Knowledge Gap or Competency Issue?



At some point in your career as a manager, you will likely have a team member whose performance does not meet expectations. I often hear from managers about a member of their team who is under-performing but they don’t know how best to address it, or they have made interventions but those interventions aren’t having the desired result. There are three general reasons for under-performance: the person doesn’t have the right knowledge, they aren’t capable to completing what is expected, or there is an external or internal event that is impeding their work.

There are a few questions you should ask to help identify the root cause:

  • Have I seen person successfully complete the task/expectation before? If this team member has met expectations in the past, they likely have the knowledge needed, unless...

  • Have there been changes in process, systems or expectations? If there has been a change in the operating framework, validate that they have been informed, educated, and understand when and why the change took effect.

  • Has their role changed? Even slight changes in role require enablement to ensure the person understands what is expected of them.

  • Has the individual had formal and informal performance support? Validating that the person has had sufficient enablement opportunities of any of the above is important. If the person should have the knowledge based on training, opportunities for practical application, etc. it may be a competency gap.

  • Is there something else going on? To lead with empathy, we need to consider other factors that may impact someone’s performance. So often we talk about leaving personal items at the door when we arrive at work (and vice versa), but even those who are exceptional at compartmentalizing their lives may have carry over. For example, a team member who recently expanded their family may not have the opportunity to get enough sleep and this can have impacts on their performance. These influences may also be also be within the workplace; is the team member a target of workplace bullying or harassment, are the encountering roadblocks you can help them move. These items don’t indefinitely excuse poor performance, but may contextualize, and hopefully give you the opportunity as their manager to support them.

Once you have identified the root cause of the performance gap, you’re in a better position to coach or develop a performance plan to help your team member.

We’d love to hear creative ways you have addressed performance gaps, or more strategies you have employed to determine the cause of those gaps. Let us know in the comments!


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