Understanding the Poor Performer
Thank you to Dr. Davana Pilczuk of The Human Performance Group for this article. Dr. Pilczuk is an award-winning kinesiologist who specializes in human performance. She is a speaker, writer and consultant for Fortune 500 companies, sports teams and small businesses.
There she goes again. Your favorite employee whining about how this task ‘isn’t in her job description’ or that she ‘didn’t sign up for this.’ You just want her to perform and come through for the team. She just wants you to go away and to stop making her do things she doesn’t want to do. What to do?
Push back isn’t something that’s solely found at work. We all deal with people in our lives who push back when we ask for help or for tasks to be completed. When these individuals resist, we tend to blame it on their character, stating they are lazy, incompetent, or difficult. However, a great coach once told me: people do not push back for reasons that are stupid or unimportant to them. If you want to get to the root cause of why your teammate is being difficult, you simply must determine if their resistance is due to an ability problem or if it’s more of a motivation problem.
Lack of ability
When someone says the words “I can’t…,” then the problem is almost always an ability one. An example of an ability problem sounds something like: “I can’t get this done on time because the supplier sent us the wrong order.” This is a problem of ability because the person can’t do what’s been asked because of certain circumstances beyond their control. “I can’t finish this expense report by Friday” is also an ability problem that may be due to inadequate training, unfamiliarity with the new software system or some other reason blocking their ability to be successful.
When you face resistance, ask the question “Why can’t you?” There are often hidden barriers as to why people do not come through for us and those barriers can be structural, like out-of-date software, to personal barriers, such as having to take care of a sick child. More often than not, people fall short because there’s an ability issue that needs addressing. But if ability seems present and they are still resisting you, then you need to dig deeper.
Lack of desire
“No I can’t” requires a simple answer. “No I won’t” requires a conversation. This one is a bit trickier, because now we are dealing with motivation and the root cause of why the person feels unmotivated to do what’s been asked. “I’m not doing that. It’s not my job” might sound self-centered and un-team like, but you can’t assume this. These statements require investigating and figuring out why there is resistance.
Your teammate might feel over worked and undervalued and is sick and tired of doing things she perceives aren’t hers to do. Her reasons are very valid to her, so don’t dismiss or minimize them. Asking her to work during her lunch hour might be a cardinal no-no to her, so when she forcefully pushes back, you need to have the conversation and figure why.
Sometimes resistance can be a combination of both ability and desire, but almost always, one trumps the other. For example, if you ask me to create an excel spread sheet for supplier invoices, I will 100% resist you. One, because I find no joy in doing invoicing, and two, my excel skills are pathetic. The result is: you just see me being difficult. I feel embarrassed to admit I can’t make formulas in excel and sadly, I find invoicing incredibly boring. But my inability to be proficient at the task is what’s at the heart of my push back.
Let’s be honest here. Most of us will not admit when we cannot do something, especially if important people are watching and grading us on our performance. We will find ways to get out of the things we are weak in and will make up excuses for the things we don’t enjoy doing.
By listening closely to the reasons why people can’t or won’t do things, we can help problem solve the root cause of what’s really going on and help increase their motivation to do good work. Always remember, when you’re on a team or leading a team, your teammate’s success and sense of self-worth is just as important as yours. Help them when they are stuck, and they will come through for you in the end.