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Updated: May 16, 2024

How to address staff behavioral and performance concerns

Leaders routinely experience unproductive staff behavior at work. Common behaviors range from individuals demonstrating poor performance or having negative interactions with others, to entire divisions or groups in-fighting or not hitting their performance targets.

Performance issues and behavioral concerns tend to be the most common thing that managers and owners deal with, and though getting to the root of the issue can feel daunting, going through that process will provide all the clues needed to address what is really going on. 

Angela Hansen
Courtesy / ACE
Angela Hansen, Range Culture Co.

It is likely that every one of your staff members wants to do a good job, use their strengths, and enjoy their work while contributing to your mission. Yet they sometimes exhibit unhelpful, unprofessional, unproductive, and even unhealthy behavior.

In these circumstances we often see three root causes: unclear roles, undocumented systems or policies and lack of accountability.

Unclear roles. Job descriptions really can serve a useful purpose. They are not just paperwork to park in a file; your HR consultant and attorney will recommend you have this document for every job for many reasons. The most practical reason is to help the individual know with certainty their own responsibilities within the organization.

When job roles and responsibilities are clear, we know our lanes. When roles are not clear, we will naturally test the environment to see what is acceptable and what is not because our human brains have an innate need to make sense of it all.

Undocumented systems or policies. A written set of policies and processes clarifies and makes official what gets done, how it gets done, and who does it. When organizational systems are unclear, we feel uncomfortable and either try to “fix” the issue by trial and error, or we appear to act out because of the discomfort we feel.

Of course, trial and error is natural to developing processes. The trick here is to put some intentional time into discussing it, documenting it, and then refining along the way. 

Lack of accountability. Holding people accountable keeps us in our lanes, provides us with objective measures of performance, and informs on how our work advances your business goals.

When there is strong accountability and coaching, we don’t need to test the system because we know what it is, how our role and work contributes or interferes, and what happens when we are doing well, or not. With clear roles, documented systems and policies, leaders have the tools needed to manage accountability.  

To use these tools, a leader working to identify the root cause of behavior or productivity issues must meet with each employee — not just the problem employee — to ask some open-ended questions. Be a detective.

Tell the truth about what you are doing — for instance, by saying: “I am trying to get to the root of the XYZ issue, and need your help to understand what is really going on."

Go into each conversation intending to learn, not to respond, take notes and express gratitude. These listening sessions will provide insight into specific issues around role clarity, systems and policies, or lack of accountability. That insight will point you in the direction of the solution.

Rinse and repeat with the next and the next. You know more issues are coming, solving them in this way is progress for your operation.

Keep in mind that clarity evolves through communication and that you are not the only stakeholder in the evolutionary process…your team wants to do this with you. Just start the conversation, and define the three basic things that need to be done together. 

You can also call in a consultant to help you see some of these things objectively; doing some or all of it yourself, however, builds relationships and trust with your group — which will also help you retain a capable team. Sometimes it is better to use the former technique, other times it is better to go with the latter. You will know.

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