Why Poor Performers Don’t Get It
The unskilled often feel they’re doing better than they are.
Poor performers, who lack skill, don’t realize their performance is poor. They think they’re fine. You think they’re failing.
Poor performers feel your frustration but don’t see the issue.
Source of sight:
Skill enables perception.
Skilled architects, landscapers, or managers see and correct problems quickly. They use their skill to assess situations, behaviors, and processes. The unskilled are blind.
The ability to perceive grows with skill. Sight is often in the hands and feet.
The less you can do, the less you can see.
You can tell they can’t see when you see…
- Persistent correction but no improvement.
- Confusion about the cause of problems. They don’t get it.
- Stuck in unproductive behaviors.
- Lack of appreciation for behaviors that actually work.
It’s difficult for you to understand that what’s easy for you may be difficult for others.
- Stay calm. Your frustration increases their stress and shuts down their brain.
- Clarify the win. Explain both desired results and behaviors.
- Model the way. Say, “Watch what I do.”
- Evaluate perception. Ask, “What did you see while you watched me?”
- Accept imperfect progress. Forget solving everything. If current strategies haven’t helped, more of the same won’t.
- Choose slow. You want one giant leap, but all they can do is take one slow step.
- Stay simple. Choose one small behavior to develop. Don’t move forward until they get it. Break skills into small components.
- Create structure. Clear structure enhances concentration.
- Assess progress.
- Consider reassignment.
Insight increases as skills increase. Explain less, develop skills more. Those able to do more, see more.
How do you deal with poor performers?
This post really speaks to me. I am a student teacher supervisor. That means I visit classrooms in which college seniors are doing their student teaching (practice teaching) right before they receive their teaching degrees and licensure. I’ve found that sometimes I need to put into exact words what they need to do to improve. I’m like an extra set of eyes and ears when I am observing.
For instance a student teacher may be having trouble getting students to pay attention. The mentor (professional teacher in the room) will intervene and call the students back to attention. The beginning teacher can’t see how she did it. She believes she is doing the same thing. I have learned to write very specific observations and describe to them exactly what the mentor did differently even though we are all in the same room.
I have to write very specific observations. “She spoke firmly (not loudly) but with serious intent. When she gave them directions, she stood silently and gave them total eye contact looking at them until they did what she asked. She didn’t move. She waited confidently. If they continued to talk, she waited for their attention. Her voice and her body calmly said that she expected them to give her their attention. She didn’t show frustration or defeat. If they see your agitation, they’ve won.”
This has taught me quite a bit about giving specific help so that well intentioned future teachers can make true progress. You can’t just say, “Watch what she does.” You have to explain the difference in detailed ways. I believe people genuinely want to improve and succeed. We have to help them know exactly how to do that.
Thanks Dauna. Your comment illustrates how much work and attention it takes to develop skills in others. It can be difficult for skilled people to even explain some of the simple things they do without even thinking. Powerful illustration.
Couldn’t have better timing on this post! I just finished setting up an appointment to meet with a concerned parent about her student’s performance in class. As I read this post, I can relate every word to his ice tried working with him, but he feels as though he “gets it”.
Baby steps moving forward, that will hopefully provide the connections needed to make larger strides!!
Thanks toot. It’s so hard to work with someone who feels they get it, but don’t. Best wishes. 🙂
Totally agree… That would fall into the high confidence, low competence part of a model I use with folks. http://letsgrowleaders.com/energy-engagement/a-better-way-to-address-performance-issues/ — it’s so important to coach folks so they can see what needs to be improved. I see too many “leaders” back away from confronting. When done with a genuine desire to help, feeedback really is an important gift.
Thanks Karin. We can’t know how we are doing until someone explains it. Feedback is essential to growth and excellence. Thanks for extending the conversation and your work with leaders.
Great post as usual. I am meeting with and individual today with 25 years tenure at our company. This person is an authority in his field but has become and order taker instead of a sales engineer. Changing inconsistent habits has been difficult at best and this post puts the positive resolution in perspective.
Thanks David. Your comment reminds me of another challenge in leadership, dealing with experienced people who think they have arrived. (not to say your person thinks that way) One of the toughest nuts to crack is the one who has been around for a long time.
