Hitting the Performance “Wall”? Push Through By Asking the Right Questions

At any given point, everyone you lead will face performance challenges.  There’s no way around it.  runnerwallEven if your team is primarily composed of experts/veterans who have been on the job for years, you’ll still need to help those employees after they hit the performance “wall” at one point or another. 
 In order to help your people work through performance challenges, you need to understand the potential causes.  The following are prime reasons that everyone – from your new hires, to even your most knowledgeable and talented individuals – will hit the wall sooner or later:

  • We live in a society of constant change.  Technology is a great example because it rapidly changes and affects our daily lives.  We find ourselves interacting with one-another in new ways and using new tools.
  • Businesses have to constantly adapt and evolve in order to beat the competition.  That means that the employees are the ones that are actually adapting, and more specifically, learning and doing something new continuously.
  • We are all human.  We have emotions that affect us inside the workplace and at home.  Personal issues with friends, family, pets, bills, or even issues in the workplace, all take a toll.

The second bullet above is one of the biggest reasons for performance challenges.  Give your people something new to do that they’ve never done before and you’re likely to see a few cases of hitting the wall.  
If my leader came to me and said “You know, Matt, you’re an expert in what you do.  I have something new for you to take on.  The company has decided that we’re going to build a robot and have you take charge of programming it to do our bidding.”  I know nothing about robotics!  I can guarantee that I’d hit the performance wall, especially without the proper training and support.
Ok, that example might be a little out there.  However, think about anytime your company or IT department decided to do an upgrade or even change a key piece of critical software that your employees use.  Is your company moving to Microsoft Windows 8, soon?  Windows 8 doesn’t have the “Start” menu anymore (at least not without a workaround).  Think about your longtime Windows users, all familiar with that key Start menu, no longer having access to it.  How badly do you think their performance will suffer as they struggle through learning to navigate Windows all over again?  
TMedicalo help your people through performance issues, you need to start by asking the right questions.  Just as a doctor diagnoses a sick patient, you need to diagnose your employees by thinking of the following questions:
 1. What is the specific goal or task? – This should always be the first question that comes to mind.  It doesn’t matter that an individual may be an expert in their field.  If they’re doing/learning something for the first time, that “expert” is really a novice.
2. Has this person demonstrated task knowledge and skills? – Based on the goal/task, has this individual shown (not just told you) that they have the skills to complete the goal/task?
3. Does this individual have transferable skills, and if so, how strong are those skills? – Let’s go back to my example of switching to Windows 8.  Your employees have used some version of Windows, previously, so they do have some transferable skills.  Those employees are better off than someone who has only been a Mac user, or better yet, someone who has never used a computer, previously. 
4. Is this person motivated, interested, and/or enthusiastic about the goal or task? – Does this individual actually want to learn how to do the goal/task?  Let me add that even if they don’t want to learn how to do this goal or task (example: they don’t have the capacity to take on something new; completing the task is monotonous; they just aren’t interested; etc…) there is a difference between “can’t” and “won’t”.
5. Is this person confident or self-assured in completing the goal or task? – Are the confident they can get the job done, or are they having a problem learning how to do the task and feel like they’re stuck?  This one can be tricky, because if it’s something I want to learn, I might have a false sense of confidence in the beginning where I say “Sure, I can learn this!  No problem!” – not realizing how difficult learning the task may be.
perscriptionFinding out the answers to these questions allows you, as a leader, to write the prescription.  The prescription needs to be a proper mixture of direction and support.  Just as the same as a medical prescription, if you don’t apply the correct mix of direction and support, your patient (your employee) may experience adverse reactions. 
Think about a time in your life where you weren’t given the correct prescription, such as being given too much direction from your leader.  You probably thought of it as being “micromanaged”.  How did that make you feel?  Did you feel more or less motivated by it?  How did it make you feel about your leader?
These key diagnosis questions are based on the Situational Leadership® II model.  There’s a lot more to this model than just performance challenges, so if you’re not familiar with the Situational Leadership® II concepts, be sure to click on the link to get a better sense of the positive impact that Situational Leadership® II can create.
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