How to Uncover the Root Cause of Poor Performance

organizational consulting Nov 12, 2018
root cause analysis

The most common go-to solution for any performance gap is to throw training at it. The truth is, while training is often necessary, it is NEVER sufficient. To move the needle on performance, you have to isolate the root cause to what is getting in the way.

These questions are designed to help you get to the root of individual performance problems – which may or not not require training to solve (and help you extend the value of your leadership training contracts.)


Task/Responsibility performed poorly

  • What is the required performance?
  • Who is responsible for performing this task?
  • Where and when does the problem appear?
  • What impact does it have?
  • What is the difference between good and poor performance?
  • What has been done to solve the problem?

Knowledge and Skill

  • Did they ever perform the task properly?
  • Is the task performed often enough to ensure retention?
  • Do they know the task is skill expected of them?
  • Is training provided?
  • Have training been effective?
  • Are job aids available?
  • Are job aids effective?
  • Could they do it if their lives depended on it (without further training)?


  • Do they have the mental capacity?
  • Do they have the physical capacity?
  • Do they have the prerequisites for training?


  • Do they know WHAT to do?
  • Do they know WHEN to do it?
  • Do their supervisors agree on the what and when?
  • Are there written standards?
  • Do they know how they will be evaluated?


  • Is performance measured?
  • Are measurements based on task performance?
  • Are measurements based on results rather than activities?
  • Are the outcomes of the task measured?
  • Are the measurements objective?


  • Are they informed about how they are doing?
  • Is feedback given soon enough?
  • Is feedback given often enough?
  • Is feedback understandable?
  • Is feedback tied to “controllable” performance?
  • Is feedback specific?
  • Is feedback accurate?
  • Is feedback given by someone who matters?
  • Is feedback give in a way they accept?


  • Are task procedures clear and workable?
  • Is the workplace physically organized?
  • Is enough time available?
  • Are tools and equipment available?
  • Are tools and equipment operative?
  • Is necessary information available?
  • Is information accurate?
  • Are distractions and interruptions minimized?
  • Are policies and procedures flexible enough?
  • Do they have appropriate authority?
  • Can job be done by one person?
  • Is support available for peak periods?


  • Does the task seem to be worthwhile?
  • Do they believe they can perform the task?
  • Is there incentive for performing well?
  • Do the incentives really matter to them?
  • Is the incentive contingent upon good performance?
  • Do they know the link between incentive and performance?
  • Is there inner satisfaction for good performance?
  • Is “punishment for good performance” prevented?
  • Is “reward for poor performance” prevented?
  • Is there peer pressure for good performance?

If this is missing…

…then provide this type of solution:

Knowledge and Skills

Provide training (formal or informal)


Re-hire for the position


Document Operating Guidelines


Re-align expectations to measures


Provide leadership performance coaching


Provide resources and tools


Align measures to compensation and rewards (financial, spot awards and promotions)

Where You Might Get Stuck

Clients can be very focused on getting you to deliver their requested solution - especially training or coaching for one major reason - ego. Either they don't want to admit that they way they are thinking about it isn't right OR they would rather you do something for "those people out there" so they can distance themselves from the possibility they are contributing to the problem or the need for change. 

You only overcome this through the quality of how you handle that initial partnership set up conversation when a client first asks for your help. You have to start your engagement with a client by positioning yourself as a peer-to-peer strategic partnership and your consulting against client needs (vs. their wants.) 

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