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If your overhead costs are high and your business output and efficiency is disappointing, there are several possible causes. Identifying the barriers that are keeping your business and your employees from producing great work correctly is critical to solving them.

There are two main categories that problems can fall into. You may have a structural problem that’s getting in the way of your business’s success. The end result may appear to be an employee problem, but it’s being caused by something about the way your business operates or is managed. Or you may have an employee problem, where the individual employee is at fault. Employee problems can be further broken down into an intrinsic source (something about that person) or an external source (something affecting that person in their life outside of work that may be temporary).

When you’re looking for the causes of inefficiency or poor performance, you have to become your own Sherlock, on the hunt for clues. It’s not only unfair to blame employees for all problems and expect them to solve them, but ineffective. You may lose a good employee and make your situation worse, rather than improving the situation. However, sometimes it really is a matter of an under performing employee who is causing the problem.

At the interviewing stage, you want to make sure you’re adding the right people to the team. Of course, you do reference checks to get a sense of their past performance, but a working interview or a group interview can give you a better sense of how they work with others. Also use a trial period to your benefit to make sure new employees are fitting in and living up to expectations.

What about when staff have been around for longer but start underperforming? Some problems can be remediated, while others may not. Start by communicating your concern to the direct manager or supervisor and the employee in question, and ask about what they think the cause and potential solutions might be. Ideally, they’ll be able to point out a problem and inform a solution.

In other cases, the employee may not be able or willing to identify the source of a problem and you need to investigate further. The issue could be related to how other teams or departments or management team members relate to the employee, in which case you need to observe, document, and address the situation from within your business. However, in other cases, your employee could be going through something in their personal life that is impacting their work. It could be family and relationship-related, stress, depression, or anxiety-related, or caused by health or substance-abuse problems.

If the employee is bringing problems into the workplace, you need to start by clarifying expectations. This may involve emphasizing job descriptions and HR policy. You need to communicate and document what is unsatisfactory about their performance and what you expect going forward. Offer resources, solutions or support as appropriate. That might include helping them access counselling or other resources, or coming up with a gradual improvement plan.

Follow up with clear steps. What do they need to do to meet expectations? How will you measure success? How much time do they have to make improvements? This may involve a performance metric. In substance abuse situations, you might seek out drug testing services to verify employee sobriety.

The key to addressing barriers to great employee work is identifying what’s affecting their performance. Be open to the possibility that it’s not their fault, but an internal, structural problem. Investigate causes, make expectations clear, offer solutions, and set a timeline to bring performance up to scratch when the employee is at fault.

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