Have you asked yourself this question?  Each time you find yourself retraining an employee because employees say they don’t know, you’re thinking “I don’t have time for this!” or “I have so many other things I should be doing!”  If so, chances are you may not be fixing the right problem.

Ability Versus Motivation

When you feel that you have spent too much time training an employee or they should know it by now, ask yourself if training is the best way to fix the issue.  Most performance issues boil down to ability or motivation.

Ability is whether or not the employee KNOWS HOW to do something.  Motivation is whether or not the employee WANTS to do something. The easiest way to determine if a situation is ability or motivation is to reflect on whether or not you have seen the employee do it in the past.

Ability = Training

If the employee has not been able to do the task in the past, it is probably ability.  They truly don’t know how to do it. Training may be the appropriate solution. However, you may want to look at HOW you are training.  Ask the employee how they prefer to learn. If you have been teaching from a procedure manual or instructions, maybe hands on training would be more effective – or vice versa.  Another option is to have another employee do the training – their approach may be different enough to help the training stick.

What If It’s Motivation?

In many of these situations, you provide training, the employee does it for a few weeks and then slips back into not doing it again.  This is NOT an ability issue. It is a motivation issue — and no amount of training will address a motivation issue. It’s a waste of energy, time and money.  There are a couple of ways to address a motivation issue.

  • Acknowledge it with the employee.  “I know you can do this, I have seen you do this”.  That might be enough to get them to straighten up – because they can no longer pretend they don’t know.  You know they know….and now they know that you know that they know. (Huh?)
  • Ask the employee what changed.  “For the last month you have been doing this without any issues, now you aren’t doing it.  What happened? What changed?” Again, this may be enough to spark the motivation.
  • Look at the environment to see if there are things that are encouraging them NOT to do it.  Does another employee step up and do it if they don’t? Is there a consequence if the employee doesn’t do it or a reward if the employee does?  Are other employees not doing it either? Is the task more complicated and difficult than it needs to be? The answers to these questions may provide ideas to address the motivation issue.   

Bottom line: it is a performance issue.  So if you have tried the ideas above and it still doesn’t work, address it as a performance issue – that is reflected in an employee review or write up……whatever your process is.

There are limited hours in each day and more work to be done.  Before you invest a lot of time in retraining, stop and ask “motivation or ability?” Then focus on the solution to address the core issue, without spinning your wheels, without wasting your time and energy.  

Download the guide: Achieve Your Business Goals Through Your Culture and People Strategies.

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