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Sometimes persons who possess the ability to perform a task choose not to perform because of real or imagined negative consequences. For them the advantages of good performance are outweighed by real or perceived disadvantages.

Since it isn't always obvious why a person chooses to perform at substandard levels despite having the ability to perform, you should investigate to see if your poor performer is somehow punished for performing as you'd like. Perceived punishments can take many forms, so be careful in your investigation to consider all possibilities. You might, depending on your relationship with the poor performer ask him/her if there are negative consequences associated with doing a good job.

Other Questions to Ask

What negative consequences might occur if your poor performer performs as you desire?


Does your poor performer believe there are penalties for performing as you would like?


Does the "good" performance cause the poor performer to be seen in an unfavorable light by peers or others?


Is there a "down side" in the mind of the employee when he/she performs satisfactorily?

Analyzing and Solving People Problems

Case in Point
Karen Ellsworth was asked by her boss, Sandra Smith, to perform a menial, unpleasant job. The job, which unfortunately had to be done every month, didn't require much skill but did take a great deal of time. The job was viewed by everyone in the department as thankless and boring. Karen tackled the job with vigor. Her attitude was "if I've got to do it then I'll do it well." She completed the job on time and with a greater level of expertise and polish than anyone had ever done it.


Sandra called Karen into her office and said, "Karen, great job! No one has ever done such a good job on this. In fact, you've done such a good job that I'd like you to do it from now on...."


Karen learned a powerful lesson that day: never do a thankless job well or it will become yours forever. In other words, Karen's good performance was "punished." It is very likely that from now on she will do thankless jobs poorly lest she be given them permanently.

Punishing good performance may be widespread in organizations. If, for instance, a manager by virtue of her good management sklls is able to accomplish all of her departmental goals and still come in under budget, her good performance is typically "punished" by budget cuts in the following year. Organizations often espouse fiscal restraint, but then punish those who show it, and reward those who don't.

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