This is usually the result of poor communication or unclear (vague, unspecific) expectations. Set and then communicate clear, specific, measurable job expectations and check-in for understanding. If he knows what is expected but doesn’t know how to perform aspects of his job, training, mentoring, and coaching may be appropriate.
If the employee issue stems from a lack of Ability, assess the employee’s KSA, identify jobs in the organization for which she is qualified, and set a timetable to transition her to one of the more suitable positions. If there are no such positions available in the company, you may need to terminate her. Unfortunately, an employee’s inability to perform a job can sometimes (or often) be traced to a poor hiring decision. If that’s the case, offer the employee outplacement to help with her post-employment efforts and review your hiring process/manager.
If the performance problem is an employee Willingness issue (meaning your Structure supports good performance, the person has the Competence and Ability to perform his role, but he is still not WILLING to perform), your most likely option is to put him on a performance contract and follow the path to termination. (In my experience, it is rare these situations turn around.)
Using training when poor performance is related to Structure, Ability, or Willingness will not address the root issues of poor performance. Training is appropriate when you are dealing with a lack of Competence. Next month, we’ll look at how to begin if training is the answer.
Paul McGinniss is founder of Response-Able Consulting LLC, a brain-based workplace and executive coaching company that helps busy executives create new thinking and new results for their businesses. Contact Paul at firstname.lastname@example.org or 516.215.4233.