A good friend of mine who manages a large number of people was complaining the other day about a particular one of his direct reports with whom he was having an endless struggle.
He repeatedly seemed incapable of producing anything other than sloppy work in one particular area of his job whereas, according to my friend’s assessment, he was a stellar employee in all other aspects.
And my friend was beginning to experience a level of extreme frustration at his seeming inability to convince/explain/cajole/inspire/threaten this person to improve on his behavior.
He asked me a simple question. Did I have any ideas?
I am no expert but I believe there are only two reasons that cause people to underperform in the workplace.
The two reasons are really simple. 1. They can’t. 2. They won’t.
If a person does not perform at an expected level and the reason for their non-performance is a ‘can’t’ one, then we need to examine the reasons for ‘can’t’.
The first potential reason is seemingly apparent. The ‘can’t’, suggests that they do not possess the human capability necessary for performing the task. If this is the case it is wise to consider whether you have placed the wrong person in the wrong job.
Another possible reason for ‘can’t’ is perhaps because they have not received adequate or proper training or have not been provided with all the resources needed to achieve their task. In either of these two cases ownership of the ‘can’t’ lies with the management of the organization.
If, on the other hand, the reason for non-performance is simply because they just ‘wont’, then the cause is really simple; it is a lack of motivation.
If the determination is made that the reason for sub-par performance is a ‘can’t,’ then it becomes a function of determining the reasons behind the ‘can’t.’ If the person is completely incapable of learning and acquiring the skills necessary to be successful then the management needs to decide how best to deal with an employee who is incapable of providing expected deliverables.
If the reason for the ‘can’t’ belong in the category of ‘don’t know how to, not been given sufficient knowledge or training’ or, even worse, ‘don’t have the resources necessary to do the job properly’, then management needs to stand in the corner and think long and hard about what they have done.
On the other hand, if the conclusion is that this person is a ‘won’t’ employee it becomes necessary to examine the consequences that are in place regarding this employee’s performance.
Way, way back, in blog #23 “He’s an idiot and I helped create him,” we discussed the role that consequences play in all of our behavior. And we also talked regularly about how we only ever do what is important to us in the moment and how that importance is determined by whether something gives us pleasure or whether it assists us in avoiding pain.
My friend spent a few moments thinking about what I had just said all and concluded that the challenge he was facing with this employee was not due to a ‘can’t’ but to a clear case of ‘won’t,’ and we briefly discussed a strategy for him to employ.
A little later that day, after I had returned to my office, I spent some time reflecting over goals and objectives I had set out to accomplish in the past and had failed to accomplish.
I was hoping that, in each, case I would be able to determine that the cause of my failures over the years would all fit into the ‘can’t’ column. I really wanted to believe this because then I could conclude that the reason behind the ‘can’t’ was because I lacked the human ability necessary to achieve the desired results, and I could then set aside all responsibility and self-criticism, blame my parents for poor genes, and happily move on secure in the knowledge that I was in no way complicit in my own failures.
Sadly my in-depth investigation of my previous poor performances pointed out a truth that I didn’t really want to face. I discovered that I am enormously over-talented and pathetically under-motivated. (When I pointed this out to my loving and supportive wife, Gimalle, she only agreed with the second part of my findings).
In other words the only poor excuse I can offer up from my past failures, in the vast majority of instances, is that “I didn’t want it badly enough, I wasn’t motivated to endure the short term pain necessary to get to the long term pleasure.”
It wasn’t my lack of capability that sabotaged my success, it was my lack of ‘do–ability.’
And I’m sure, if we are all to be honest with ourselves, we would agree that I am not the only one so afflicted.
Till we read again.
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