TIP of the Week – What does an owl and employee performance have in common?


What does an owl and employee performance have in common?

Ever caught yourself thinking: “Why can’t people just do what they are asked to do?” or “Why do I have to keep on checking if things have been done correctly?”

Either way, having to constantly push for the performance you expect from your people is time consuming, frustrating and very stressful for them as well as you. It’s a complete lose/lose situation and rarely ends with the performance level changing for the long term.

But is that really what is happening?

What if your starting point is “No-one comes to work deliberately to screw up?” I can honestly say I have never come across this in all my years of management. I have met a few disgruntled employees who become difficult or awkward, but a wise old owl (a previous boss) taught me to be very careful how I judge their behaviour. More often than not, they had some genuine issues that needed to be addressed. What I am about to share with you works equally as well in the situation where you are looking for a member of staff who is already performing well and you want to take them to a higher level perhaps.

So what of this wise old owl?

W-I-S-E is a great acronym which I use as a guide to help me understand what I need to do to help the individual perform at the level I am expecting; and in truth the level they often aspire to as well.

W = Willing

Are they willing and what behaviour do they need in order to perform well?

It is common for managers to believe it is the individual’s attitude, willingness and behaviour that needs to be addressed when performance issues arise.

This can turn into ‘Reading them the riot act’,  but we really need to get behind why they are behaving this way.

I = Instructions

Are the instructions clear enough for them to do the job? A performance gap is frequently because the individual didn’t fully understand what was expected of them in the first place! I call this being ‘Foggy’ where our lack of clarity could be the prime reason for a performance gap.

S = Skills

Do they possess the necessary skills and ability to carry out the work to the required standard?

Assuming they don’t have the skills is potentially the ‘Fix them for me’ approach whereby unwilling people end up on training courses that unsurprisingly don’t yield the expected results. Have you properly assessed their capability and have you seen them do the job correctly before?


E = Environment

Is the environment in which they work conducive to them performing well?         Another very frequent cause of a performance gap is when the environment that the person is working in does not support them fully. It could be poor team dynamics, relationship issues, equipment problems, supplier issues, poor working conditions or poor systems and processes.

This is the ‘Just get on with it’ syndrome where we think people are simply complaining and being awkward. Ignore this at your peril!


To summarise:

All aspects of performance can be analysed under 4 headings:





Often it is not ‘Willingness’ that is the issue, although we tend to consider that first.

If there is a behavioural problem then you may have to look beyond your mindset that is suggesting they are doing it deliberately! Remember their attitude drives their behaviour and attitude is influenced by many things from personal issues through to relationship problems in the team. Leaving it unresolved though is to invite continuing underperformance.

In my experience it is often a lack of clear instructions or a problem with the environment that is the underlying cause of a performance problem. A training course will not always be the answer to solve a performance issue.We should ensure that processes, systems, equipment working conditions & relationships are conducive to good performance.

So, like the owl, be performance WISE…..

Further information and detailed training programmes are available from TIPS for Good Management