Dealing with mediocrity


Why it is that workers don’t perform as well as they could and what can we to get them to give their best for the company? I hear of unemployed people begging for a job, being given the opportunity to work, kissing the feet of their employer and only months later turn against the same employer complaining about the working conditions they accepted so eagerly. I hear of workers speaking badly behind the backs of their employer, forgetting that the same employer provides a salary which makes it possible to pay the bills. And I also hear employers complain about the poor working ethics of their staff. Why is this so and what can be done about it? This is complex material and no one answer will do the trick. There are many factors involved here related to both the workers and the company. So let us examine some of these factors a bit closer. Performance is the result of personal attributes of workers, the effort they put in and the organizational support they receive. All three factors must be present in order for performance to be achieved. If any of the three factors is absent, then performance will seriously deteriorate. In order to get maximum result or maximum performance, each of the factors need to be maximised. Managers must therefore understand how these three factors, acting either alone or in combination, can affect performance results.
We need therefore to realize that:
Individual attributes relate to capacity to perform.
Work effort relates to a willingness to perform.
Organizational support relates to the opportunity to perform.
Individual attributes include three broad categories, namely demographic characteristics (e.g. gender, age, ethnicity), competency characteristics (aptitude or ability) and personality characteristics (what a person is like). From a performance management point of view the individual attributes must match task requirements to facilitate job performance.
Work effort relates to the motivation of the worker. Even if the employee fits the task requirements as closely as possible, it does not necessarily mean that performance will be high. In order to achieve high levels of performance, even people with the right capacities must have the willingness to perform. If in a factory for example, workers have the same academic qualifications, skills and experience, their individual performance may vary considerably. Why is this so? Part of the answer lies indeed in each person’s motivation to work. Hard work however does not necessarily mean that performance will be high too. Motivation predicts work effort, which in turn, combines with individual attributes and organizational support to predict performance. The challenge of managers is than to find ways of positively influencing other people’s motivation to work. The willingness to work ultimately lies with the individual. It is therefore in the manager’s interest to understand and learn more about the psychology of motivation.
Organizational support is the third factor of the individual performance equation. Even if personal attributes and motivation are high, performance may still leave much to be desired, because there is inadequate support in the workplace. Typical constraints could include: lack of time, inadequate budgets, inadequate tools, equipment, supplies, unclear instructions & information, lack of required services and help from others, or inflexibility of procedures.
Almost anybody will face one or more of such constraints at some point in her or his career. Having to rush a job because of a short deadline, insufficient tools, unclear instructions are common examples. It is the responsibility of managers to ensure that organizational support for performance exists in their areas of supervisory responsibility.
Over the next few weeks we will go a bit deeper into the above mentioned factors, more especially some of the individual attributes and motivation issues, in order to understand better why some workers perform well and others not, even though they have the same qualifications. In Ethiopia, we need to realize as well that there still hangs a heavy negatively charged cloud over business owners, who try to earn a living for themselves and their employees. By many, including their own employees, they are still seen as exploiters, who want to get rich quick at the expense of their workers and customers. While there are certainly business owners who fit this description, it is in my opinion necessary to change this perception and try to understand some of the constraints business owners themselves face in the process of building an honest business, which provides employment opportunities for others. Collecting the monthly pay cheque and not putting in the best you have is simply not ethical as well.