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Performance Enhancement?- Diagnosing Performance Problems - Free Article

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Performance Management and Appraisal

Diagnosing Performance Problems 

Robert Bacal is the author of a number of books on performance management published by McGraw-Hill. For more information on his performance management books click here. If you are interested in additional help with performance appraisals, reviews, diagnosis of performance issues, and progressive discipline visit the Performance Management and Appraisal Resource Center.

One of the toughest tasks for any manager or supervisor is to determine  the cause of a performance problem.  Since decisions to remediate the  problem will depend on the diagnosis, accurate assessment is crucial.  In  this article we will outline a model of factors influencing employee performance, so that you are less likely to ignore a possible source of  performance deficit.  In future issues of the Public Sector Manager, we  will return to this topic in more detail.    

The Nature of Performance 

Work performance is influenced by a number of factors.  When  performance is excellent, it is a result of a number of circumstances that  work together to make this excellence possible.  So, stellar performance  requires that ALL relevant influences on behaviour are in place. 

Sadly, poor performance can result from a SINGLE factor or influence that  drastically reduces effectiveness.  Frequently, a performance problem that  is allowed to continue unchecked will expand as other influences turn from  positive to negative.   

A Seven Factor Model 

We can suggest seven factors that influence or determine the level of  performance.  These factors are multiplicative in nature.  For those of you  whose favorite subject in schools was NOT math, this means that  performance will be as strong as the weakest link in the chain of  performance determinants.  If there is a deficit in any one of these factors,  performance will suffer.   

Factor 1: Aptitude 

Aptitude refers to a person's native ability to perform the task or tasks.   Each of us has strengths and weaknesses that determine if we can learn or  perform a task.  Poor aptitude for a task could mean that the person could  never learn how to do it, even with all the supports in the world.   Assessing aptitude is very difficult.   

Factor 2: Skill Level 

Even the simplest responsibilities require skills.  Skills differ from  aptitudes in that they can be learned, up to the limits imposed by aptitude.   To assess whether a performance deficit is a result of lack of skill, ask the  questions, "If his/her life depended on it, could the person do the task?"   If the answer is no, then it could be a skill problem.   

Factor 3: Understanding of Task 

A person must understand the nature of the task, and what is expected.  If  this clear communication is lacking, no amount of skill or motivation will  bring about effective performance.  Performance management is the  common means for conveying understanding of the task.  The best way to  assess an employee's understanding is to ask questions within a coaching  environment.   

Factor 4: Choice to Expend Effort 

This, and the next factor are motivational factors.  If a person has the  aptitude, skills and understanding of the task required, it may be that there  are factors causing the person to "not make the effort".  These may be  personal or related to the work environment.  Assessing whether there is  a motivational problem is difficult, and can best be done by examining  other indicator behaviours (absenteeism, lack of participation in meetings,  or other factors that suggest a motivational problem.   

Factor 5:      Choice of Degree of EffortTo Expend 

Sometimes effort is not an on/off thing.  An employee may be putting in  a limited amount of effort and therefore producing inferior results.     

Factor 6: Choice To Persist 

Performance requires that effort be initiated and sustained over time.  This  motivational factor may result in projects started but never completed.  If  an employee is not persisting in tasks, it can indicate boredom, fear of  failure, or may relate to a lack of skills.  Careful, diplomatic discussion is  required to uncover if and why this may be occurring.   

Factor 7: Outside Factors 

Performance can be reduced due to factors beyond the control of the  individual.  The organization itself may be setting barriers to performance,  or uncooperative co-workers and managers may contribute.  Discussion  with the employee during performance management should include  reference to factors outside the control of the employee that impede  progress.  If these outside factors are allowed to continue,  unacknowledged, motivational levels will drop, complicating the issue and  creating a chronic under-performer.   


It is important that performance problems be addressed as soon as they  occur, and the above factors be examined to determine whether they are  contributing to the problem.  By working with the employee in a  cooperative way, it is possible to identify and remediate some of the  underlying causes of work performance problems. 

About Company

Bacal & Associates was founded in 1992. Since then Robert has trained thousands of employees to deal with angry, hostile, abusive and potentially violent customers. He has authored over 20 books on various subjects, many published by McGraw-Hill.


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