Improving Employee Performance : Is it them, or is it me?


employee performanceI often coach business owners and managers in improving employee performance. Usually there is an area of employee performance – most often a behavioural element – that the manager finds unacceptable. It might be the way the employee communicates (or doesn’t), they way they organise their work (or not), they way the manage their time (or not!)

Of course most managers recognise that employees have different ways and styles of communicating, organising their work, managing their time and so on. And they have no problem with that at all. Sometimes though these ‘differences’ start to irritate the manager and they start (in the managers mind) to become a real problem. It’s at this point where a manager will often ask me the question:

Improving Employee Performance: A Key Question

‘Is it them, or is it me?’

Let me give you an example

The way my employee works is starting to drive me totally mad. He’s so disorganised. His desk is a mess. His diary is indecipherable. I’ve no idea if he knows what his priorities are. It’s all a total shambles. 

The trouble is, I know I’m the opposite. I like structure, diaries, and neatness. Some people would call me a bit obsessive. 

So, the reason I haven’t talked to my employee about his work organisation (or lack of it) is that I’m not sure if there really is a problem or if I’m making a mountain out of a molehill?

How to work out: Is it them or is it me?

The real question here is:

Is there actually a problem with employee performance that I need to deal with or is it just a difference in style?

The first question I ask the manager is: what are the results and consequences – to the business – of the employee’s actions?

(Read more on my Actions>Results>Consequences model here)

So, what are the results and consequences of the employee:

  • Having a desk covered in paper
  • Having a diary you cannot read or understand?

(You’ll notice I’ve left out ‘disorganised ’and ‘total shambles’ and ‘messy’. Why? Because these terms are not factual – they are judgements, opinions and assumptions. This means they are not objective and not at all useful)

Possible Results and Consequences (the key to improving employee performance)

Let’s look at some possible results and consequences

Desk covered in paper


I tried to find an important document yesterday (X) but was unable to locate it on your desk


I was unable to answer a simple question from a client (Y). That was not a satisfactory level of client service



I noticed yesterday that it took you 10 minutes to find the AB report because you had to look through the papers on your desk


Not an efficient use of your time

Having a diary I cannot read


I tried to book a client meeting for you yesterday but could not read your diary to see when you were available


I had to tell the client I would get back to them – not a satisfactory level of client service

Improving Employee Performance: The Simple Principle

The simple principle here is this. If there are negative consequences to the business as a result of the way the employee behaves then yes – there is an employee performance problem and yes – you should deal with it

If the results and consequences are something on the lines of ‘well there’s no real consequence to the business but it just drives me mad’ then I’d say something to the manager on the lines of

Much as I respect your feelings, and much as I want you to be totally happy at work, and much as I can sympathise when other people don’t work in exactly the way you do (and you think they should) is it really worth worrying about something that doesn’t negatively impact the business?   

My view is, if there is no negative business consequence then there is no performance problem!

Summary – Performance Management is about Improving Employee Performance

I’ve coached and trained many managers who have spent a vast amount of time and effort trying to deal with ‘performance problems’ that weren’t performance problems at all but simply differences in working style. To avoid making this mistake yourself (not that you would of course!) simply remember to ask yourself the question;

What are the business consequences?

Would you like to read more on how to use actions and consequences to improve employee performance?

constructive criticismWhy not take a look at my e-book ‘Motivating Your Staff to Improve Their Performance with Positive Criticism’ – a step-by-step guide for giving criticism in a way that your staff member finds easy to understand and easy to accept and that motivates them to make a change that improves their performance. More details HERE


2 Responses to Improving Employee Performance : Is it them, or is it me?

  1. […] (Read more in my blog Performance Management: Is It Them or Is It Me?) […]

  2. […] that there actually is a problem (and if you’re not sure how to test if there is see my blog Performance Management: Is it them or is it me?), we’ve got a real dilemma. We still have to get the employee to see that there’s a […]

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