Why are your poor performers poor performers?

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Garry Adams, talent business leader at Mercer, added that required skills and capabilities change, so sometimes people may initially have what’s required to succeed, however over time if their skill development does not keep pace with the change their performance may suffer. This is particularly true when changing market demands and competitive pressures mean business success is dependent on enhanced or new capabilities. “While some employees will readily adapt to the new requirements others may struggle and potentially those who were once considered good or solid performers may over time move into the underperformer category,” Adams said.

In other situations, poor performance may have little to do with the skills and expertise required to do the job, but instead be more related to the attitude and mindset possessed by the employee.  Employee disengagement can strongly contribute to a slide into poor performance, where at best employees may set aside discretionary efforts and additional contributions and at worst passively or even actively undermine an organization’s efforts and initiatives. “While the attitude and mindset of most employees can be improved there is typically a small percentage of employees where fundamentally very little if anything can be done,” Adams noted.

Finally, Adams suggested some organizations can be ‘blind’ to true poor performance, in part, because the organization’s goal and target setting processes have broken down or because the organization accepts the objective measures of performance on face value alone or because the manager has hired people who are more like themselves. “This last issue often masks less obvious contributors to poor performance such as the clashing of egos and styles or a lack of diversity of thought and opinion,” he said. 

However, the leaders of the business – including direct managers – can play a key role. A leader has several key accountabilities, Dentesano noted, all of which can enhance performance. They need to tell employees what the job is so that person can be clear on the role and accountabilities; they need to tell the employee how they are tracking – i.e. feedback on performance; and they need to help the employee understand the organization’s future and assist in the employee understanding their own future and how they can grow and develop.


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