6/1/2002 | 6 MINUTE READ

When Performance Doesn't Match Potential

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There are two instances when an employee's performance is unsatisfactory:1.


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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% of capacity 100% 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 the 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.


Industrial Espionage Cost$

As business competitiveness has come to depend more and more on R&D and other proprietary information, the value of such information has gone up and up. One costly consequence of this fact has been the commensurate rise in industrial espionage.

Your company undoubtedly has such information, some of which you may be privy to.

If you work with such confidential data, take some simple precautions and save yourself a possible king-sized headache:

1. Don't leave confidential information on your desk when you are absent from your office—even for a short time.

2. Make sure all such information is locked away, out of sight, at the end of the day.

3. If your firm provides special disposal bins for confidential information, use them. If not, shred or otherwise destroy before throwing away any confidential material.

4. When traveling, be careful about discussing business with strangers. The friendliest person can actually be an "unfriendly."

5. If you are traveling with a colleague, watch your conversation in public. Voices travel.

6. Be careful about doodling in public areas. Even an isolated fact or figure could find its way into the wrong hands.

7. Have confidential material in your hotel room? Consider checking it with the front desk, where you can pick it up when you need it.


Roll with the Changes

A sudden load of unexpected work, a company reorganization, a new competitive product, the departure of a key executive—these are only a few of the events that can put road-blocks in the way of your getting your work done faster. It isn't always easy to roll with the punch of an unanticipated change.

However, no matter how serious or complicated a new situation may appear, it's pointless to press the panic button. A calm appraisal of the new circumstances is the first requirement.

After the initial shock of unforeseen change is over, stop fretting about it.

Then what? Several courses of action are open to you.

Exploit the new situation to your advantage, if possible. New facts, new faces, new channels of administration sometimes bring unexpected opportunities with them. It's a good idea to canvass the new situation for promising possibilities. A new competitive product, for example, can spur you to improve your own product. A sudden flow of unexpected work is sometimes a blessing in disguise. It may force you to delegate some of the tasks you are doing yourself—a step you were reluctant to take before.

Proceed with your original plan. Most plans are made up of a series of steps. These do not always need to be carried out in a rigidly predetermined sequence. Look over your plan when new circumstances arise. It's likely that you will be able to proceed with some of the steps or by making some slight changes in deadlines, you can often break the impasse.

Use the new circumstances as the basis for resubmitting the plan. Sometimes, a roadblock is an illusion. You may think the new situation spells trouble for your program while in reality it may have produced a chance for a second look at your idea.

Try rewriting your plan in the light of the new circumstances. The new situation may suggest new illustrations. Try a new title or a rewording of the introduction. Try stressing some aspect of your idea that is especially well adapted to the new situation. These kinds of changes—not affecting the heart of the plan—will give it a fresh start.

When Was the Last Time You…

  • Actively sought a new responsibility?
  • Added to your job skills or knowledge?
  • Sat down for some serious self-examination, evaluating your own performance, identifying weaknesses, setting achievement goals?
  • Used humor effectively in your work relationships?
  • Outflanked a stubborn problem with a completely fresh approach?
  • Reached across departmental or functional lines to pick the brains of others in your company?
  • Read a book outside your specialty?
  • Originated a new project that had substantial value for your department or company?
  • Received praise from your boss?
  • Thanked your people for their efforts?