The Performance Pill

Got a team member who’s a pain in the neck?  Struggling with an employee who gives you headaches?  Suffering some heartburn after hiring someone to fill a position on your team?  You’re in luck!  The clinic is open, and the doctor is in!

Much of the time, we address the symptoms of our problems (the pain in our neck, the headache, the heartburn) rather than their sources.  That approach gives temporary relief, but it usually creates more problems than it solves in the long run.  For example, taking an aspirin deals with the headache, but it does nothing to deal with what caused it.  The headache may have been the warning sign of a more serious problem.  A band-aid may cover up the bruise, but if we keep banging our knee, the bruises will keep popping up.  Dealing with sources rather than symptoms will lead you to better solutions.

I’m going to make a bold claim.  Any performance problem you are struggling with on your team can be traced to one of five sources.  Knowing these sources helps you to quickly diagnose your problems and prescribe treatment.  Together, these sources make up the Performance Pill, a tool for curing what ails your team.  Let’s look at each source individually.  (You’ll notice I’ve taken some rhyming license to make these fit together.  Please don’t accuse me of malpractice.)

Performance Pill

“Instill” problems occur when we fail to instill our performers with expectations, knowledge and feedback related to their work.  Many times, our expectations are silent.  We forget to make them clear at the beginning of a task, or we assume that the performer should know them.  Sometimes the performers don’t have enough information to do what we ask them to do.  And sometimes, we neglect to give them feedback about a task to let the performer know if they are on the right track or not.  The solution rests solely on our shoulders for this type of problem.  If we haven’t equipped our performers with expectations, knowledge and feedback, we’ve set them up to fail.

“Skill” problems occur when performers have not yet developed the talent to do the task.  The solution is simple.  The performer either needs training or practice (with lots of feedback).  But be careful…this is the most common misdiagnosis for performance problems.  Managers love to send their performers to training to “fix them.”  Why?  Because it’s easy, and someone else will do it for me.  It may be easy, but it’s also expensive – in money, in time and sometimes in your relationship (not everyone wants to be sent to training).

“Hill” problems occur when an obstacle (something they can’t get over) blocks good performance.  The obstacle could be a system problem, a lack of authority, a policy or procedure, a lack of resources…  Even other people can become obstacles to good performance.  Whatever the “hill” is, it’s out of the performer’s control.  Either you or someone else with the authority to deal with it must move it out of the way.

“Will” problems occur when a performer doesn’t want to do what you want them to do.  People are not motivated to perform in a certain way for a variety of reasons, but they almost always have to do with consequences.  Sometimes people are rewarded for doing the wrong things.  Sometimes they are punished for doing the right things.  Sometimes, it doesn’t matter one way or the other what they do, because no one notices.  And sometimes it may matter, but it doesn’t matter enough to the performer.  The solution for “will” problems is to make it matter.  Find consequences (both positive and corrective) that the performer cares about, and implement them.  If appropriate consequences are already in place, intensify them.

“Refill” problems occur when a performer does not have the ability to do the job or does not respond to increased consequences intended to improve “will” problems.  The solution is to “refill” the position with a candidate who does have the ability and the motivation to do the job.  However, avoid jumping to an early diagnosis in this area.  All other sources should be explored and addressed before coming to the conclusion that a performer is in the wrong job.

Feel better yet?  If not, take two and call me in the morning.


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Filed under leadership, management, performance

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