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Performance Anxiety: Getting the Most Out of Your Employees

Quiz: How adept are you at solving problems that keep your staff from doing its best? Here's a test.


Gentle reader:

Kind, well-intentioned managers faced with performance problems among their earnest subordinates often respond by arranging training programs to re-educate employees and fix whatever ills have befallen their companies. In many cases, however, training is not the solution, and forcing employees to endure it is to everyone's disadvantage and displeasure. The quiz on this page will give you some idea of when training is called for and when it is not.

When training is appropriate, it can be much more bearable and even more effective if it is presented with humor and style, as writer David Olmos explains on Page 9. Take the accompanying quiz and find out whether your training programs are suitably silly.

Ms. Work Wise

Readers of the Careers section first met Ms. Work Wise last November when the etiquette-savvy fictional character created by our readers joined real-life columnist Judith Martin (a.k.a. "Miss Manners") to address problems related to rudeness in the workplace. Ms. Work Wise returns in this issue to introduce stories on different types of training and will continue to appear as a voice in careers.


Sales are down, production is behind schedule, customer service is backlogged, and will somebody please answer the phone?

Granted, many things about the business have changed in the last few years, but the staff isn't performing as well as it should.

So what's the answer? Training, of course.


Before committing to a training program, it's crucial to analyze what is and isn't happening.

There are at least 10 reasons why people don't perform, according to Carolyn Hohne, president of Hohne Consulting in Mount Holly, N.J., and often more than one of them is at play.

Remember, training deals only with what an employee knows how to do. It doesn't correct behavior, alter work flow, give feedback, set goals, outline expectations or instill confidence.

That last one shouldn't be underestimated.

"In order for people to perform, they have to have not only competence, they need confidence," says Hohne, who consults on training and performance issues for large corporate clients.

Naturally, as a manager you need to determine what the problems are. To see how adept you are, take this test:

1. The receptionist often doesn't answer the phone until the fifth or sixth ring. When asked why, he says he can't hear the phone when he's at the copy machine, which is down the hall. You should:

a) Install one of those really loud phones like they have at gas stations.

b) Allow the receptionist to make copies only during nonbusiness hours.

c) Put a 60-foot extension cord on the phone so it reaches the copy machine.

d) Move the copy machine close to the receptionist's desk.

2. Every salesperson is supposed to file a monthly report of what products were sold and what customers anticipate ordering. The production manager says she gets few of the reports on time and many of them two weeks late. When she brings this up, you:

a) Shrug and say, "If I reprimand them, sales might go down."

b) Shrug and say, "Just do the best with the on-time reports."

c) Shrug and say, "I'm sure you can make the right decisions about ordering materials without somebody else's guess."

d) Find out who the offenders are and discuss the problem with them individually.

3. Your production manager complains that it takes the shop manager too long to shift manufacturing from product A to product B because each line manager must fill out a form listing inventory levels for parts and completed units. That form then needs to be signed by the shop manager, production manager and inventory control accountant. You can't afford to lose production time, so you:

a) Tell the production manager that the forms will just have to be filled out faster.

b) Schedule a training session with the line managers on how to most efficiently handle this important paperwork.

c) Reprimand the shop manager for not keeping everything humming in production.

d) Redesign the system for production changeovers so that the paperwork requirement doesn't stop manufacturing.

4. Every quarter when you close the books, an accountant, two bookkeepers, your secretary and you stay late to complete the work. Part of the process is to have the bookkeepers exchange spreadsheet files over the network, something they normally don't do. Every quarter you have to call your tech person out of bed to walk them through it. Next quarter, she's going to be on maternity leave, so you should:

a) Have her work that night while an ambulance stands by.

b) Have her retrain the bookkeepers for the 15th time in hopes they'll remember how to do it in 12 weeks.

c) Do that quarter's statements with paper, pencil and adding machine.

d) Have the tech person write up step-by-step file transfer instructions that will walk the bookkeepers through it every quarter.

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