Closing performance gaps will always be a top priority among organizational leaders. If there are individuals or even entire teams within your organization that are consistently falling behind, the effects can lead to significant losses in productivity, even impacting company-wide growth.
It’s likely that your business already has processes in place designed to address performance gaps. But if you’re still experiencing the effects of this all-too-common pain point, it’s time to take a deeper look at the causes of underwhelming employee performance and approach the problem using new methods.
Before we get started, let’s run through a quick definition.
Understanding employee performance gaps
Simply put, a performance gap illustrates a disparity between what should be happening within your company and what is actually happening. A performance gap exists when employees, teams or departments are not functioning at the level at which they should be.
At the company level, performance gaps ultimately represent a loss in productivity, which means lost profitability and decreased growth potential overall. Left unaddressed, the problems caused by performance gaps become increasingly more difficult to recover from as resources are continuously allocated just toward recovery.
Performance gaps are also harmful to individual team members. It’s common to see professional development and career growth take a back seat when an individual is struggling just to meet their basic duties. This can result in higher rates of employee disengagement, which can ultimately lead to even worse performance.
It’s important to note that performance gaps and skills gaps are distinct concepts. Skills gaps can and do cause performance gaps, however, performance gaps are not always caused due to a lack of sufficient skills on the part of an employee or team.
Some performance gaps are more impactful than others, but even the smallest performance gap can cause challenges if left unaddressed.
Some examples of common performance gaps include:
- If the sales team has a quota but it hasn’t been met for several months in a row
- If inventory typically takes three days but ends up taking six days to complete
- If an employee is required to pull a specific report at the end of each day but they’re unknowingly gathering inaccurate data
Like most productivity and performance challenges, understanding the cause of the problem can help you to alleviate the symptoms. Here are a few common reasons performance gaps happen:
Weak management and processes
Employees who are not given clear direction or resources to do their work can’t be expected to perform at their highest capacity. Without strong leadership, direct reports may not even realize that their performance is lacking and will continue to deliver inadequate results.
Don't have reasonable expectations set
Setting objectives that are either too low or simply unattainable causes performance gaps. Goals that are easily attainable do little to motivate employees or instill a feeling of meaningful progress. On the other end, goals that are too challenging can discourage employees and lead to disengagement because team members can’t attain the high standards that are set.
Lack of education and training resources
Left unaddressed, skills gaps can directly affect employee performance. If employees don’t have access to the right education and training resources to continuously grow and develop their skill sets, this can further exacerbate the problem.
A hostile work environment, such as one that’s exclusive to marginalized employees or one that lacks the technology and infrastructure necessary for employees to do their jobs can often be the cause of chronic performance gaps. Employees want to feel comfortable and supported by the space and people that they work with. If that’s not the case, it can quickly lead to disengagement and ultimately, underperformance.
Lack of motivation and disengagement
Studies show that engaged employees are up to 125% more productive than the unsatisfied worker. Employees who are not invested in their organization – or who feel their organization is not invested in them – can become the catalyst for company-wide performance gaps either as a result of personal underachievement or increased turnover as they search for greener pastures.
How to conduct a 3-step performance gap analysis
One of the first steps in addressing performance gaps is to determine where they exist, how significant they are, as well as what’s causing them. Many organizations rely on a traditional gap analysis to do this. Whether you’re looking at company-wide issues or just the underperformance of one key employee, try taking these three steps to start:
- Identify the business goals that are being impacted
The first step is to identify where teams (or individuals) are falling short. Are there certain areas of the business that are consistently behind on their goals? What are the business targets that are being missed? This discovery phase is important because it helps you zero in on the exact team or business unit that needs attention, as well as the goals that aren’t being met.
- Look at historic performance data
Next, work closely with management stakeholders to look at employee records and understand when performance levels were impacted. Are there trends in the data that indicate why performance dropped? Does the time frame align with any external factors that could be negatively influencing performance? This allows you to understand if the dip in performance is due to an isolated issue or if it's indicative of a bigger problem.
- Determine actionable next steps
There are countless ways to address employee underperformance and your approach is going to be largely dependent on the cause. It’s not necessary to reinvent the wheel each time, especially if the cause is an isolated situation that can be addressed in a fairly straightforward manner. However, if the results of your gap analysis point to wider issues within the business, that’s an indicator that you need to take a closer look.
Address employee performance gaps through workplace learning
There’s not one tried-and-true solution for underperformance in the workplace. It’s a nuanced issue with many influencing factors. And although it’s not possible to avoid performance issues altogether, you can ensure that the aspects of your people strategy that you do have control over are optimized to set employees up for success.
By itself, learning and development (L&D) won’t solve for lackluster performance. However, learning programs are an investment in your people that not only fill skills gaps, but also help to boost employee engagement and arm your workforce with future-ready skills that propel their careers forward. These benefits are far-reaching and ultimately, can lead to improved performance.
With that in mind, let’s review a few strategies you can leverage to positively influence employee performance through training and education.
Invest in workforce education
Take your L&D efforts to the next level with a workforce education program that allows your employees to earn degrees, certificates and other learning credentials online and without taking on student debt. Doing so keeps your workforce motivated, engaged, moving forward and feeling supported by your company – all factors that affect performance at both the individual as well as organizational levels.
Leverage skills gap analysis data to inform your L&D efforts
While inadequate skills may not be the only cause of underperformance, it can be a significant influencing factor. Plus, skills gaps don’t get themselves overnight. If you identify that skills gaps are contributing to dips in performance, it’s important to carve out a strategic plan for how to address them now, so that they don’t continue to drive negative impact in the long term.
Be sure to review performance and skills gap analysis data side-by-side. You can then use these findings to determine how your existing learning programs can be optimized to support key areas.
Implement performance coaching
The manager-direct report relationship is a critical one when it comes to addressing underperformance. Consider implementing performance coaching as part of your existing people manager training to teach managers how to better speak with their team members about growth and goal-setting. When managers are able to build trust and foster open communication with their direct reports, it becomes much easier to have conversations about performance and how to improve it.
Actively promote learning and development opportunities
Employee learning programs are only useful if your people are actually aware of them and know how to use them to their advantage. For example, a team member could be underperforming because they aren’t happy with their current position at your company without knowing that you offer reskilling options that could help them be a better fit on a different team.
Continuously spread awareness of your organization’s learning opportunities through internal communications channels and work closely with people management so they know how to share with their team members.
Set performance expectations from day one
Management should be trained on how to goal-set with new hires to determine what success looks like for them at each point along their journey with your company. Incorporate 30-60-90 day check-ins as part of onboarding training to understand progress and address blockers. Finally, aim to foster an environment of open communication and feedback that allows new hires to feel comfortable expressing their needs so they can set themselves up for success from the get-go.
Learning and performance go hand-in-hand
There are compelling reasons why employee performance gaps should be a priority. When gone unresolved, they can lead to a loss in productivity, as well as decreased profitability and growth potential. By understanding and taking a proactive approach to filling employee performance gaps through workplace learning, you are in a position to make better, more impactful decisions that lead to positive outcomes for your people and the business.