There are two instances when an employee’s performance is unsatisfactory:
1. When his demonstrated or potential ability is not enough to do the job.
2. When his actual performance falls below his ability to do the job.
There is little a manager can do in the first case except to avoid giving assignments beyond the individual’s capability.
But in the second case–when there is a noticeable gap between what an employee does do and could do–then the manager must analyze the situation and find out the reasons.
To do that intelligently, he or she needs to know the answers to a number of questions before taking corrective action.
“- Why does the gap exist? Realistically, it is impossible for anyone to work at 100 percent of capacity 100 percent of the time. Individuals have an optimum pace that is best for them. This varies from individual to individual, and you need to know what you can expect from each person.
A small gap between an employee’s performance and potential is not a major concern. The gap that needs close scrutiny is the one that exceeds reasonable expectations for that individual. When such a gap exists, you need to know why.
“- When did it start? If you can determine when the gap became unreasonable, you will be in a better position to analyze it. There may be mitigating circumstances to take into consideration. A new hire, for example, may need some seasoning, or advancing age may be a factor. Between these extremes, however, are innumerable starting points for a letdown in performance. The specific starting time may hold the key to the solution to the problem.
“- How long has it existed? Correcting bad habits is not easy, especially if the habits are of long standing. From a remedial point of view, it’s better if the gap in an employee’s performance has not been allowed to exist too long. Early detection is a big help. Furthermore, if an employee realizes that he is performing below par, but feels that you are condoning the behavior, he will not be so responsive to your suggestions for improvement. If a standard is lowered, knowingly or unknowingly, and is permitted to operate at that level for some time, it may become the accepted standard.
“- How big is it? A gap that has been allowed to grow and grow has gotten out of control. It may be difficult now for the employee to regain the level of his true ability, even if you point out that what he is doing must improve. It’s important to know just what you can expect of each person, and not to allow a gap to grow.
“- Is it getting larger or smaller? It’s also important to know if the gap is expanding or contracting. Is this a steady process in the right (or wrong) direction? What is the likelihood of complete recovery or ultimate failure?
“- What is its effect on the group? Frequently, a group will carry a substandard performer. This is especially true if the employee is well liked. However, when the individual’s inadequate performance hurts them, or if he is unpopular, the group may resent him. If a group gives up on an incompetent associate, it’s clear that you, the manager, have been overly tolerant-that you have allowed your standards to slip.
“- Is the employee aware? Have you called it to his attention? Could he, otherwise, assume that he was doing his fair share? The problem could be a lack of communication.
With the help of your answers to these questions, you should be able to create a ratio between achievement and ability that helps you give individual consideration to individual employees. And that’s the way to bring out the best in people.
The more the numerator (achievement) approaches the denominator (ability), the closer a person’s performance approaches his or her potential; and as one potential level is attained, the horizon of a new one often appears.
This is significant in all walks of life because, more than ever, our society needs people who settle for nothing less than giving their best.