The Single Most Important Reason for Poor Work Performance

The Single Most Important Reason for Poor Work Performance

Are there people on your team who are under-performing? 

All leaders and manager have to deal with under-performing employees one time or another. There are many reasons as to why employees produce below what's expected from them. But is there one reason that's the root-cause of this particular problem?

I think there is. 

The leadership and management industry has produced a ton of literature on how to fix the issue of under-performing employees. But is there a way to make sure that such under-performance does not happen in the first place? 

I think there is.

Read on and decide for yourself if you agree or disagree. 

When I looked at the caller ID on the ringing phone, I knew it was something important.

It was a client who almost never called. Outside of our weekly coaching sessions, she preferred emails and texts. I checked my watch: 20 minutes before my next meeting. “I can do this,” I thought, and answered the call.

She plunged right into it. “Do you realize how many employees I have fired in my career?” she asked. I admitted that I didn’t have a clue. “16,” she said. “I would not admit this to anyone for the fear that they might think I am cold and heartless. I am not. Each and every time I had to let someone go, it was very, very painful.”

“You know what?” she said, with a tone of finality in her voice, “I am done. I am done with having to let people go. Isn’t there a way to stop this madness?”

It’s not unusual, I assured her. 

Many, if not most, presidents of growing and mid-size businesses face this challenge. They know that they have to let some people go. But they also find it agonizingly painful, not just because it’s an unpleasant experience at a personal level, but also because letting people go often carries a significant amount of risk to their businesses.

There Once Lived a Consultant…

One of the great American success stories was a Japanese success story - at first.

There once lived a consultant named Dr. W. Edwards Deming.

Dr. Deming proposed a very simple idea to the American manufacturers: The majority of defects in a finished product could be traced back to the beginning phases of its development.

During the customer’s requirements clarification, for example.

So the idea of factories making their products first and testing them later was flawed. The better thing to do, according to Dr. Deming, was to make sure that the defects don’t get introduced to the products in the first place.

It was a simple idea.

The health-care industry had talked about it for centuries. Preventing a disease is much more effective than having the disease and treating it later. Nothing new there.

But Dr. Deming’s idea appeared quite revolutionary to the American manufacturing industry. So revolutionary, in fact, that the American manufacturing industry did to Dr. Deming the only thing that’s worse than ridiculing him: They ignored him.

Agree or Disagree?: "Most of our employee problems could be traced back to the time we hired them." ​#PoorWorkPerformance #awayre

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Dr. Deming took his ideas of quality assurance to Japan where they were enthusiastically accepted. 

These ideas brought about a revolution in Japanese manufacturing.

Japanese products became synonymous with quality.

Honda motorcycles, reputed for dripping oil onto the showroom floors, slowly morphed into some of the best-selling-ever Japanese cars in the American market. Their electronic gadgets ruled the world markets for decades. Their “quality culture” became a benchmark for the rest of the world to aspire to.

Ultimately, a tiny nation with an acute shortage of land and natural resources cemented its status on the world stage as one of the top economic superpowers.

Dr. Deming was invited back to the American factories with the respect and adoration he deserved. Till his last days, into his 90’s, he imparted his wisdom to those who were willing to listen and ultimately helped bring about a “Quality Revolution” in American manufacturing.

What Would Dr. Deming Do About Poor Work Performance?: The Statistical Science of Proactive Hiring

Over the course of my career, as I have worked with over a hundred businesses in helping them hire the right employees, one thing has gradually become quite clear to me: Dr. Deming’s ideas about quality manufacturing apply equally well to the hiring processes used by most businesses.

The corollary of Dr. Deming’s basic idea, when applied to the hiring process, is this: Most of our employee problems could be traced back to the time we hired them.

In other words, most of our employee problems stem from the fact that we had hired the wrong employee in the first place.

So why is it that we hire wrong employees in the first place?

The Single Most Important Reason for Poor Work Performance 1

​Are you hiring people for who they truly are?

To Be/Do/Have or Not to Be/Do/Have?

The single most important reason why we end up hiring wrong employees is this: We pay too much attention to “Do” and “Have” and little attention to “Be.”

Let me explain.

You can see a person in a job from three angles: 1) What that person has (Have), 2) What that person does (Do), and 3) what that person is (Be).

Most hiring practices revolve around the candidates’ experience, skills and educational accomplishments (Have) and what they are expected to carry out on a day-to-day basis (Do). But seldom do we look at what the candidate is naturally inclined to do: their talents, gifts, and tendencies. In other words, what they are “hard-wired” to do.

For the reasons unknown, it’s a bit of a touchy subject for many business owners I talk to.

They would accept that if they were coaching a tennis team, they would not dare hire a tennis player who is not gifted in playing tennis.

If they were putting together a musical production, they would not work with a singer who can’t carry a tune or a dancer who can’t move with the rhythm.

