Whose fault poor performance?

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Whose fault poor performance?When an employee is not performing, it’s natural for managers to believe it’s the employee’s fault. If they don’t improve, then dismissal’s the only solution.

But is that true? Whose fault is it when an employee fails to perform? And is dismissal the only satisfactory outcome?

To answer, we need to understand on what performance depends. Firstly, we need to consider the employee. They perform if they have the required intelligence, personality and competencies and if they are motivated. Secondly, we must consider the environment in which they work. They’ll perform if they have the right tools and enabling systems of work.

Systems of Work

So performance depends, on the one hand on employee characteristics, and on the other, characteristics associated with the work and management.

At TimelessTime we’re forever discussing employee characteristics in blogs and articles, so let’s take a different tack this time. Performance depends in part on the work and work environment. These are substantially under management’s control, so what can management do to ensure employee performance? And by the same token, if performance is below par, what can management do to correct this?

One significant determinant of performance is the systems of work.

These can be understood by looking at extremes.

Artists and Production Operatives

An artist has a white sheet of canvas. There is no ‘system of production’. No one can tell her what to put on that. It’s determined by her creativity. But conversely, she’s working for herself. She’s only satisfying her own creativity. Doubtless someone will like it, and she’ll sell it, but often, she’ll wait a while to find a buyer.

Production operatives manufacturing products, on the other hand, work to a rigid work instruction to make the same part again and again. The system of production controls the work. Quality is assured and with that, customer satisfaction.

Reality for most jobs is somewhere in the middle. Some have greater creativity. Others are controlled. Either way, someone must control customer satisfaction – whatever that means for the goods and services that are produced.

Take a scenario where a firm is contracted to develop software applications for customers. The app has a specification that sets out the customer requirement and without which it would be difficult to tell the cost, and hence the selling price of the device. How does management tell when the app developer meets the customer requirement? How does management tell when the app developer has ‘performed’ before the app is delivered?

Let’s consider what stops performance.

Problems and Mistakes

Problems occur in doing the work when the employee makes a mistake. As the saying goes ‘to err is human’. Translated, ‘everyone makes mistakes’. Management requires that there is a specification, and that employees follow that specification and don’t make mistakes. To avoid mistakes and ensure conformity with requirements, management installs systems of production.

The essence of performance, and in proving performance, is proof of conformity with customer requirements. If there is no proof of conformity within the firm, there can be no belief that the customer will ultimately be satisfied. There can be no proof that a mistake has not happened.

An artist has no proof of conformity. A production operative has absolute proof of conformity.

Proof of Conformity

So systems of production within the firm must embrace proof of conformity. Something must confirm that the employee making the goods or carrying out the service has met the customer requirement.

So now to practicalities. How can management tell if an employee working on a software app has performed?

Management doesn’t want the rigidity of the production operative, placing each component exactly according to the work instruction. Conversely, management doesn’t want the airy world of the artist where anything goes. Creativity is important, but so is doing what the customer wants.

The answer lies in those systems of production. In a software firm, conformity and performance might be determined by setting out the customer requirement in a statement of work. Then before work is delivered, the employee’s peer worker is asked to review the work. Conformity is assessed and mistakes trapped.

In a production operative’s world of old, the work had to get through an inspector at the end of the production line. In today’s production environment, production operatives check one another’s work.

Assessing Performance

Whatever system of production is in place, it must assess each employee’s performance. A lawyer must have their work checked – after all the prospect of a mistake might be disastrous. A fireman follows standard operating procedures, but each fireman checks another’s work and decisions. And a consultant has his work checked by a colleague against the original method statement and statement of work. One way or other someone must assess everyone’s work.

Any employee who gets things wrong finds out by using this peer review system.

Employees make mistakes. They fail to comply. But management hopes that very quickly each employee learns. The key thing is that the systems of production feed back non-conformities and mistakes to the employee. If there’s no feedback, there’s no learning. If there’s no feedback, there can be no assessment of conformity. If there’s no feedback, no one ever knows if that employee performs – until the customer calls to complain.

So management tells when an employee fails to perform when their work continually fails to conform to requirements, when they continually make mistakes and when they fail to learn.

A system of production is essential in every firm.

Whose fault poor performance?

Firms can’t be like the artist. If there’s no system of production, there’s no means of assessing employees’ performance. If employees rely only on their training to assess if they did well, only the customer can tell conformity – and then it’s to late.

So what’s your system of production? Have you a means by which all work leaving your firm is assessed? If not, how can you measure performance? And how therefore can you censure an employee for non-performance?

Before you assume it’s the employee’s fault, be sure that there’s a system of feedback, causing employees to learn.

Look first to systems of production before looking to dismiss.

Is it always the employee’s fault?

Employers find that from time to time an employee’s performance falls short.

Sure, often it’s the employee, and it will be right to dismiss.

But at other times, it will be the fault of the business systems in the firm – or rather the lack of business systems.

If there’s no system, there’s potentially no means to control performance. And there’s no means of learning and improvement.

So don’t naturally assume it’s always the employee’s fault. Always look at home first.

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