Psychology of Performance – 33: Skills, Systems, or Other

In our work with client organizations around the country a recurring theme in the work force has to do with employee performance management by supervisors and managers. We train our colleagues in these organizations to look at performance problems as either, a skill issue, a systems issue, or “other.”

Skill issues need to be addressed by the immediate supervisor. This can be done by providing additional training, individual coaching on specific skills for the job, or other developmental activities.

Systems issues are best addressed by the manager, as the employee or supervisor does not typically have the authority to access the systems, much less make changes within them. A recurring theme in the psychology of performance literature is that 80% of performance problems are systems-based. If this is indeed accurate, then resources are best directed at systems analysis and refinement rather than the individual, per se.

“Other” is the catch-all category for personal, psychological, family, financial, substance use, legal, and additional stressors that an employee may bring to work. The same goes for any areas that may be negatively affecting the employee’s job performance. For instance, if an employee had a fight with their spouse or child, their job performance may suffer, and although they may be present, they are unable to function. In general, “Other” is beyond the expertise or boundaries of a supervisor or manager’s level of intervention and the employees may benefit from counseling or support. At this point the supervisor or manager needs to make note of it, refer them to an Employee Assistance Program (EAP), and hold the employee accountable for their work performance. Whether the employee uses the EAP as a voluntary or mandatory client, it does not exempt the employee from doing their best within the organization. The EAP is simply an employer-provided resource to help each employee. It is ultimately up to the employee to make good use of the Employee Assistance Program. The good news for supervisors or managers is that over 70% of employees who have substance-use problems become sober and continue to be good employees. After 31 years as a firm, we have received countless thank you notes from recovering employees for saving their lives and their jobs after they were sent to their supervisors. (This is after they were done being angry about the referral of course).

Have a day filled with appreciation and gratefulness,

Robert A. Mines, Ph.D.
CEO & Psychologist

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