What’s up with Bob? A Framework for Diagnosing Performance Problems Before They Undermine Your Team

Dave Smith Care for people

Dave Smith is a Ph.D. student at Benedictine University’s Center for Values-Driven Leadership (CVDL) and has broad leadership experience including for-profit, non-profit, and military command.


Bob, one of your consistently solid performers, has missed three deadlines. His last two presentations have been underwhelming – and one of them cost you a client. What is Bob’s deal? You find yourself thinking, “One more foul-up and that Bob is toast!”
Whoa…. Slow down. Take a deep breath. OK, so something is definitely up with Bob. But Bob, and all our folks, deserve values-driven leadership. Leaders are responsible to actually live out the values of the company. Most likely, all our companies’ values include statements about how important our people are. So let’s try to figure out what is going on with Bob before doing anything rash.
What follows is a framework, not a checklist – designed to help us think about the issue, and keep us objective.
See your HR professionals for advice and certainly before planning any personnel actions or asking Bob any detailed personal questions. Much of the following framework is adapted from Mager and Pipe (see reference below).
  • First of all, did Bob’s performance issues start suddenly? If so, can we pinpoint when they began? Do any of his coworkers know of some negative event in his life – maybe someone close to him was diagnosed with a serious disease, or he received some other bad news. Has Bob been received new or additional responsibilities or did his team change about the time the problems began?
  • What exactly is the poor performance? Can you define it? So Bob’s presentation was poor: what specifically was wrong? For example, was the problem preparation, presentation, bad data, lack of effort, or a combination?
  • Does he have the skills necessary? Has Bob done this task correctly in the past? If he’s not done it well in the past, maybe it’s a training issue. If he has done it well, but it’s been a while, maybe he needs practice. Either way, did you give him clear expectations?
  • What are the “freakonomics” of Bob’s situation? Is Bob rewarded in some way for not doing good work – e.g. if he does a poor job, you don’t give him the tough clients? Maybe he’s “punished” for doing a good job? For example, doing a good job could mean more deadlines, and less time for Bob to attend his daughter’s soccer games.
  • Are there obstacles preventing Bob from doing a good job? Are there policies or egos which complicate the work? What about the necessary data, resources, time, and equipment – did we provide Bob what he needed to be successful?
These simple questions might reveal surprising causes or contributors to performance issues in your company. While very helpful, the framework is not a substitute for sound judgment. It’s always a good idea to talk to your HR professionals and get their advice.
Is this framework helpful? What would you change or add? Make a comment and let us know.

Reference: Mager and Pipe, Analyzing Performance: quoted by Zemke and Kramlinger in Figuring Things Out, Addison-Wesley Publishing, 1982, pp. 18ff.

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