If you have been reading our blog, you know that this is the third in a series of six articles outlining ways to improve employee effectiveness in your office. When diagnosing performance issues, there are typically five reasons why employees miss the mark (lack of clear objectives, roadblocks, a need for training and development, motivation, or the employee's inability or unwillingness to perform). This article will address the second cause: roadblocks.
Roadblocks include things (policies, practices, tools, and sometimes personal behaviors) that keep your employees from performing their work in the most productive fashion. The first step in removing roadblocks is to determine if the roadblock is within the company's control or is one of the employee's personal making and therefore only within the employee's control.
Under the Employee's Control: Roadblocks which are personal to the employee, but cause issues with performance, can only be addressed and removed by the employee. Personal issues are often caused by family concerns, financial problems, poor habits and other choices related to the employee's lifestyle. While employers may be sympathetic, they should avoid becoming the employee's counselor. Instead, they should retain the role of employer and keep their discussions focused on the employee's performance and its impact on the organization. If the employer provides an EAP (Employee Assistance Program), he/she may direct the employee to these services for expert help with personal issues. At times health related problems can impact an employee's performance. If this occurs, you should be aware of the possible legal implications in handling the situation. It may be advisable to seek expert advice in these cases. You may also want to consult an attorney or qualified HR professional if performance issues lead you to consider termination, suspension, demotion or other forms of discipline.
Under the Organization's Control: Sometimes the roadblocks which keep employees from being their most effective are within the organization's purview. These may include policies, procedures or management practices that cause conflicts, a lack of critical resources, or outside factors such as vendors or customers.
Policies, procedures or management practices - One organization with which we worked had a department that required its employees complete their orders by the end of each business day. A second department had this same requirement, but needed the completed information from the first department to do so. By simply changing the cut-off time for the first department, we were able to end a long-time feud, change rivals into teammates, and significantly increase productivity.
Lack of critical resources - We worked with a local county agency that recognized two of its administrative personnel were becoming less and less productive. When we interviewed the employees, we found that their job had slowly been changing from primarily manual work to one that required a computer. The employees shared a computer making it impossible to complete their daily tasks. The purchase of a second computer fixed the issue with production. At another company, the HR department recognized an increasing trend in the number of second shift employees clocking in late. When we investigated, we found a line of cars waiting for parking spaces. The company had grown so much that until first shift left, second shift could not park. The company cleared more ground for parking space - issue solved.
Customer and vendor issues - Occasionally vendor delivery issues or customers who are impossible to please get in the way of employee productivity. We worked with a company who had one such customer. The customer complained so frequently and demanded so much rework that the manager finally agreed that it was in the organization's and his employee's best interest to "fire" the customer. When we did the analysis, we found that the company was better off economically as they had not made any profit working with this customer.
The ability to remove roadblocks for your employees is one of the most powerful tools a manager can wield. A company we recently interviewed for our book, Let Go To Grow, works hard to provide its employees with all the tools they want and need to perform their functions. Even when the cost of the tools is a stretch for the principles, they do what they can. However, along with this largess comes accountability. The owners of this company hold their employees to high standards of productivity - and they get it. Obviously, not all roadblocks that are within the company's control are easy to spot and solve. However, talking and listening to employees, observing and walking around your organization, keeping in touch with vendors and customer issues can help you to identify and remove roadblocks and increase employee effectiveness and overall productivity.