What are the signs of lowered performance in your organisation? To start, employees don’t look busy. Individual, team or unit productivity has decreased from where it should be. Morale is down. And you sense that “things” could be better.
If these are the signs, what are the effects? Certainly workers could be more satisfied; but they’re not. Their lack of energy results in less spontaneity and productivity. Revenue and profitability suffer, as does individual satisfaction.
So what can you do? First take the temperature of the work environment. You need to gather data to support your thoughts and impressions; compare the current quarter’s numbers with those from previous quarters. Look at and compare individual rates of productivity. Then gather impressions from other supervisors or managers to share and compare individual perspectives and perceptions. Finally, summarise your data into conclusions.
Addressing the Employees
Next, prepare to meet with the employee in question. This isn’t a formal performance interview; it’s simply a conversation supported by factual data and impressions. Start by asking the employee what his or her perception of work output is. Sometimes employees don’t realise that their performance has been decreasing or that an issue exists. Sometimes they may be aware of the issue, but try to hide the matter, hoping you don’t notice. The issues can be professional or personal, but either way, they can be distracting the employee from optimal job performance. That’s where you need to intervene. Present your data comparing current performance with past performance, as well as your perceptions of the problem.
Your goal is to help the employee identify the cause of the decreased productivity and motivation. This is where Douglas McGregor, a renowned motivation theorist, can offer insight into what the motivational issues and results may be. McGregor would suggest that you identify the amount of direction the employee needs:
Some people need clear and very specific input from a supervisor as to what a particular task entails, who to involve, what the final product or service will look like, and what the steps are to accomplish the goal. They expect management to provide formal direction, and they don’t seek additional responsibility. When job specifics aren’t provided, aren’t clear or aren’t sufficient, the employee won’t be motivated. His or her work performance will be less than optimal.
To increase output, satisfaction and success for this type of worker, simply be more precise, detailed and explicit about the goals, processes and people involved in the project or task. This solution assumes, of course, that you have the time and patience to devote to this employee. If you don’t, then he or she is unlikely to be effective. Ironically, that person will tend to blame you for not providing enough input and encouragement.
Other employees don’t like a lot of structure, input and direction from you. These workers function very well when you give them minimal amounts of control or oversight. They’re capable of self-direction and self-control, and they like additional responsibility. They believe themselves capable of innovating and improving processes and procedures. These self-motivated and usually high-performing employees are a joy to work with because they are usually easy to get along with and serve as a role model for others.
Both types of employees can be problematic for an employer. If you’re a controlling leader, you would interact well with those employees who need your style of leadership. Similarly, if you’re more laissez-faire, you would work most successfully with more independent employees. The difficulty erupts when a hands-off leader works with an employee who needs a great deal of direction and structure or when a controlling leader works with more independent employees.
Differences in Styles
In the first case, the leader won’t provide enough direction to satisfy the employee. In the case of the controlling boss, this employee too will be unmotivated, unproductive and dissatisfied. In both cases, the problem is a mismatch between the needs of the employee and the needs of the leader.