Someone asked me how do you deal with older members of the team. I suggested talking to them like you would talk to a parent.
Big Gracias & Homerun!
I often say that my biggest transition was when I went from a scaffold craftsman to a supervisor. I had the craft skill but totally lacked the soft skills needed connect and influence positive change. The frustration came when those who I worke with said yes as a fellow co-worker but now as a supervisor I did not how to get a Yes from them.
This is probably one of the biggest gaps today’s supervisors & managers face without receiving some soft skills training.
Thanks Mark. It’s interesting that we teach people skills for their craft and when they get good we promote them to management with little or no training. The first step into management is one of the toughest steps in any career path.
Thank you. This really helped me process my frustration and build a plan with a couple of coworkers today.
Thanks John. Best for the journey. I feel your frustration. 🙂
Poor performers need to educated, shown & given options on how to improve and where they need to improve, often times they don’t know until someone teaches them their mistakes. People can be given incentive that if and when they improve they could be rewarded financially, attain recognition from their peers and partners. Should they chose not to improve plan on moving on, not always that simple. We can only be as good as the effort put forth to make oneself better!
Thanks Tim. Your last sentence reminds me that as a leader, my job is to create environments where people find it easy and desirable to make themselves better.
they also often seem to blame others for problems – never taking that one extra step to head things off.
Then that can result in you micro-managing them ( spending all your time on them ) for which they will despise you.
Thanks Bill. The blame issue is important. It usually comes up when people are looking for a way out. That’s a red flag.
I”m assuming the context of this one is ‘on the job’?
The reason why I say that is that I’ve commented more then once on past posts that I would never call myself an expert when it comes to being an entrepreneur or start ups (etc) because that is not where the bulk of my experience exists. Most of my skills were derived in the field of both military and nursing. (I also home schooled and taught myself how to paint and started a decorative painting business once in the middle of all of that) Huge learning curves are part of the ‘game’ any time we try something new.
When Gary died, I jumped out of nursing to be home and available to my children and jumped immediately IN to a brainstorming and creativity software. HUGE new learning curve all the way around. My friend (and boss) at the time may as well have been speaking greek to me on most things ‘software’ and coding etc. And i remember feeling so frustrated and out of my element most of the time. My sweet spots were naturally in the areas of writing and customer service. Those were a more natural fit that carried over talents cultivated during my years of nursing. But the rest? I clearly felt like I was back in kindergarten again! haha
So what I’ve learned about myself over the years is that I can learn to do practically anything. Yet I’m not interested in doing practically anything. And the biggest obstacles for me as a widow has been with the pressure of having to ‘do it all’. I’m not sure how to express it because part of it, I feel, is as a woman and having to do with ‘roles’. There have been plenty of times where I want to do everything WELL but have felt like I can’t be the perfect ‘anything’….be it the best housekeeper, mom, chef, AND man of the house and bread winner and do all things well all at the same time! Because I feel spread too thin most of the time.
For me, it’s been a very strange place to be in without support. And in a world where people are having to change jobs more frequently, I imagine I’m not the only one who has had to contend with the huge learning curves. So in that sense, I’m sure there are many who have felt similarly.
I’m reminded of the following quote:
“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” ~Albert Einstein
Thank you for your perspective, Samantha. Lucky indeed are we when we know what are authentic self’s talent is AND when we are blessed to be able to apply it in our lives and in the world. Great quote by Einstein! I believe Buckminster Fuller said something similar to the effect that all children are born genius, but we take it out of them early on.
Re: Fuller reference > all children are born genius, but we take it out of them early on.
Isn’t that the truth!
Often times one of the worst crimes committed in that department is killing curiosity. We punish people so that they conform to only do what they are told and when the lid is lifted off the bottle or the door of the cage opened, like an animal, we’ll remain paralyzed and won’t leave our own prisons!
Thanks Samantha. Your comments are a valuable part of the LFreak conversation.
Love this sentence: “So what I’ve learned about myself over the years is that I can learn to do practically anything. Yet I’m not interested in doing practically anything.” …that’s definitely part of the equation.
