Our resident staffing expert deals with the problem of a worker who does not seem equipped to do the job
Workplace Doctor: Staff member not up to standard
A recently hired staff member in our logistics department appears not to have the job-based competence I would expect them to have. I can’t trust them to deliver the standards required of their position. How can I resolve this?
JK, Abu Dhabi
The dynamic and challenging UAE environment, whether public or private sector, increasingly calls for a high-quality and competent workforce.
Today there is simply less room and fewer opportunities afforded to those who are not willing or able to deliver to the standards required of their positions. Within the context of your recently hired staff member, it is important therefore to quickly identify the root cause of their incompetence - whether it is due to a lack of ability, opportunity or motivation - and to formulate an effective development strategy or performance management action plan.
If the identified issue is around ability, then for some time learning and development practitioners have used McCall, Eichinger and Lombardo’s 70:20:10 principle as a baseline to plan learning interventions. Although questioned and slightly altered to reflect a 55:25:20 ratio in a 2014/2015 Revised Global Leadership Forecast, the underlying principle is still valid and useful. Both models of learning determine that most learning happens in the workplace (on the job), with the next weighting through informal and social learning (mentoring and coaching) and the remaining and lowest percentage through formal training methods (classroom and online training courses) – it is the integration of these approaches that generates optimal and sustained learning.
It’s also useful to know that people learn in different ways, and to maximise someone’s learning agility it is important to have some understanding of the person’s preferred learning style. One of the most well-known learning style models is Kolb’s Experiential Learning Theory. According to this model, learning can be described as a cycle made up of four basic phases: learning by experiencing (concrete experience); by thinking (abstract conceptualisation); by reflecting (reflective observation); and by doing (active experimentation).
The learning process can begin in any of these four phases and often naturally occurs through our preferred phase but, in order to optimise learning, it is ideal to construct a learning process and plan that enables your staff member to cycle through all four phases throughout their learning process. The Kolb Learning Style inventory can be accessed on-line.
So what might a structured learning support process entail that will enable this person to acquire the necessary skills, knowledge and experience? Consider what interventions and processes are required. As a minimum, the person needs to have a clear understanding of what competencies are necessary to deliver their job, including the purpose of what they do, the required standards and measurable results. Following the learning ratio approach, on the job learning is obviously essential, which may include some initial job shadowing to assimilate the required tasks/skills before having to do it on their own. This can be supported by ongoing detailed and constructive feedback and coaching and supplemented where necessary with specific skills training courses.
If motivation seems to be the underlying issue of the person’s low standards, which would be a concern seeing that this is a recent hire, it calls for a different intervention where you ideally want to grasp both the source of their low engagement and what motivates him/her.
It is worth mentioning that learning agility is not only reserved for those with clear development needs. Learning in the workplace today is becoming more critical to keep up with rapidly changing demands and increasing complexity. In fact, in order to stay ahead in organisations today, the rate of learning needs to be equal to or greater than the rate of change, which means that learning agility has become a continuous and necessary capability for us all.
Clear communication that explicitly outlines expectations and responsibilities is vital – ensure that you are both on the same page and that there is no room for misunderstanding. This will help to avoid confusion, confrontations and blame in the future. It is equally important that you document what has been said and done to provide a solid track record for reference. If the situation continues, consider whether you are able to move this person into a role with different responsibilities more suited to their skills.