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Are there obstacles keeping the poor performer from performing? Performance often declines because obstacles prevent the performance you'd like. In other words, the person would perform but there are things getting in the way.

When employees are given poor tools, their level of performance will likely decline. When distractions or poor working conditions exist performance is likely to slide – not because the employee is lazy or unmotivated, but because she must expend energy to overcome the obstacles. Energy spent dealing with obstacles cannot be applied to the work itself and performance tends to suffer. In these days of turbulence and rapid change, effective managers should engage in "path clearing" – looking for ways to streamline work and make it easier for people to perform. Might there be obstacles getting in the way? Obstacles can be people, forms, processes, software, lighting, handicaps, etc.

Other Questions to Ask

Who or what might be preventing better performance?

Does the poor performer have all the tools

(software, hardware, machinery, etc.) he needs to perform?


Are tools, computers, equipment, etc. in good working order?

Does the poor performer lack authority, time, or needed resources to perform better?

Are there problems at home, illnesses, handicaps, poor working conditions that could be hindering good performance?

Is the poor performer having disputes with other people she must work with to get tasks completed?

Analyzing and Solving People Problems

Case in Point

Megan Hersey began to notice the decline in Terrance's performance a few weeks ago. At first she simply ignored it. After all, even good workers can have off days, she thought. But the decline in performance continued to persist. Deadlines were being missed and several projects were now falling behind schedule. Megan was growing more and more concerned.

Terrance had always been Megan's best software engineer, capable of producing software code at a rapid rate. In fact, he could generate more lines of elegant, bug-free code than any of the other programmers in Megan's unit, but now Terrance's performance was in free fall.

Though Megan had "hinted" to the entire team about the need to keep on schedule, she had not directly asked Terrance for an explanation about his performance decline. When she finally did, she discovered that Terrance had developed arthritis in his hands and fingers and had been too proud to seek treatment or divulge his problem. All the encouragement in the world would not have improved Terrance's performance. The solution lay in treating the disease which had become an obstacle to his good performance.

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