What should a manager do when it
seems a specific employee’s work output fails to consistently
meet quality and/or quantity standards? Of course, this is a
problem and, like all others, it cannot be resolved until one
first discovers its cause.
Some managers, especially
experienced ones, seem to have the innate ability to identify
the root causes of a problem. Perhaps, for example, they have
“been there and done that” and have useful insight to bring to
the present discussion-working situations. Sometimes, however,
they lack the ability to successfully analyze the workplace and
the employees within it to generate tactics for problem
Inexperienced managers probably
have more difficulty in correcting problems that involve
under-performing staff members. They have, by definition, a
background which has provided fewer opportunities to interact
with subordinates as problems are identified and successfully
One reason both
inexperienced managers and their less-experienced counterparts
may have difficulty with problem resolution in situations
involving people is because it is never easy (in fact, it is
typically a challenge) to “manage” problems which involve
employees—each of whom have their own differing attitudes,
viewpoints and perspectives.
Many observers consistently note
that a manager’s most important responsibilities are those which
involve employees. Yes, managing equipment, products and
materials, time and, of course, money are absolutely critical;
however, most of the work in the most departments is performed
by employees. Use of strategy to quickly identify potential
problems for interacting with staff members can give the manager a big start when developing problem resolution
Think About a Strategy Matrix
Let’s assume that a manager is confronted with an employee
who is having performance problems. Perhaps the quality of
his/her work output is unsatisfactory or, alternatively, the
staff member may be having difficulty interacting with peers or
is not meeting productivity expectations. What should the
supervisor do? One suggestion is to utilize the strategy matrix
shown in Figure 1.
Here’s how the strategy matrix
works. Assume the manager carefully considers the specific staff
member and assesses that employee’s level of knowledge about the
job (the employee may have a low or a high level of job
knowledge). The manager also attempts to assess the employee’s
attitude toward the job (this can range from “good” to “poor”).
Note: recall that the consideration of the staff members’
attitudes is being undertaken by the manager. It is doubtful
that any employee, if questioned, would state that he/she has a
poor attitude. In effect, the manager making this assessment is
likely thinking, “The employee’s attitude is different than
mine; my attitude is the correct one for the situation.
Therefore, the employee’s attitude must be incorrect.”
What does the strategy matrix
suggest to the manager aiming to identify the type of corrective
actions, if any, that can help improve the employee’s
performance? The matrix suggests from possible strategies based
upon the manager’s perception of the employee’s attitude and
- Box A – Training is
needed. This strategy is often best when the manager believes
the employee has a good attitude but a low level of knowledge.
In fact, training is most useful to develop (improve)
knowledge and skills. If, therefore, the manager believes that
the employee wants to do the work (he/she has a good attitude)
but does not know how to do so, this tactic for problem
resolution should be chosen.
- Box B – manager must do
something. In this situation, the manager believes that the
employee has a high level of job knowledge (he/she knows how
to do the job) and, at the same time, has a positive attitude
(the employee wants to do the job). If the employee knows how
to do the work and wants to do it, how can there be a problem?
In fact, something outside of the employee’s control must be
Perhaps there is a facility
and/or workstation design, equipment malfunction, work overload
or some other problem (which, hopefully, is within the control
of the manager) but is not within the employee’s ability to
resolve. In this situation, the staff member is not at fault
because the problem involves an employee who has a positive
attitude and high level of job knowledge. Instead, the manager
(management) must do something to help the affected employee
become successful on the job. Note: it has been said that the
vast majority of all problems are caused by a manager, not by
subordinates. It is, after all, the manager who selects,
orientates, trains, supervises and evaluates the work of
employees. It is also the supervisor/manager who provides (or
fails to provide) the resources which the employee needs to do
- Box C – An HR action is
needed. In this instance, the manager identifies that the
employee has a low level of job knowledge (he/she does not
know how to do the work). At the same time, the employee is
judged to have a poor attitude (he/she does not to do the
work). In this instance, an HR action may be the best tactic.
Depending upon the healthcare facility’s policy, an oral or
written reprimand may be in order. If there is still not an
improvement in performance, additional HR actions such as
transfer, demotion or even discharge may be necessary.
- Box D – Motivation is
the tactic. Here the manager believes that the affected
employee has the knowledge required to do the work but has a
poor attitude and, therefore, does not want to do the work. A
“Box D” situation requires a motivation tactic.
How does a manager motivate an
employee? Motivation is an inner drive whereby a person (in this
case, a central service employee) has to attain certain goals.
It becomes the challenge of the manager to find ways that enable
the employee to meet personal goals on the job while also doing
a fair share of the work to meet performance requirements.
Managers are not trained as professional psychologists, so they
certainly cannot be expected to understand the many wants and
needs of their employees. Even if they could, there would likely
be times that many of an employee’s concerns could not be
consistently addressed on the job. In most departments,
technology has not been able to find ways to replace trained
technicians with machines, and because this is the
case, managers will need to continue their practice of the “art
and science” of personnel management and supervision.
Use of a strategy matrix, such as
the one described, may be one helpful tool in the manager’s
toolbox to help formulate the most effective approach for
problem identification. As this occurs, the professional manager
will be well on the way to developing tactics to address it.