Dealing with mediocrity 3

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Over the three weeks we’ve been looking at getting past mediocrity. Job performance is the product of individual attributes, work effort and organizational support. Last week we looked at some of the individual attributes, which influence the capacity of workers to perform, more especially demographic characteristics (e.g. gender, age, ethnicity), competency characteristics (aptitude or ability) and personality characteristics (what a person is like). From a performance management point of view the individual attributes must match task requirements to facilitate job performance and here follows a summary of some of the conclusions we drew:
Contrary to what many people believe, there are very few differences between men and women that would affect job performance. There are in fact no consistent differences between men and women in the ability to solve problems, analyse, compete, motivate, learn or socialise. Yet women face a hard time having to prove that they are able to perform just as well or even better than their male counterparts.
A common stereotype, when it comes to age is that many people don’t think elderly people are still able to learn and be flexible. However, the truth is that this depends on the individual. Many elderly show themselves to be quite flexible indeed, while age and performance have been found to be unrelated in research. Older people are no more likely to be unproductive than younger people.
Understanding personalities helps the manager predict what somebody can do and what that somebody will do. Cultural values and norms play a substantial role in the development of an individual’s personality and behaviour.
Personality may develop over time, for example from immaturity to maturity, from passivity to activity, from dependence to independence, from shallow behaviour to deep interests, from short-term to long-term perspective, from little self-awareness to much self-awareness.
There are quite a number of attributes that determine the individual, his or her personality, who somebody is, that a good manager must be aware of. Not being aware of these factors, which also influence individual performance, will lead managers into using blanket management instruments, not necessarily the most effective.
The next factor in the equation that we will look into is work effort or the willingness of a person to perform. Work effort relates to the motivation of the worker. Even if the employee fits the task requirements as closely as possible, it does not necessarily mean that performance will be high. In order to achieve high levels of performance, even people with the right capacities must have the willingness to perform. If in a factory for example, workers have the same academic qualifications, skills and experience, their individual performance may vary considerably. Why is this so? Part of the answer lies in each person’s motivation to work. I observe that work effort is a real problem in Ethiopia. Many workers consistently fail to demonstrate that they want to put in the best they have during working hours. In addition to that, many people are not very time conscious and as a result a lot of production time is lost. Here follow a few examples of what I observe:
Last week I walked into one of the private banks and as I passed some workers, I noticed they were busy chatting on their private mobile phones. By the time I had cashed my cheque and walked out of the bank, they were still chatting. In other words, they were not doing what was expected from them; in fact they were not performing at all and seemed quite pleased with their conversation instead. And this is all done quite openly.
As I entered a company the other day, I was received quite well at the reception. Behind the reception however, I noticed a cleaner sitting in the corner, looking bored and yawning while looking at me. The receptionist led me to the office where I needed to be and by the time I had finished and came out, I found the lady in the same position, still yawning and looking bored, following me with her eyes as I walked out. The positive impression created by the effectiveness of the receptionist was negatively affected by this person and I wondered what could be wrong with her.
I wanted to enter a shop during lunch time and just before getting in the shopkeeper walked to the door and turned the “Open” sign around into “Closed”. I asked if I could still come in and the shopkeeper answered that they were closed for lunch, effectively robbing the shop owner of a sales opportunity.
Without doing injustice to all people who try and put in the best they can, these are some of the realities that managers and business owners face, while trying to run their company. In doing so, they must develop ways of positively influencing workers’ motivation to work. There are many ways of doing so, ranging from punishments to rewards, to pay raises, to creating a conducive work environment, to coaching, to delegating, giving more responsibility, sharing profits etc. and managers must make themselves aware of the possibilities. There are countless books written on the subject of motivation (go to Bookworld) and enough material will be found on the internet as well.
Even so, the willingness to put in the best ultimately rests with the individual worker. The manager cannot do the employees work. Personal accountability and work ethics come in here. Where somebody has been given the opportunity to work, earn a living to pay the bills and provide for the family, it is a personal responsibility to make the best effort to perform in return. To employees I suggest that in case there are factors that make it difficult to do this, take up the courage to discuss this with the supervisor. A solution may be worked out. Don’t just sit there and do nothing, thereby harming the business and yourself in the end.