Performance shortfalls

Aug. 1, 2006
Ever spend sleepless nights with visions of faltering employees dancing in your head? There are seven reasons for performance shortfalls.

Ever spend sleepless nights with visions of faltering employees dancing in your head? There are seven reasons for performance shortfalls. And good news for Dr. Scaredy Cat - only one requires confrontation or termination. You can address six of seven performance shortfalls, help your team succeed, get what you want from your practice, and never lose a night’s rest again.

Take the case of appointment coordinator, Sandy. Although lacking dental experience, Sandy was hired for her enthusiasm, maturity, and organizational skills. Her second week on the job, an instance of poor performance made the doctor want to burn poor Sandy at the stake. She failed to acknowledge a patient in the reception area ... for 45 minutes! Before putting Sandy on the pyre, let’s discover the reasons for her performance shortfall and the steps the doctor can take to permanently correct it.

① Lack of task clarity. Often our training consists of telling the employee, “I want you to work.” If the person asks, “How?” Our answer is, “Hard.” It is the job of the leader/trainer to make every task clear. Did Sandy’s employer indicate that her job was to monitor the reception area? Were Sandy’s monitoring responsibilities spelled out? Did she have the resources, mechanics, and communication tools to perform? Let’s assume she did and look further for the reason for her performance shortfall.

② Lack of task priority. One dentist sent me her job description for an appointment coordinator. It was pages long, listing hundreds of tasks, with no indication of their importance. If filing charts is number two on the list and monitoring the reception area is number 121, the employee has no direction on priorities. So, the priority becomes whatever the person feels comfortable doing. Assuming Sandy’s tasks were prioritized, let’s look further to explain her performance shortfall.

③ Lack of task competence. Was Sandy given the information to do the task and the opportunity to practice it? Until a new skill is mastered, it’s natural for employees under pressure to fail in performing it. If for one week Sandy did great at monitoring reception, but in the second week was stressed by phones ringing and staff needing her attention, then Sandy could have fallen down in performing a task new to her. Assuming she had task competence, what other reasons could explain her performance shortfall?

④ Real or perceived obstacles. It’s not the leader’s job to judge whether an obstacle the employee has is real or imagined, but only to uncover it and coach the person with solutions to overcome it. Perhaps Sandy’s chair did not allow a full view of the reception area, or she didn’t know how to manage the time demands of pulling charts and being the frontline ambassador. Assuming Sandy encountered no obstacles, are her days numbered, or could there be another reason for her performance shortfall?

⑤ Perceived reward for failure. When an employee struggles with an assignment, if you automatically give it to someone else or take it on yourself, you unwittingly create rewards for failure. Let’s say that failure wasn’t rewarded in Sandy’s case. Turn to the next, and most dominant, reason for performance shortfalls.

⑥ Lack of feedback. It’s the leader/trainer’s first priority to observe new staff members and give them feedback. If in her first week Sandy scrupulously monitored the reception area but received no acknowledgement of her effort, she may have concluded the task wasn’t important and eased off. If Sandy’s efforts were acknowledged, that brings us to the last reason for the performance shortfall.

⑦ Role or person mismatch. If you can honestly say that you provided the above tools for staff success, then Sandy is mismatched in the job. If you must let Sandy go, isn’t it good for both you and her to know that every effort was made to coach and train, and that the shortfall is truly uncorrectable?

In our next column, we’ll reveal the formal and informal tools available to address and prevent performance shortfalls due to reasons one through six. Do we have your attention?

Amy Morgan is CEO and lead trainer of Pride Institute, the practice-management firm that helps dentists better their lives by mastering the business side of their practices. Amy teaches leadership to dentists in her flagship seminar, “The Dentist’s Voice.” For dates and cities, call Pride Institute at (800) 925-2600 or visit

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