AIM your people for performance and you’ll hit your targets

I once received a call from a distraught director. One of his departments continually posted abysmal customer satisfaction results. He asked if I could provide a customer service workshop for his team.

I looked through the department’s customer satisfaction results. While there were some opportunities to improve on service, they didn’t need customer service training. What they needed was a better process for moving their customers through the department. That was the root cause of the service issues. I later learned that the training department had already conducted two customer service workshops in the past 18 months. The problem wasn’t going away.

Individuals and teams perform at their best when they have ability, information, and motivation. (AIM) If any one of those is missing performance will suffer. This may sound simple. However, in practice, many leaders fail to address all three.

I’ve conducted hundreds of needs assessments in my career. More often than not performance problems are driven by motivation. Your people know what to do; they are just choosing not to do it (either consciously or subconsciously). Motivation is driven by engagement, corporate culture, rewards and recognition, and a person’s individual level of engagement. In one non-profit service agency, leaders were concerned that their counselors weren’t spending enough time with clients. The counselors wanted to spend time more time with the clients. However, their performance was evaluated based on the number of clients they saw. The agency’s performance management systems were contradicting both the agency’s and the individual’s desires. Once the performance management system was modified, the problem went away. However, motivated employees don’t always succeed.

Sometimes the issue is that people don’t have the information they need. Information can be operational data about a department’s functioning, the company’s goals and priorities, latest news, policies and procedures, lessons learned, or details about your products and services. In the case of the department with poor service scores, the manager had never seen the full report of her customer service results. The director would give her the overall score and tell her to improve it. Once she saw the responses to individual questions, she knew exactly what the problem was and how to fix it. Here was a person who had the ability and motivation but was missing the information upon which to act.

Finally, sometimes people don’t have the ability to do the job. Ability comes in two parts: internal and external. Internal ability includes knowledge, skills, and experience. This is where training can be helpful. This is also where many leaders focus their efforts to improve performance. The biggest mistake you can make as a leader is to assume that if people aren’t doing what you want it’s because they don’t know how to do it. Often, that is not the case.

External ability includes processes, tools and equipment, software, and other organizational resources. I recently applied for a life insurance policy. It took five months to get a decision. I then applied to a different company. I had a decision in three weeks. Both companies are large, well known insurance providers. I would guess that their underwriters are equally competent. One company clearly had better processes and systems. The difference in performance was staggering.

AIMing for better performance

Leaders are under increasing pressure to deliver more with less. In many cases the people you have could rise to the challenge. You just have to ensure that they have what they need, know what to do, and most importantly, want to do it.

Five tips for AIMing for better performance

  1. Take time to understand the root cause of your people’s performance problems. It might seem faster to implement a “quick hit” but you won’t get the results you need.
  2. Don’t take motivation for granted. It’s probably the single biggest driver of poor performance.
  3. Make sure you have all three elements: ability, information, and motivation. Performance is like a three legged stool. It will fall unless all three pieces are in place.
  4. Provide context – a key piece of “information” that is often missing is context. Your people want to understand the big picture and the end to which they are contributing. It will help focus them and it will also help motivate them.
  5. Use training and workshops sparingly. Training is good for building skills. You can’t train someone to be motivated. You also can’t “train” them about information. They’ll forget it. Find alternative ways to motivate and provide information.

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