If they were a professional basketball coach, they would not bet their coaching career on a basketball player who can’t dribble the ball, much less get it through the hoop.

If they were conducting an orchestra, they would not work with a violinist who breaks out in hives when she sees a violin.

But they will happily pay big bucks to someone who looks good on the resume without having a clue as to whether they are a natural fit for the job they will be doing day in and day out.

Why We Don’t See People’s Hard-wired-ness

A part of the reason why we don’t look at “Be” when we hire people is that we really have no training in doing it - or in doing it well. Except for a gifted few who seem to have the knack for always hiring the right talent, most of us really don’t know how to look for people’s hard-wired-ness for a given job.

The whole industry of personality tests was created for this specific reason: To help managers identify people’s inherent tendencies. But turns out that, in and of themselves, most personality tests are not any real help in choosing people.

The biggest problem with personality tests is that they are computerized tests that pretend to take away human intelligence from the process of choosing the right employee.

But, ultimately, the best judgment is made not by computers but by people. 

Because we have viewed people as “things,” we have always tried to do away with those aspects of us that make us human. ​#awayre ​#PoorWorkPerformance

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A better way to use personality tests is to get to the most basic of the fundamentals of personality testing and use those fundamentals in helping us make the right hiring decisions.

Back to the Basics of “Be"

The easiest way to include the “Be” in a job description is to go to the very basics of the modern “personality testing” but remove all the fluff. The ancient knowledge that started out with the Chinese system of I-Ching provided three basic scales of human tendencies. These three scales form the basis of most of the modern personality assessments such as DISC, Myers-Briggs, and Enneagram.

These three scales define how we interact with our world and make decisions and judgments about life and living.

These three basic scales are:

1) Intuitive vs Sensing

​On one end of this spectrum are people who view the world from their “internal compass,” sometimes referred to as intuition. On the other end of the spectrum are those who interact with the world around them through their five senses: sight, sound, touch, smell and taste. Intuitive people seem confident and self-assured. Sensing people often are analytical and reflective.

2) Thinking vs Feeling

On one end of the spectrum are those who think through life. They seem preoccupied with things, objects, data and other such “dead” things. (No wonder they often seem “cold” to the other extreme of the spectrum.) On the other extreme are those whose world is made of feelings. They seem preoccupied with people, feelings, and relationships.

3) Introvert vs Extrovert

Introverts are those who find their life energy through their own internal resource. They don’t need an external source of energy to move through life. In fact, they often perceive their internal source of energy as a finite quantity and protect it from others. That’s why, they seem internally tuned and, in extreme cases, aloof and dismissive. Extroverts are those who seek energy from external sources, both from other people and other things. They are more expressive and up-front with others than introverts.

A Simple Template for a “Be”-centered Job Description

With that as a background, the rest becomes simple. Think of a position you are trying to fill in your organization and answer the following questions as best as you can:

  1. Does this position require more of an intuitive person or a sensing person?

  2. Does this position mostly require the person to behave based on their feelings or their thoughts?

  3. Does this position require the person to be able to energize more through their interaction with other people or by being to themselves?

As you answer these questions, you will begin to get some clarity about what kind of person will most likely succeed in the position.

You can include these qualities in your job description, describing them in everyday words and make that description a part of the job posting. You can also develop your interview process around a series of questions to “test” the candidates on whether they have these qualities. One of the best things you can do is give these questions to each of the interviewers who will interview the candidate. After each interview, you can get together and compare your notes on whether these qualities exist in the candidate.

Once you develop the basic skills to look for hard-wired-ness in candidates and employees, you can build on them and develop finer skills and observations. As you become more confident in thinking in these terms, personality tests take on a whole new meaning. Now they are a tool to help you make the decisions, not making the decisions for you.

In Conclusion: How to Fix The Single Most Important Reason for Poor Work Performance

  1. The single most important reason for poor work performance is that we hire the wrong person for the job and then expect that person to change his or her behavior.
  2. It's easier to prevent a problem from happening in the first place than to create a problem and then try to fix it. 

  3. There is a also a general misunderstanding about what makes a good hire. Most managers believe that the skills and the experience that the employee has are more important than their natural inclination towards a specific type of profession. So they end up hiring people who can't change their behaviors or attitudes - grow - in the work that they hired for. 

  4. The right way to hire in the first place is to give as much attention - if not more - to a person's natural tendencies for specific types of work. 

  5. This can easily be done by paying attention to three "scales" that define a person's natural inclination or personality types. Once we hire people around the specific personality types necessary for a position, the rest - the experience and the skills - can become less important. If there are gaps in the skills and the experience levels, they can be easily trained for. 

  6. In the end, it's important to remember that it's easier to train for or "fix" skills and experience than what it takes to change a person's natural inclination. 
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