Leading Issue:
Engaging employees through performance management


Mel Kleiman expressed a sense of bafflement in Talent Management and HR this week asking why do “managers and supervisors tolerate mediocre employees”?  I think the answer to this question is that they lack the basic skills in dealing with switched-off team members – hoping that it will all just right itself; sometimes it does, but oftentimes it requires skillful intervention.

There are many reasons why people switch-off and fail to perform to expectation (feeling unchallenged, issues with the boss, distracted by personal issues, lacking in skills & competence, wanting to do something else, mismatched expectations, mid-life crisis… the list goes on). A common mistake that supervisors can make when someone is under-performing (in addition to ignoring it or personalising it) is to adopt a one-size-fits-all approach which bundles all the issues together and fails to get to the core of the individual problem.

A simple tool that helps supervisors here is the skill/will matrix. Attributed to Max Landsberg, this tool eloquently distinguishes between levels of skill and levels of motivation and helps the supervisor tailor an approach for addressing the performance issue. The model explores four key performance scenarios and plots them on a skill (ability) versus will (motivation) axes:


Scenario 1 Highly talented/skilled individual with a bit of an attitude
When you have somebody in your team who is highly skilled and highly motivated, they will be self-driven and high performing individuals who will constantly be aiming to ‘raise the bar’. They fly with challenging assignments and switch off if they are over managed or held-back in any way. Here supervisors need to listen and SUPPORT and give them stretching assignments with the right degree of steer.

Scenario 2 Someone showing little or no aptitude for the job
Team members who are low skilled with little motivation to grow can be high maintenance. Here supervisors need to have frank and honest performance conversations concerning redirecting the individual within the organisation to make a better fit of their skills and interests. If there is no place for them within the company, recognize that this has been a recruitment failure and work with HR to REDIRECT them out of the company. If there is resistance, time will need to be invested demonstrating, auditing and tracking performance with a view to starting formal disciplinary proceedings. The mark of a good coach, here, is someone who can help the individual see their path and redirect their focus .

Scenario 3. A highly skilled individual who was formally motivated but is now slacking
There are many reasons why highly skilled individuals go through motivation dips (high skill low will) and it is important not to jump to conclusions but to do a lot of inquiry to determine the steps needed to be taken. Some may be demotivated because they have been too long in their job and need change, some because of personal reasons (problems they are having outside or work), some because of , political reasons (having issues with co-workers), some because of health reasons. It is important to take context into account (i.e. has this individual been a high performer in the past, has the individual had performance issues in the past etc.) and challenge and CONFRONT the individual. Solutions may include giving the individual more challenge in their current role, initiating an internal or external move or counselling the individual (or recommend counselling) around work related or personal issues.

Scenario 4. Somebody who is keen but making loads of mistakes
Enthusiastic ‘can do’ team members who are making basic mistakes need guidance. These highly motivated and low skilled individuals have potential and need to be trained and DEVELOPED. Personal performance plans and one-to-one performance coaching are particularly important strategies for such individuals as is mentoring, buddying and work shadowing.

“The world has an employee engagement crisis, with serious and potentially lasting repercussions for the global economy.”. There are things supervisors can do to engage employees through performance management and the skill/will matrix is a good starting point.

by Ric Kelly PhD.