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Kenneth W. Keller: Why Johnny isn’t meeting expectations

Inside Business

Posted: November 3, 2009 9:02 p.m.
Updated: November 4, 2009 4:55 a.m.
Johnny has been working for the company for almost a year. He is looking forward to his first performance appraisal and hopefully, an increase in pay. Johnny thinks he has done a pretty good job and sees himself on the way up.

The owner’s view is that Johnny will soon be in line at the unemployment office.  

There is nothing more frustrating to an owner then seeing an employee not performing.

An owner sees an under-performing employee as a dollar figure, not as an investment for greater contribution.

Given that some companies are continuing to reduce head counts, it would be good advice for anyone working today to do the best job possible for the organization providing them with a paycheck.

People working today understand this. But this won’t happen through the efforts of the employee alone; the opportunity for deeper engagement lies elsewhere in the company.  

Most businesses have at least one Johnny on the payroll. Coworkers like Johnny; he is pleasant to work with. Johnny is on time, doesn’t fool around and is not a burden to his boss.   

The owner takes a different perspective. When the owner sees Johnny, he silently asks: “Why is he on the payroll? What does he do all day? What results is he generating and when will I start seeing what I expect from him?”

Eventually the owner shares these doubts; first hinting in reserved tones in private conversations and shortly thereafter, openly asking questions about Johnny’s value to the organization.

Why isn’t Johnny meeting expectations? Why is the owner becoming increasingly angry at Johnny?

One place the owner might look is at Johnny’s supervisor and the entire chain of command.

Johnny’s supervisor never had a formal discussion with Johnny, followed up in writing, about what Johnny needs to do and the results he needs to generate. There were likely some informal discussions along the way and Johnny followed through with those.

What Johnny has heard from his supervisor is, “Keep up the good work!” Or, “Don’t do that anymore.”  

As a result, Johnny doesn’t know, doesn’t understand and cannot be held responsible for not doing what he is expected to do or the results he is expected to achieve. This assumes Johnny understands how to do the job he was hired to do; otherwise he never would have been added to the company payroll.

Johnny isn’t clear why he is on the payroll. Johnny was never told “We have hired you to achieve these results ... in this time frame.” He never received any objectives in writing.

Johnny has wisely decided to become a charter member of the company culture and go along with what everyone does. Johnny does this to keep his paycheck and avoid getting on the bad side of his supervisor.

When Johnny’s supervisor hears that the owner is unhappy with Johnny’s lack of results, he wonders what the owner thinks of him, the person responsible for supervising Johnny.

Johnny’s supervisor failed Johnny. The supervisor might argue differently, but written evidence detailing specific, measurable, actionable, realistic and time-bound objectives won’t be found. Did this critical document disappear? Was it destroyed? Misplaced?

No. It was never created in the first place. How could this have happened?

The reason behind this glaring error is that Johnny’s supervisor never received anything in writing from the chain of command above.  

The owner never said or wrote what any objectives were or how they were to be measured. Those who report to the owner simply followed his lead: the owner set the example by providing nothing.

Those who report to the owner determined that objectives must not be important. As a consequence, Johnny’s supervisor received nothing about what Johnny was supposed to accomplish. Despite being in business for years, job descriptions were never written; objective hiring evaluation forms never developed; specific, measurable, actionable, realistic, and time bound objectives were never established for each position; evaluation training was never conducted; authority to hire and fire was not given to the appropriate levels in the organization; performance appraisal forms never developed.

Johnny is looking forward to his annual performance appraisal. He is about to find out that his employer doesn’t give them. What about the raise for Johnny? Johnny can forget about it.  

The owner might be frustrated with Johnny and wonder why Johnny isn’t producing the desired results, but the owner has no one to blame but himself.

Ken Keller is president of Renaissance Executive Forums, which brings business owners together in facilitated peer advisory boards. His column represents his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal.


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