Performance gaps are those pesky realities that plague our workplaces with inefficiency and ineffectiveness. Gaps between what is and what should be, keep us from realizing what is possible. If you own or manage a small- to mid-size organization, you can probably list a few gaps off the top of your head.
The adage, “admitting there’s a problem is the first step toward fixing it” could be stated, “knowing there is a performance gap is the first step toward closing it.” But knowing that a gap exists doesn’t tell us what is causing it and what we should do about it. In order to close a gap, we have to have a process to evaluate the source(s) and develop appropriate solutions.
Once you know a gap exists, the evaluation process will guide us toward a better understanding of what is contributing to it. Because our workplaces are systems, with many moving parts and functions, it is important not to jump to conclusions and solutions too quickly.
There are many performance evaluation tools, but the simplest is the Five Whys approach. Yes, it’s as simple as that, asking “why” at least five times to get to the source of the performance gap.
But first, you have to state the problem.
Think about a performance gap you’re aware of in your business. Missed sales? Delays in processing? Customer service issues? Quality standards unmet?
Let’s look at an example:
Issue: A complaining customer
Why is our customer complaining?
Because we didn’t deliver our services when we said we would.
Why did we miss the deadline?
Because the job took longer than we thought it would.
Why did the job take longer?
Because we underestimated the complexity of the job.
Why did we underestimate the complexity of the job?
Because we did a quick estimate off the top of our heads and missed several time
Why didn’t do a more thorough job with our estimate?
(This is where it can get tricky – there may be several answers to this question. Make sure to list all of them and address them completely.)
- Because we were running behind on other projects.
- Because we need to review our time estimation and specification procedures.
- Because not everyone who gives estimates has been trained on how to do them.
- Because sometimes people are more optimistic than they should be.
It takes a little practice to get the most out of the Five Whys method. It seems pretty simple, but it requires that you look beyond the obvious answer and keep digging deeper until you’ve found the source, or sources, of the performance gap.
You can use the Five Whys at an individual performance level as well, but be sure to keep the questions objective and don’t point fingers. In many cases, a person isn’t performing well because of something awry in the system (insufficient technology, punishing policies, or ineffective management, to name a few), so keep an open mind and involve the individual in the process.
There are many other ways to uncover performance gaps, but try the Five Whys and see what you uncover!
Want to learn more about increasing your performance? Check out the book A Guide to Peak Performance Through People