Getting at the Root Cause of Workplace Performance Issues

As an organizational leader you no doubt have developed confidence in your ability to quickly size up employee performance problems in the workplace and to make a prompt determination of the best course of action for resolving those issues. And, in many instances your hunches are fairly accurate and your solutions viable. Nevertheless, there is an inherent risk in consistently relying on our intuition at the expense of taking the time to more fully investigate the underlying circumstances of a situation. By reacting only to the observable symptoms and not the underlying root causes of employee performance problems we risk coming up with solutions that are only temporary in nature.

W. Edwards Deming, the renowned organizational consultant credited with helping the Japanese improve the quality of their manufacturing processes in the mid 20th century, used the term “superstitious learning” to describe the phenomenon where we mistakenly predict success in resolving a current problem on the basis of repeating the same course of action that produced success in similar past situations. Unfortunately, continuing to apply the same tried-and-true solutions no longer yields the same positive results. Situations and people change, and so to must our solutions.

It is critical when faced with a significant performance issue that you take the time to do your homework to ensure that you have a clear understanding of what REALLY is going on prior to formulating your response action plan. Here are some key questions to answer:

  • Do I have a thorough understanding of the situation? What potential blind spots and inaccurate perceptions/judgments might I have given my position and perspective?
  • Have I taken the time to understand the situation from the perspective of those directly and indirectly involved? It’s important to remember that each of us sees the world through our own unique lenses and the same situation can look very different from one person to the next.
  • Is the approach I have in mind to address the situation tailored to the unique needs of the current situation or is it simply an approach that has worked well in the past in seemingly similar situations?

To truly understand all the dimensions of a situation requires soliciting honest feedback from each of the involved or impacted employees. Unfortunately, people are often reluctant to openly share their true observations and thoughts with “the boss” or others from within the company. This is when it can be very useful to engage the services of an objective external third party who has a much better chance of gaining insights into the whole story.

Your willingness to invest the necessary time and energy in gaining a comprehensive understanding of the performance situation will place you in a much better position to craft a lasting solution that enhances the ongoing productivity and profitability of your organization.

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