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Wednesday, July 16, 2014


Every organization has its share of poor performers.  In fact, most of us are guilty of performing poorly at one point or another.  However, poor performance does not necessarily indicate poor character or even poor work ethic.  Typically, poor performance springs from one of two fundamental root causes:
  1. A imbalance in our mind-body-spirt wholeness
  2. Misalignment between our strengths and our work demands
Some "outer layer" (not root cause) triggers of poor performance look like this: 
  • Sometimes a person just doesn’t “fit,” their goals don’t align even marginally with those of the organization. 
  • Sometimes folks are carrying some very heavy burdens (e.g., poor health, a troubled marriage, an ill child, horrible nutrition, financial difficulties, caring for aging parents, etc.).
  • Sometimes organizational members perform poorly because they simply don’t know what the goals of the organization are.
  • Sometimes members get “stuck.”  Their role has become so routine and stale, they lose enthusiasm.
  • Sometimes (but rarely) they simply don’t care.  They are there to clock in, clock out, go home.

It's fairly easy to trace each of these issues back to one of those two root causes shown above.  And, the list I provided is certainly not exhaustive.

Addressing problems of mind-body-spirit balance is pretty challenging as it requires a commitment to fully attending to one's total wellness.  Proper nutrition, exercise, and rest for the body; attention to personal learning and growth for the mind; and the purposeful commitment to a higher way of thinking/living for the spirit.

Research in the field of psychology suggests that we perform best when we are either in a work role that is well-aligned to our strengths, or in a work role that can be "mushed" in a way that allows us to take advantage of our strengths.  An excellent book to read along these lines is Now, Discover Your Strengths by Buckingham and Clifton (2001). Based on their work the StrengthsFinder tool was developed (which you can purchase for a reasonable price).  That instrument helps us gain a clearer and well-defined picture of our strengths. 

So, what's a person to do?

From the first-person perspective, working on our own holistic wellness and achieving strengths-roles alignment is difficult, but very doable.

From a third-person person perspective (i.e., supervisor's/mentor's), we can't force either corrective action on others.  Our best course of action is to help educate (and learn with) others, in order for all of us to come to a deeper understanding of what is causing the poor performance in the first place.

Interestingly, in my nearly 40 years of trying to tease high performance out of both students and adults, I can't recall a single person whom I believe set out each morning with the express purpose of performing badly.  It's really not in our nature to want to underachieve.  Thus, the seeds of improvement already lie dormant, awaiting life-generating impetus.  That understanding-the-root-cause piece is sort of like the germinating conditions for those dormant seeds.

We can do this, for ourselves.  And, we can help others move in a better direction.

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