When employers diagnose performance issues, they will typically encounter one (or more) of five reasons why employees miss the mark. Last week, in the first of a series, we discussed communicating objectives and expectations. Here, the second cause we'll address is roadblocks.
Roadblocks include policies, practices, tools and sometimes personal behaviors which keep employees from performing their work in the most productive fashion. The first step in removing these roadblocks is determining if:
- They are internal to the company.
- They are of the employee’s personal making.
Personal to the employee: Roadblocks that are personal to the employee, but cause issues with performance, may be addressed and removed only by the employee. Family concerns, financial problems, poor habits and other choices related to the employee’s lifestyle are all possible here.
While employers may be sympathetic, they should avoid becoming the employee’s counselor and instead keep their discussions focused on the employee’s performance and its impact on the organization.
Another option is a referral (if the company has one) to an EAP (employee assistance program). If the roadblock to performance is a health-related problem, employers should be aware of the possible legal implications for handling the situation; expert advice may be advisable. Expert advice may also be wise if performance issues lead to the possibility of termination, suspension, demotion or other forms of discipline.
Internal to the organization: Sometime the roadblocks which keep employees from being their most effective are internal. These may include policies, procedures or management practices that cause conflicts or a lack of critical resources. They may be outside factors such as vendors or customers.
Internal roadblocks and their solutions.
Policies, procedures or management practices. One organization with which we worked had a department that required its employees to complete their orders by the end of each business day. A second department had this same requirement, but needed the completed information from the first department to do so. By simply changing the cut-off time for the first department, we were able to end a long-time feud and change rivals into teammates.
Lack of critical resources. Several years ago, we worked with a local county agency that recognized that two of its administrative personnel were becoming less and less productive. When we interviewed the employees, we found that their jobs had slowly been changing from primarily manual work to jobs requiring a computer. The employees actually shared a computer, making it impossible for them to complete their daily tasks. The purchase of a second computer fixed the issue.
At another company, the HR department recognized an increasing trend in the number of second-shift employees clocking in late. When we investigated, we found a line of cars waiting for parking spaces. The company had grown so much that until the first shift left, second shift workers could not park. The company responded by clearing more ground for parking space -- issue solved!
Customer and vendor issues. Occasionally, vendor issues, or customers who are impossible to please, can get in the way of employee productivity. While client termination may be a drastic step, we sometimes rely on IT consultant Susan Ward who wrote about 10 ways to tell when it is time to fire a client.
We worked with a company that had one such customer. The customer complained so frequently that the manager finally agreed that it was in his organization’s and employees' best interest to “fire” the customer. When we did the analysis, we found that, due to the extra work, the company had made little profit on this client and was indeed better off economically in its action to stop serving him.
The ability to remove such roadblocks for your own employees is one of the most powerful tools a manager can wield. A company we interviewed for our book, Let Go to Grow, works hard to provide its employees with all the tools they want and need to perform their functions. Even when the cost of the tools is a stretch for the organization, this company does what it can.
However, such largesse requires accountability, too. The owners of the company we're describing hold their employees to high standards of productivity -- and they get it.
Obviously, not all roadblocks internal to any company are easy to spot and solve. However, talking and listening to employees, observing and walking around your organization, keeping in touch with vendors and customer issues are all actions you can take to identify and remove roadblocks to keep your company running smoothly and happily.