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Poor Performance - 3 August 2010

I know I’m biased, but I’m in love with Greece. It’s a country abundant with overwhelming beauty, attracting 16 million besotted tourists a year. Its history is bursting with inventions and events that have influenced the world. Its culture and people add a vibrancy and passion that complement its stunning landscape.

And yet, speak to many people about Greece today and you’re likely to hear little of its beauty, history, and culture, but lots about its shattered economy. When it comes to poor performance, few countries can rival Greece in the economic department. Once upon a time, it was one of the most powerful forces on the planet. Today it’s a financial basket case.

So, what caused this poor performance? There are lots of reasons, and all of them fall into three main categories. If you have someone in your team that is a persistently poor performer, these three principles apply just as much in the workplace.

Avoidance versus Truth: Greece’s previous government understated its real financial position. It avoided telling the truth so that it maximised its capacity to borrow.

A similar thing happens to managers – especially in Australia where we have one of the highest rates of avoidance leadership in the world. Many bosses shy away from giving honest (but at times confronting and uncomfortable) feedback to employees. In the end, poor performers continue with their bad habits, deluded in thinking they’re travelling okay.

Actions versus Consequences: Tax evasion was rampant until Greece’s declining tax revenues threatened their way of life. Greeks didn’t consider their actions’ consequences.

Likewise, to get a poor performer’s attention at work, highlight what will happen if their actions continue. These can include impacts on goals, customers, teammates, bonuses, etc. This shouldn't be a threat. Rather, it’s a conversation to increase their understanding of some unintended outcomes. Feedback resonates more strongly when it’s accompanied by a meaningful consequence. The aftermath is more potent than the remedy.

Problems versus Causes: To save Greece from bankruptcy (the problem), austerity measures were finally put in place to deal with its overspending and borrowing (the causes).

Within teams, managers often rush to provide solutions without first identifying the cause. There are four main causes of poor performance: (1) the working environment; (2) lack of motivation; (3) development issues; (4) incorrect job fit. Before trying to devise a course of action, figure out what’s causing the problem first. The cause always determines the fix.

Now that Greece has reluctantly realised the above three principles of poor performance, it has started to recover. There has already been a reduction of 46 per cent in its budget deficit. At work, not all poor performers can be rehabilitated. But focusing on Truth, Consequences, and Causes will go some way in reducing their performance deficit.

 

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