Why your employees aren’t performing & what you can do about it
by Kate Zabriskie
May 30, 2017

He does the bare minimum. It’s extremely difficult to have him on your team. The guy is a real energy drain. Sound familiar? At any given moment, there are legions of employees busy “working,” but not doing the work their managers expect them to do, or doing their work in ways that hurt morale and productivity. Perhaps a few of those frustrating employees have a professional death wish, but most don’t. In all likelihood, they are as frustrated by their performance as you are. The onus is on you, the owner or manager, to identify and implement a solution to this problem. First, you must come to terms with the five core reasons some members of your team aren’t performing to your standard.

1. They simply cannot.

If you expect people to do something they cannot do, don’t be surprised when they fail. For example, if the receptionist is supposed to greet guests, answer the phone, order office supplies, clean the kitchen and cure infectious diseases all by himself/herself, is there any wonder he/she can’t get it done? Take a hard look at what you are asking your team members to accomplish each day. If some of them are not meeting your expectations, be sure that those expectations are reasonable. Assigning tasks to people who, for whatever reason, can’t complete them to your standards means you have brought your situation upon yourself. Change the person you task, or change the tasks.

2. They don’t know how.

Too often, people are thrown into a job with little or no training. They learn on the job, bring what they knew from their last job or teach themselves. In other words, they wing it, and most of the time, it shows. If you are holding people accountable for performing tasks for which they have had no training, you will frustrate employees and hurt morale. Train people often on systems, processes and desired behaviors. Good organizations teach for the future, but also know how to learn from mistakes. Spend some time thinking about what needs to be completed and in what way. For example, if you expect an employee to answer the phone a certain way, you should provide a script: “Good morning, Fitzsimmons and Patrick, this is the receptionist speaking. How may I help you?”

3. They don’t know they aren’t doing it.

People are not telepathic. When you fail to make your expectations clear and when you fail either to correct substandard performance or praise good performance, you have no cause to complain. Set clear expectations and provide regular feedback. If an employee’s unsatisfactory performance is chronic, in spite of training, managerial direction and on-the-spot correction or praise, it is time to schedule a one-on-one meeting to review goals and expectations. Employees should know where they stand within an organization. A failure to tell people when sustained job performance is unsatisfactory is cruel. A failure to document the meeting is derelict. Your direct reports deserve better.

4. They don’t think it is important.

Sometimes people know the rules, and they ignore them because they don’t think the rules are essential. How could someone reach that conclusion? If managers don’t model desired behaviors, reward people for demonstrating those actions and coach their team members to preclude deficiencies, they are sending the wrong message. Park in a spot reserved for visitors a couple of times. How long do you think it will take others to start doing the same thing? Lead by example. Next, recognize and reward what you want to see, and address any shortcomings on the spot. This doesn’t mean thanking people for doing things they should be doing; rather, it means having standards and sticking to them. If you have talked to the intern about observing the dress code and the next day she shows up looking terrific, acknowledge her effort.

5. They don’t want to.

On rare occasions, you may encounter someone who is capable, trained and operating in a learning environment, but still fails to meet expectations, despite repeated coaching and counseling. Document, document, document. There are times when employees are simply not a good fit for a job, and you need to either move them somewhere else in the organization or out of the organization altogether. Be kind, firm and quick to act. The better your documentation, the easier the process will proceed.

Nobody ever said managing people was easy. It requires time, thoughtful planning, hard work and moral courage. That said, the payoffs can be huge for the employee, the organization and for you.