Cultivating Performance
by Gloria Dunn

Can you turn poor performers into company assets, or should you simply fire them? Before you decide, take time to evaluate your management approach and the employee's capability. Then develop a plan that supports an employee with high potential, or redirects the employee to another employer.

Step One - Evaluate

Evaluate the employee and his job role by asking yourself the following questions:

  1. Is the job role clear? Does the employee understand the role? When the expectations of a position are not clearly defined, you've got a recipe for failure for both the employee and the company. When a shoe doesn't fit, you get blisters. When an employee doesn't fit, you get blistering performance.
  2. Have you told the employee your performance expectations? Often managers fail to communicate job expectations and performance standards. Without an understanding and agreement of successful outcomes and practices, the employee may proceed down the wrong path.
  3. Does the employee have the willingness to do the job? People have different levels of willingness to perform various tasks and activities. Willingness refers to the "I will" or the "I won't" factor in performance.
  4. Does the employee have the ability to do the job? A person's ability refers to an individual's level of competence or proficiency in performing the task, activity, or behavior required. Ability is often described as the "I can" or "I can't" factor in performance.
  5. Does the employee's behavioral style support his role and environment? We are born with characteristics that make up our behavioral styles. These traits influence our ability to perform certain tasks and sway how we interact with others. Since there are different personal styles, we can misinterpret people's intentions based on their behavior. For instance, someone who is naturally social, but not naturally detail oriented, could be assumed to be a poor performer if placed in the wrong job.
  6. Does the employee have a good relationship with you, her manager? A manager's skills can determine an employee's performance. The same employee using the same skills and behavioral style can flourish under one type of manager and wither under another. Factors that cause failure include personality conflicts, poor people skills, and lack of understanding of the role of a manager

Step Two - Plan

Now that you've assessed the factors that contribute to an employee's poor performance, you need to develop a strategy and action plan. Your goal is to turn a poor performer into a self-motivated, accomplished, powerful employee. Of course, if this is not possible, then the kindest gift you can give this employee is the freedom to find a more fitting job.

If the employee and job role are not a match, find a better fit for the employee within your organization. If there is none, then let the employee go. Also, if you have not previously told your employee their job expectations, then discuss them in a professional and tactful manner. Also, let the employee know that you will support him and monitor his growth.

You want employees who are both willing and able to do their job. When evaluating someone's willingness, look for specific things that a person says or does to indicate willingness or unwillingness. If an employee is unwilling, you need to discover the reason for the unwillingness and support the person in resolving it. If someone does not have the skills to do a job, training or mentoring can increase her ability.

Your proactive interaction with your staff is key to both their and your success. To improve the manager/employee relationship, use a behavioral style profile assessment tool, such as the Personal Profile System (DiSC), to understand yourself and those you manage. Also, have your staff take the profile. The knowledge gained from accurate assessments promotes better communication, minimizes conflicts, and helps develop good rapport. You will also gain insight into how to help employees become self-motivated.


If you decide that the employee can go from poor to powerful performance, then coach, monitor, and praise him. Develop a performance improvement plan together with the employee, and help him move toward your mutual goals. Then monitor his achievements, give continuous feedback, and praise his accomplishments.

An accurate role description, sound hiring practices, and a manager's ability to foster the strengths and talents of her staff leads to good job performance at the onset. But, if an employee is not teachable, coachable, or praiseworthy, it is time to say goodbye. By documenting coaching sessions, problems, and performance, you will have the paper trail that supports disengagement.

Gloria Dunn, president of Wiser Ways to Work, is an organizational behavior specialist, consultant, trainer, and speaker. Check out her free tipsheet: "5 Ways to Attract and Retain Top Talent," and sign up for her "10 Management Tips" series on Gloria can be reached at 415-459-4843 or e-mail:

Many more articles on performance management in The HR Refresher, Performance Improvement, Coaching, and Personal Development in The CEO Refresher Archives


Copyright 2002 by Gloria Dunn. All rights reserved.

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