Excellent topic, & thoroughly presented. Thank you, Dan! I often tell my team & visitors that my job is not to manage people, but to manage a work environment, & many of your points today speak to that. I also stress to my team (we’re training developers) that instructor demonstrations & feedback should always include interactive questions, especially such as “What did you notice when I …”
Thanks Paul. “What did you notice when I…” That helps eliminate the false idea that communication has actually occurred when it didn’t
Dan I came across this recently while researching for my Newspaper Column “Why do we Overestimate our Competence?” It’s a phenomenon in psychology called the “Dunning-Kruger Effect.” It’s a theory that was developed, in 1999, by Dr. David Dunning and Dr. Justin Kruger, two Cornell University psychology professors.
Broadly speaking, the Dunning-Kruger Effect is defined as “a cognitive bias in which unskilled individuals suffer from illusory superiority, mistakenly rating their ability much higher than is accurate. This bias is attributed to a metacognitive inability to recognize their [own] ineptitude.”
This relates not just to poor performers 🙂
It is like that statistic that says the 90% of male drivers rate themselves to be in the top 50% of driving ability. (My numbers are made up but there are actual stats on this tendency to overestimate one’s own capability in nearly everything).
The key is having a good performance feedback system, one where the person collects their own data and immediatly upon completion of the task.
Here is a blog post and a downloadable Feedback Analysis Checklist that might be of interest – there are 12 factors and an average score is often 5 or so. Without good feedback, it is impossible to improve one’s performance. Good feedback is SELF-correcting.
Plus, there is the old Bob Mager framework that if the person can do the task with a gun to their head, it is not a skill issue but one of motivation. If they cannot do that task, it is not motivation but skill. Have they EVER performed to standard?
Appreciate your thoughts. It has indeed expanded my mind even further and thank you for the feedback analysis resource. Providing feedback was actually one of my solutions in the same column but as you’re illustrating here – the QUALITY of the feedback is also important and what information/measurement etc you’re using to substantiate your findings. It will certainly be helpful to me and my clients.A heartfelt THANK YOU!
That checklist is NOT meant to be The Answer. But it IS meant to get people to think about issues and opportunities and to then be more able to reframe what they actually do into what they COULD do to improve the feedback. As an example, I trust my own “numbers” more than I would trust data coming a week later from some other person where there can be errors or omissions or similar. Plus, me doing the work focuses me on how I am doing on each transaction. Sometimes, that could be a simple checkmark in a box that said, “I did good on that one,” or something like that. A tick sheet that nobody but me would see… THAT kind of data can help immensely. Or, having immediate feedback or at least at the end of the day, and not feedback of today that I get two weeks from now…
Thanks Giselle. We don’t see our own ineptitude. OUCH! I think I’m glad you stopped by today… 😉
You’re welcome Dan! So glad that I did 🙂
I was just about to weigh in on this very important topic when I started to read Samantha’s thoughts (above). I find the same to be true for me in that I frequently find myself in a situation where I don’t have the skills necessary in a particular area — like she said, almost like being in Kindergarten again. My choices are to knuckle down and master the skill, or where necessary, delegate. The important point in both cases is that we both seem to register pretty high on the “self-awareness” meter. Samantha’s post demonstrates self-awareness at several levels (not the least of which are the self-reflecting questions she asks).
Everyone has different levels of self-awareness and I think it is important to be aware of that when addressing under performance. The techniques in Dan’s post will work with individuals who are self-aware enough to sense that there is something wrong, even if they do not know what it is. For the person who is more self-aware I don’t think you have to work that hard. It might be as simple as suggesting a different tool. For those who are truly not self-aware at all, I believe it is better to realize this early and find another role or position. If you try to teach a pig to sing, you will end up frustrating yourself and annoying the pig. (Einstein did not say that, and my apologies to singing teachers everywhere.)
I want to expand on Dan’s “Source of Sight: Skill enables perception.” I agree, but I also think that “Skills enable perception.” In my experience, people with broader skills generally have a greater perception and self-awareness. It is one of those chicken and the egg things, though; does self-awareness drive the acquisition and mastery of skills, or do skills sharpen self-awareness?
Another provocative and timely post, Dan. Best regards.
I was once put in a position by a consutant friend of mine that my job was to write a script for a TV commercial for the company. It was a perfect example of me having no skill, no experience, no coaching, no peer support. DOOMED for failure, even though I gave it my best shot.
