Learning vs Performance at Work

  • Ezra
  • April 20th, 2021

How do you differentiate a lack of training from poor performance? Choosing the right solution is important when improving employee productivity, or you can end up with a workforce that is both underperforming and demoralised.

Work Performance vs Learning

These days, businesses have a comparatively easy time keeping track of employee performance due to all of the metrics and analytics available to them. They can see exactly how productive an employee is, and there’s data that proves it, which can be helpful when making difficult decisions regarding staff.

However, this data usually doesn’t tell the full story. In particular, it doesn’t show the exact reason why an employee’s productivity is lower than their colleagues. The two biggest causes are a lack of training and poor performance. These two may sound similar to some people, and can be confused, but there are some major differences and it’s important to be able to differentiate when an employee lacks training and when they’re just performing poorly.

A lack of training, or performance issues?

When trying to identify an employee’s lack of productivity, training and performance are the two biggest considerations to keep in mind. However, it’s difficult to determine whether an employee lacks the right amount of training or if they’re just not performing to your expectations for some other reason.

When is it a lack of training?

A lack of training is usually the first conclusion that managers will come to. As a result, they’ll often place the employee on a more intensive training course or an advanced skills course which could potentially lead to a more productive employee. This may work in some cases, but in other cases, you may end up investing a lot of money for little to no performance gain.

The problem here is that training only affects two variables in each employee; their skills and their knowledge. Skills and knowledge can be easy to determine in an employee if you’re able to look at their history or academic skills. For example, if an employee has a certification for a certain skill or knowledge, then it’s clear that they do have the right qualifications. If they have had periods of great performance in the past, then there are clearly other factors that are affecting their productivity now.

However, if there was no evidence that they possess those skills or the knowledge required, then it may indeed be a lack of training that is holding them back. This can usually be solved by just engaging with the employee and asking if they would like more training or if they believe that training could improve their performance. Transparency is important as putting an employee on a course without consultation can lead to a negative situation.

What affects performance?

There are four main factors to consider when it comes to performance; attitude, motivation, resources, and workflow. Targeting these softer skills and capabilities through employee coaching initiatives can often be used to mitigate negatives, but this absolutely requires the employee to engage with any kind of development program.

Attitude is self-explanatory. If the employee has a poor attitude towards their job, then this is a performance issue that doesn’t have a simple explanation or solution. It’s something that will need to be solved over time and through many coaching sessions to help understand their concerns or problems with their position.

Motivation is similar to attitude and can affect it. If an employee isn’t motivated, then they may perform their tasks at a slower rate, they may be more prone to mistakes, and they may be resistant to making changes. Motivation is another performance-related problem that has no ideal solution. Through coaching and engaging with the employee, you’ll be able to find reasons for why they lack motivation. This would be due to their lack of connection to the business, or it could be because their skills aren’t being used to the fullest.

Resources refer to the resources available to them. Employees will often have reduced productivity when they don’t have the right resources available to them. For example, if an employee doesn’t have access to powerful and reliable computer systems, then their performance will suffer not because of a lack of training, but due to a lack of computing power.

Workflow is the last factor to affects performance. Workflow refers to the processes that the employee is responsible for and how it integrates into the company. Workflows can be something that an individual employee has little to no control over. For example, if they are asked to do something in a very specific way, then they often have no say over how to change things for the better. Having a more open company policy may help improve an employee’s workflow, especially if they are more qualified to say how they want to carry out their job.

Balancing training and performance

There are more factors that affect performance than training. Naturally, this means that we should put a slightly heavier emphasis on improving performance issues than training. While the two are certainly important, performance issues can often have a bigger impact on an employee’s performance than training alone.

Subjecting employees to more learning may even be detrimental to their performance. It may result in the employee feeling disconnected from their role, it tends to waste money, and it even pulls them away from their role and gaining experience in their designated position.

To improve employee performance, we must first identify why their performance is lacking and what’s causing it. For example, if an employee finds it difficult to use a specific piece of equipment, then this can be solved with training and coaching. However, if they work slowly because they aren’t feeling motivated, then this is a performance problem that must be solved with coaching and feedback.

Maintaining a balance

Coaching is arguably one of the best ways to maintain a balance of performance and learning. It helps to deal with the majority of the performance-related issues that an employee may face, but it can also teach them the skills they need to overcome training-related problems. Leadership coaching in particular is an ongoing process that will assist employees and their managers over a long period of time, making it a continuous solution to a problem that has no clearly defined or fixed answer.

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