May We Recommend...

Performance Enhancement 

Diagnosing Performance Problems By Robert Bacal 

Summary: No amount of time spent on solving a performance problem will work if the manager and employee don't know what is causing the problem. Too often the root cause of barriers to performance is not identified correctly, and so performance continues to suffer. This article maps out a process for diagnosing performance problems.

One of the toughest tasks for any manager or supervisor is to determine  the cause of a performance problem.  Since decisions to remediate the  problem will depend on the diagnosis, accurate assessment is crucial.  In  this article we will outline a model of factors influencing employee performance, so that you are less likely to ignore a possible source of  performance deficit.  In future issues of the Public Sector Manager, we  will return to this topic in more detail.    

The Nature of Performance 

Work performance is influenced by a number of factors.  When  performance is excellent, it is a result of a number of circumstances that  work together to make this excellence possible.  So, stellar performance  requires that ALL relevant influences on behaviour are in place. 

Sadly, poor performance can result from a SINGLE factor or influence that  drastically reduces effectiveness.  Frequently, a performance problem that  is allowed to continue unchecked will expand as other influences turn from  positive to negative.   

A Seven Factor Model 

We can suggest seven factors that influence or determine the level of  performance.  These factors are multiplicative in nature.  For those of you  whose favorite subject in schools was NOT math, this means that  performance will be as strong as the weakest link in the chain of  performance determinants.  If there is a deficit in any one of these factors,  performance will suffer.   

Factor 1: Aptitude 

Aptitude refers to a person's native ability to perform the task or tasks.   Each of us has strengths and weaknesses that determine if we can learn or  perform a task.  Poor aptitude for a task could mean that the person could  never learn how to do it, even with all the supports in the world.   Assessing aptitude is very difficult.  

Factor 2: Skill Level 

Even the simplest responsibilities require skills.  Skills differ from  aptitudes in that they can be learned, up to the limits imposed by aptitude.   To assess whether a performance deficit is a result of lack of skill, ask the  questions, "If his/her life depended on it, could the person do the task?"   If the answer is no, then it could be a skill problem.  

Factor 3: Understanding of Task 

A person must understand the nature of the task, and what is expected.  If  this clear communication is lacking, no amount of skill or motivation will  bring about effective performance.  Performance management is the  common means for conveying understanding of the task.  The best way to  assess an employee's understanding is to ask questions within a coaching  environment.  

Factor 4: Choice to Expend Effort 

This, and the next factor are motivational factors.  If a person has the  aptitude, skills and understanding of the task required, it may be that there  are factors causing the person to "not make the effort".  These may be  personal or related to the work environment.  Assessing whether there is 
a motivational problem is difficult, and can best be done by examining  other indicator behaviours (absenteeism, lack of participation in meetings,  or other factors that suggest a motivational problem.  

Factor 5:      Choice of Degree of EffortTo Expend 

Sometimes effort is not an on/off thing.  An employee may be putting in  a limited amount of effort and therefore producing inferior results.    

Factor 6: Choice To Persist 

Performance requires that effort be initiated and sustained over time.  This  motivational factor may result in projects started but never completed.  If  an employee is not persisting in tasks, it can indicate boredom, fear of  failure, or may relate to a lack of skills.  Careful, diplomatic discussion is 
required to uncover if and why this may be occurring.   

Factor 7: Outside Factors 

Performance can be reduced due to factors beyond the control of the  individual.  The organization itself may be setting barriers to performance,  or uncooperative co-workers and managers may contribute.  Discussion  with the employee during performance management should include  reference to factors outside the control of the employee that impede  progress.  If these outside factors are allowed to continue,  unacknowledged, motivational levels will drop, complicating the issue and  creating a chronic under-performer.  


It is important that performance problems be addressed as soon as they  occur, and the above factors be examined to determine whether they are  contributing to the problem.  By working with the employee in a  cooperative way, it is possible to identify and remediate some of the  underlying causes of work performance problems. 


About Company

Bacal & Associates was founded in 1992 by consultant and book author, Robert Bacal. Robert's books on performance management and reviews have been published by McGraw-Hill. He is available for consultation, training and keynote speaking on performance and management at work.


Robert Bacal

Bacal's Books
About The Company
About Our Performance Management Philosophy
Privacy Policy

Our Related Websites

Leadership Resource Center
Upgrade your understanding of modern leadership in a complex world. Stay current.

The Planning Resource Center

From strategic planning for businesses, small and large, right through to financial planning for millennials, stay current with the latest thoughts and actions on planning.

Bacal & Associates Store
Free and paid guides, books, and documents on business, management and more.

Small Business Resource Center

For anyone who owns, runs or would like to start their own business. Filled with advice, tips, articles.

We Believe

  • Performance management and appraisal MUST be a partnership between manager and employee where BOTH benefit.
  • Performance management can be the lever for improved employee engagement.
  • The review process is the LEAST important part of performance management
  • If managers aren't managing employee performance, why are they there?

Get in Touch

  • Phone:
    (613) 764-0241
  • Email:
  • Address:

  • Bacal & Associates
  • 722 St. Isidore Rd.
  • Casselman
  • Ontario
  • Canada, K0A 1M0