Thanks, Scott. I’ve had my share of those too. I’ve been lucky in that I have a very broad network and can usually find someone who can give me those seven words of advice that save me from utter failure. But even mediocre is far from satisfying.
I have three words, “Run, Forrest, Run!” (grin)
Loved your additions to this Steven.
As I reflected on what you wrote, focus is what came to mind. My old friend/boss from the brainstorming software company days used to joke and tell me I was like a machine…he could just set me to task and once I knew what I was doing (and supposed to be doing) I was the kind of person that could hyper-focus and I tend to be that way with most things. Once interest takes hold and I have my assignment, I’ll naturally focus on it until it’s DONE. I’m like a mad scientist that way at times and on the one hand, it’s a good thing. On the other, it was bad because I’d forget to eat, I’d have to be reminded to stop and do something else! haha
So in some ways, it’s like knowing I’m a laser beam and I work best when someone else knows how to help me focus and knows were to point me as the laser beam! (grins)
The challenge (for me atleast) has been able to find and connect with the RIGHT type of people. If I’m the ‘weapon/gun/laser’, I need someone who knows how to use one. As opposed to the type of leader/boss/entreprenuer who doesn’t know and just haphazardly sticks me anywhere without knowing how best to utilize my gifts and talents. i.e. Shoving me in the back working on coding when I would be best served on the front lines doing customer service/support or doing the writing, etc.
Self awareness certainly helps. And I’m aware enough to know what my limits are and I know I need to find and connect with people who are skilled in the ways I’m not. And I still too often find that people are so hard on each other for not being good at what they are. When we can best devote our time and energy on how to best utilize those diverse talents together to get the job done. Whatever that may be.
Thanks for sharing your insights in light of my comment and Dan’s post. It often helps to get multiple perspectives.
I love your “If I’m the ‘weapon/gun/laser’, I need someone who knows how to use one.” I thought I had solved that one for me when I started my own firm. Oh, how wrong I was.
The key attribute that you pointed out was patience. You have to sit back yourself and create a step by step improvement plan. This was an excellent post.
Thanks Moeleftwich. Patience isn’t easy…especially when the skill is easy for you and hard for them.
Great stuff. I have (if you like) a “3A” and “4A”:
3: Watch what I do;
3A: This is WHY I do that / do it that way;
4:What did you see while you watched me?
4A WHY do you think I do that?
Sometimes, people don’t do what you want because they don’t see WHY. For some people, seeing the WHY is the key to understanding the what. I need that understanding – blind copying what I do isn’t much more useful than doing some other random thing!
Thanks Mitch. Good call!
FWIW, here is a citation of an article that indicates, as you note, that the unskilled often feel they’re doing better than they are.
Krueger, J., & Mueller, R. A. (2002). Unskilled, unaware, or both? The better-than-average heuristic and statistical regression predict errors in estimates of own performance. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 82(2), 180–188. doi:10.1037//0022-35188.8.131.52
Thanks Jeffrey. I appreciate you extending the conversation.
When reading down the list of Moving Forward steps, I couldn’t help but think of a parent teaching their baby to walk. Parents are forced to learn these things (if they’re present), but how often do we forget to apply them to our teens and fellow employees.
Thanks Randy. Helpful illustration. Much appreciated.
This is very timely. I have just such a team member. She would rather argue for 10 minutes about doing a task that she doesn’t like/understand rather than taking the 3 minutes to complete it, or to ask for help and clarification to learn. She thinks she is experienced because her father worked for the company and she has worked at a low level job in HQ. Everyone else on the team is ready to pull together and yet she can’t see that she’s not pulling her own weight. She is the 10% of my staff I spend 90% of my time coaching. And yet she never seems to get it. I will continue to tweak my style until I hit on something! This helps, thanks.
Thanks Melze. I appreciate that you shared your story. It is a journey and I hope you make progress. Best wishes.
Amazing. I was just trying to explain to a co-worker yesterday how I felt a disconnect with a team member. How they didn’t seem to ‘get’ what I was saying even though their response said they did. Today I am playing catch-up on old posts I’ve missed and ran into this. Perfect explanation of what I was trying to get at. This should help me. Thanks Dan!