Why People Don’t Perform

Why People Don’t Perform


As a manager you would probably have asked that question – not just once but many times. You may also have had that frustration of trying to understand your failure in getting the occasional one or two non-performers to meet up to your expectations.

You have given that person a dressing down for not meeting up to your standards. She may have geared up the next day but six months or even six weeks down the road… she’s back to square one. Why?

It makes a lot of sense for us to find out why people don’’ perform -–because knowing the cause of the performance deficiency will enable us to deal with this issue. If you go up to a non-performer and ask her why she is not performing or doing her job as well as you expect, you are not likely to get any truth out of her but a defensive excuse. Even assuming that she’s going to be dead honest, what might she say? Would the answers in her mind if not on the tip of her tongue be something like one or more of the following:

  • Am I not (performing)?
  • I don’t know how.
  • I can’t do it.
  • I don’t want to do it.

What’s behind these possible responses?

1. “AM I NOT”

Startled, a staff confronted with a realization that somebody up there thinks she’s not doing her job, immediately responds: “I always thought I did what they wanted me to do… now what exactly do they expect form me?”

This a common scenario arising out of either or both of the following reasons:

Lack of Clarity of Expectation/Performance If employees are not told exactly what standards they need to achieve to do good work, then “good work” can be anything to anybody. For instance, an employee might think that picking up a ringing telephone as soon as she can finish her current preoccupation is good enough irregardless of how long it takes her. We know a caller expects better. Incongruence between expectations and assumptions made causes misunderstanding between staff and managers.

Lack of Regular Feedback When is the last time you sat down with a staff and talked about work and short coming in a positive and constructive manner? When is the last time your boss did it with you?

Lack of regular and specific feedback on work performance would mean that performer may be operating under a fallacy that all is well, when it is not. Performance feedback has to be specific and focussed on behavior rather than attitude in order to produce desired reactions. There’s world of difference between saying “You are not doing your job well because you are stubborn” – attitude focussed – and “I requested for your report three weeks ago and I reminded you three times but I still didn’t get anything. May I know why?” – behavior focussed. Telling a person that she is stubborn, only produces defensive reactions.



This is obviously a case of lack of competence and training or coaching would be necessary. However, short-term and non-result-oriented approaches to training non-performers are commonly adopted such as:

Pray and Pray Method Certain personnel are sent to public seminars or trained in simple one to two days in-company programs. Once back in their workplaces, they might try for a period but most will lapse back to old ways when they find that they are the only one doing it and the rest are not.

“Bandaid” Method Quick fix solutions to incompetence often give no results. Training alone is insufficient if staff finds that they do not get the support that they need from the systems, or reinforcement from their supervisors and management.

Leave it to the Training Department This is where supervisors and managers feel that only the training department has a role to play in training employees. On-the-job training and personal coaching is usually not emphasized and not done. Staff would do much better if they had mentors to coach and guide them



When a staff have this in her mind she’s obviously not committed to what she has to do. What gives rise to this?

Lack of Leadership Over and over again I have found that organizations that are successful are led by champions who not only “talk” but “walk their talk” as well. You simply cannot get people to do what you won’t do.

In our local scenario, we often hear the following: “My boss is not doing it, why should I?”

Leadership is the key to superior or staff performance. Leadership does not mean threatening people to do things. A person will only commit to when they believe in and the best way to get them to believe in it, is to involve them.

Consequence of Performance If  good performance is not rewarded and recognized, staff will not see what’s in if for them. Sometimes, good performance might even be discouraged, as illustrated in the following scenario:

A supermarket employee was sweeping the floor when a customer approached her for directions to find a can of beans. The employee helped the customer find what she wanted. She then returned to her task of sweeping. Her superior confronted her and asked her why she is taking so long to sweep the floor.

The employee replied, “I was helping a customer find a can of beans,” whereupon the supervisor retorted, “Don’t give me that crap! Just get the sweeping done fast!”

How do you think the employee will behave should a similar situation arise?

Negative Peer Influence Peer pressure exerts a considerable influence on individuals’ performance, either for the better or worse. New employees will tend to adopt the work attitudes and behaviors practiced by the majority. Similarly, newly hired employees might find it an upward battle to carry on with the good attitudes and skills they may have acquired elsewhere.

If they feel that the best way to get the top is to butter-up their managers, good performance becomes secondary and unimportant.


4. “I CAN’T DO IT”

Staff might know “how to” may even “want to” but often can’t perform. Why?

Poor Support From Systems and Procedures Staff may be committed to good performance but could be facing a road block to getting their job done. System and procedures within an organization could actually be preventing a staff from good performance. Cumbersome procedures, internally-focused policies instead of customer-focused, lack of or outdated equipment are some examples.

Lack of Authority  Some staff may want to get things done for an organization, but simply don’t have the authority to do so. Control systems in many organizations are

designed to prevent abuse and misdemeanors but also act as stumbling blocks to those staff who genuinely want to do good work.

Here are some suggestion to build a high-performance workforce:

  1. Provide clarity of expectations of work performance.
  2. Carry out regular performance feedback sessions.
  3. Have training that meets performance improvement needs.
  4. Get manager to coach and mentor staff.
  5. Provide leadership by example.
  6. Ensure that good performance gets significant rewards and recognition.
  7. Build a positive, performance based work culture.
  8. Examine systems, procedures and facilities for improvements.


By K C See