What's Blocking Your Employees' Performance?

“I missed the part where that’s my problem.”

The Spiderman movies are actually pretty good. Whenever there’s a major problem, Spiderman zooms in and fixes everything.

But that’s not reality. As I said last week, when someone else is exhibiting a performance problem, it can always be traced to one of six causes. And whether you like it or not, their lack of cooperation is partly your problem … if you want to see a change in their performance.

I explained the first three causes of poor performance last week. Let’s look at the other three causes and what you can do about them.

=> 4. The other person has no motivation to excel.

In fact, most people will keep on doing what they’re doing. They’re getting by, so they have no particular motivation to do anything more or anything different.

A sharp checkout clerk blew through that barrier when my wife Chris was grocery shopping at Publix. The clerk asked my wife if she knew about their “extreme product of the week.” My wife said “no.”

The clerk said they were featuring 10 boxes of macaroni and cheese for only $1.00. Chris responded that she only bought that when our grandkids were coming to visit.

The astute clerk asked, “When are they coming?” Chris had to admit they were coming soon so she’d take $2.00 worth.

Before the clerk mentioned her “extreme product of the week,” before she asked the “when question,” my wife had given no thought whatsoever to buying macaroni and cheese. But now she was motivated.

If you suspect that a lack of motivation may be causing someone’s lack of cooperation, ask yourself two questions. **Is the morale low in your organization due to frequent changes in the organization’s structure? **Is it easy for people to do less than their very best because the incentives to improve aren’t worth the effort?

One way to “motivate” people to do what you want is to simply start doing it and then ask if it’s okay. Joel Whalen talks about the technique in his book, “I See What You Mean.”

When Joel was selling water conditioners as a door-to-door salesman, his appointments typically took place in the evenings so both the husband and wife could be present. When Joel arrived, the TV would usually be on, and he knew it would be a distraction to his sales pitch. He also knew if he asked if he could turn off the TV, the husband would turn to his wife and say, “No. Just leave it on.”

But if Joel moved toward the TV as if to turn it off and said simultaneously, “Do you mind if I turn the TV off?”, they would always say, “Sure. No problem.” The lesson was clear. You have to be in motion … already doing what you want … when you ask permission. People will rarely stop you or resent you for doing so. They’re “motivated” to go along with you.

Likewise, if you say to your meeting chairperson, “Do you mind if I step out for a minute?” while you head for the door, she’ll probably answer, “Of course not. Go right ahead.” She’ll be “motivated” to give you what you want, and your request will be honored.

=> 5. The other person is facing some kind of performance barrier.

Sometimes the other person really wants to cooperate, but there’s something in the work environment that makes it difficult or impossible for the other person to perform. The other person may not have the necessary tools or enough time to complete the job, for example. Or your task assignment may conflict with other practices. You’ve got to know what’s getting in the way; so you’ve got to ask.

Other times, a difference in priorities can serve as a performance barrier. I see it happen in personal relationships all the time. For instance, a woman may be brushing her hair over the sink, leaving long strands of hair behind. The husband says, “You’re going to clog the drain. Be sure to clean out the sink.”

Unfortunately, she gets busy with something else and forgets about the hair in the sink. The husband keeps nagging about it over the upcoming weeks, thinking all he has to do is mention it and she’ll do it. He forgets that the things he nags about are HIS priorities, not hers.

To get the cooperation you need, you’ve got to motivate the other person to share your concerns and priorities, and nagging is a very poor motivator. You’ve got to learn to make requests that INVITE change rather than DEMAND it.

Finally, the last major barrier to full performance and willing cooperation is…

=> 6. The other person has a personal problem that is distracting him from peak performance.

As you well know, a non-work problem can affect on-the-job performance. It may be a family member who is in crisis, or it may be a health issue that has become more troublesome.

Such was the case with one man called up for jury duty. As Michael Kernan reported in the “Washington Post,” a judge at a meeting of the Federal Bar Association listened as a juror asked to be excused because his wife was going to conceive a baby.

“You mean deliver it,” said the judge.

“No,” insisted the juror, “she was going to conceive it.”

The judge excused the man, saying, “I don’t know what you mean, but in any event I think you ought to be there.”

Sometimes as a manager, team leader, or even as a coworker, you need to understand the other person’s personal problem. You have to ask the right questions… and listen to her responses… BEFORE you can expect her to move beyond her problem and get back to the performance you’d like to see.

If you’re in the customer service business, you know that already. You can’t always move directly on to solving the customer’s problem. You have to listen to an upset customer’s feelings first. The customer has to know that you understand his feelings and care about his problem BEFORE the two of you can work together.

Such was the case with a farmer, his horse, dog, and wagon full of grain as they were traveling along the highway. They were struck head on by a car, giving the farmer severe and permanent injuries.

When the case came to court, the lawyer defending the man driving the car asked the farmer, “Isn’t it true that immediately after the accident a passer-by came over to you and asked how you felt?”

“Yes, I remember that,” replied the farmer.

“And didn’t you tell him that you never felt better in your life?” asked the lawyer.

The farmer said, “I guess I did.” And the defense lawyer said, “No further questions.”

On cross examination, the farmer’s attorney asked, “Will you please tell the jury the circumstances in which you made that response?”

“Yes,” the farmer said. “Immediately after the accident, my horse had two broken legs and was neighing and kicking. The passerby who came along was the deputy sheriff. He put his revolver to my horse’s ear and shot him dead. Then he went over to my dog who had a broken back and was yelping. He put his gun to my dog’s ear and shot him dead. Finally he came over to me and asked, ‘How do you feel?’ I said I never felt better in my life.”

Until the lawyers and the jurors understood the farmer’s personal problem, until they understood his fear, they wouldn’t be able to find the correct solution. And the same goes for your team members.

You can’t expect to correct or confront what you do not understand. So the next time you see a team member giving less than full cooperation, ask yourself what’s blocking his/her performance? Could it be that he has no motivation to excel? Might she be facing a performance barrier? Or does he have a personal problem that is getting in the way?

Action:  As a team, brainstorm a list of performance barriers that are evident in your workplace. List all those things that are stopping you and your coworkers from doing their very best.  Then pick one of the more challenging performance barriers and together agree on three things you will do to eliminate or minimize that particular barrier.