Three Ways to Get Employee Performance In Check 

Your employees are underperforming for reasons different than you might think.  

Sharply at 9 AM, employees begin a synchronized routine—power up computer, click email icon to open overstuffed inbox, shuffle to morning meetings. Yet, deadlines aren’t met and, when work is finally completed, it fails to meet managerial standards.  

So how do leaders (that’s you) get to the root cause of this common performance issue? From your vantage point, employees know what is expected of them, they have the resources and autonomy to complete their jobs well, and they receive quality feedback on their performance. Maybe, it’s a training problem. 

Yes, you could save the day by declaring, “let’s train our staff!” Interesting idea. And if lack of knowledge caused the performance discrepancy then you’d be the company hero. But what happens if the problem isn’t solved by simply filling the brains of employees with more knowledge? For starters, your credibility as a leader could suffer, which is counterproductive to that hero vibe. And, the problem still isn’t solved. 

To demystify performance decline, start by clearly outlining the desired measurable and objective behavior. It might be something like, “the leadership team will turn in reports on each assigned due date by 4 PM, for 4 consecutive months”. Next, measurably define how staff are currently performing in regards to their expectations. Clarity is KEY! When employees fail to meet standards due to confusion or unclear expectations, it brings about harmful stress-related behaviors in well-intended leaders, like emotionally labeling colleagues as lazy or unmotivated. This attributes the performance issue solely to the employee’s personal traits and not to other variables that can be assessed for and improved, like training, comprehension or resources. These types of leadership behaviors detract from solving the performance discrepancy and cause rifts between leaders and the employees critical to carrying out the company mission. 

The solution may be as simple as organizing resources and information, so your team finds what they need quickly to complete reports on time. According to Jeff Schwartz et al. (2014), 72 percent of employees cannot readily find needed information within their company’s system. Hours of training would not solve this problem. Additionally, the increased workloads for those responsible for training may result in increased stress-related behaviors.  

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states workloads already account for 46 percent of all workplace stress incidents, so how do you improve performance that is a core part of business without increasing stress behaviors in your colleagues? First ensure leadership expectations are reasonable, then try these few fast remedies, from Robert Mager’s Analyzing Performance Problems book, to increase desired performance.  

  1. Are job expectations and responsibilities clearly outlined? Do they know what is expected of them? Are they written somewhere for staff to easily and quickly reference? 

  2. Are there obstacles in the way to achieving the desired performance? For instance, are back-to-back meetings scheduled near report due dates? A lack of time to complete the task could serve as simple schedule adjustment. No training. Minimal time and resources required. 

  3. Do staff receive consistent, specific feedback on performance with routine follow-ups? Further, are specific and measurable goals and objectives set for staff? 

If these remedies fail to improve desired results, then a more thorough analysis of staff performance can be done with an organizational behavior management consultant to examine hard-to-identify contingencies and consequences maintaining performance decline and other undesirable behaviors. 

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Uncovering performance discrepancies can be difficult, but keep calm (don’t label behaviors) and analyze the situation. Avoid becoming confused by performance decline by troubleshooting with these basic steps and a positive attitude that seeks to find impactful solutions. Staying focused on examining root causes of performance should allow for problems to be resolved seamlessly—relieving tension and allowing employees to remain focused on their core responsibilities.  


EKU Online, "Work-related Stress on Employee Health"

Jeff Schwartz et al. The overwhelmed employee: Simplify the work environment, Deloitte University Press, March 7, 2014

Mager, R. F., & Pipe, P. (2004). Analyzing performance problems. Mumbai: Jaico Publishing House.

Gianna Biscontini