Stop me if you’ve heard this one: The exasperated boss blurts out, “Are you ignorant, or only apathetic?” to which the defensive employee cries, “I don’t know, and I don’t care!”
Do you always get the performance you want from employees? If so, stop reading here, and write me an article that will help the rest of us. Every supervisor I have known has faced situations in which an employee is just not doing the job the way the supervisor intended, in spite of having fine credentials for the job and having received the usual orientation and instruction.
I was in the home of a young neuroradiologist friend one evening, and he seemed a little down. In the course of conversation, he apologized, “I am a little preoccupied this evening. Tomorrow morning I’m going to have to fire an X-ray technician. He hasn’t been giving me the quality of work that I am comfortable with for accurate diagnosis.”
In his few years as a teaching physician in a large regional medical center/university, he’d seen a lot of employees who did not measure up to the task get fired. But, this was his first experience of having to make such a decision about a professional subordinate. “This guy is bright and well-educated. He’s reliable and pleasant to work with. I don’t want to wreck his career. But, the images he creates are often not what I need. Still, I really hate to fire him.” Then he tossed the ball to me: “You’re a professional manager; how do you deal with such situations?”
First of all, I asked if he’d defined the problem. It is not enough to say the images are not useful; a definition of the problem would specify the difference, or gap, between a useful X-ray image and the kinds of images he found inferior. “That’s an interesting way to look at it,” he said.
Secondly, can you describe what needs to be done to fill the gap? Maybe you need to put your medical knowledge (as the supervisor) together with the technical knowledge of the technician (employee) to identify steps to fill the gap. “OK, maybe I could initiate a meeting with him to solve the problem,” said my friend. “But, maybe he’ll resent my intrusion into his area of expertise and be defensive. Inter-professional relations can be kind of touchy in the big-hospital setting.”
You don’t know until you try, and in the process of trying you might analyze the performance problem in a way that would point to possible courses of action. The reason he is not giving you the performance you want could be:
* He doesn’t understand what you want.
* He doesn’t know how to give you what you want.
* He doesn’t want to give you what you want.
* Even Superman couldn’t give you what you want.
If it’s a misunderstanding, the solution might lie in better orientation to the task or more complete analysis of the goal for clarity.
If it’s a lack of know-how, the questions are: Could he do it with a reasonable amount of instruction, or could he still not do it if his life depended on it? Instruction is worthwhile to keep an otherwise good employee. If the employee really does not have the extensive knowledge or skill he should have brought to the job, termination may be necessary.
If he is not motivated to deliver the performance, is it from circumstances that you and your organization have created and can correct, or does the employee have incompatible goals that warrant termination?
“So, there are particular solutions to each kind of performance problem just as there are particular treatments for each patient?” Yes. The X-ray technician kept his job, and the neuroradiologist got the images he needed.