system failure

When employees perform below expectations, chances are it’s not a training issue. Often, employees fail because of the systems that are supposed to support them.

Researchers tell us that when employees who know how to perform the dutiesof their jobs aren’t performing them, lack of training is rarely the cause.

Job-related training salespeople say otherwise, of course. After all, their industry harvest for direct training costs now stands at $60 billion—and adding indirect costs bring the overall costs to more than $200 billion. And studies show most employees don’t apply 90% of the information they receive from training courses once they return to work.

Poor employee performance occurs under three conditions:

1. The physical and psychological systems that support employee performance fail (bad planning);

2. The employee is unsuitable for the job (bad hire); and/or

3. The employee doesn’t have the skills or know how to perform the work (poor or inadequate training).

Of these three, “systems failures” are the most common cause of poor performance. Following are some examples of employee systems failures, followed by a discussion of appropriate remedies.

1. Social system breakdown: The social environment in the workplace often creates performance barriers (i.e., employers often don’t link employees’ work to the success of the company, withhold good and timely feedback, ignore how work assignments affect employees or just plain don’t communicate).

2. Environmental system breakdown: The physical environment contains performance obstacles (i.e., job aids are missing or documentation sources are poorly designed, inaccessible or don’t exist).

3. Psychological system breakdown: The psychological environment fails to defineperformance expectations and give employees the necessary authority to do their jobs, and doing the job correctly is punished or ignored.

Big trouble
The bad news is that unless all three of these systems are functioning well,your business could be in big trouble. The good news is that even if you’rein that kind of trouble now, you can reverse your fortune if you’re willingto identify the problem’s source(s) and work to change it.

Ask yourself if you could do what you want your employeeto do in the time you’ve allowed for completing a task. If the answer is “no,”change the task, the time frame or both. And when you assign new projects, makeyourself
accessible as possible.

Following are five ways to avoid—and correct—some common systems failures:

  • Set clear goals and communicate them clearly. Never assume that becauseyou know what needs to be done that your employees know it, too. Knowing what’son your mind isn’t a part of the job description—unless the job is mind reading.Explain the link between the work employees are asked to do and the company’sgoals. Employees who feel needed are much more likely to stay than those whodon’t.
  • Mentor and monitor, especially when learning new skills is involved. Everyoneneeds a mentor, someone to turn to for help in learning a new skill. Justremember that mentoring doesn’t mean micromanaging. No one can work well whenanother person constantly hovers. Be present to demonstrate and answer questionswhile an employee is learning a task, then back off for a while before checkingin with the employee again.
  • Be sure that tasks and time frames for completed work are reasonable. Askyourself if you could do what you want your employee to do in the time you’veallowed for completing the task. If the answer is “no,” change the task, thetime frame or both. When you assign new projects, make yourself as accessibleas possible in case employees have questions.
  • Recognize and reward positive employee behaviors. The worst kind of recognitionisn’t criticism; it’s no recognition at all. When you see improved performance,say so. Even when you don’t, saying, “Thanks for coming in today” can makepeople feel good about themselves. And when people feel good about themselves,they are more likely to feel good about their jobs— and their boss.
  • Walk your talk 100% of the time. Don’t make a promise unless you’re certainyou can keep it. Don’t say, “My door is always open,” then make yourself unavailablewhen employees need to talk with you. Sending mixed messages is tacky andcheap. Receiving them can drive people nuts—and out the door to another employer.

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