A common complaint I hear from my executive clients is, “My employees drop balls!”  Dropped balls come in many forms: Lack of follow up on a sales call, failure to deliver a product on time to a client, working on a low priority task while putting a high priority task on the back burner.  Part of the problem is that employees don’t realize they are dropping balls. Because the employee is busy, he or she feels productive working on the task at hand, while the executive feels resentful when they realize the employee isn’t “getting it.” For the business owner or executive, a dropped ball translates to thousands of dollars flying out the window.

When I hear the executive say, “I’ve told them a thousand times,” yet the employee keeps making the same mistakes, you can assume that the root of the problem not been diagnosed. Here is a seven point checklist to help you diagnose the root cause of dropped balls.

  1. Change
    2. Plan
    3. Priority
    4. Skill
    5. Willingness
    6. Accountability
    7. Leadership Effectiveness

Change
Sometimes employees drop balls because something changed. For example, you expect them to maintain the same level of productivity but offer less resources. If their previous performance was exceptional but now they are dropping balls, I can almost guarantee something has changed: Either their work-load, the technology, or perhaps even your expectations.

Plan
If your employee is a millennial, they may not be good at planning. My experience is that many millennials are good at getting tasks done in the moment, but not as good at the executive function of planning. Here’s a litmus test: Ask your employee what’s on their plate for the day, the week and the month. If they don’t know, chances are they don’t know how to plan. If they don’t’ know how to plan, they may also not know how to prioritize.

Priority
Prioritizing takes wisdom. Many younger workers don’t have enough life experience to shift priorities when necessary, and stay aligned with the bigger picture. Another reason for not prioritizing may be due to ineffective leadership or ineffective coaching. Leaders often change course without explanation. Ask yourself if the issue is really about lack of prioritization, laci of coaching, or leadership ineffectiveness.

Skill
If your employees are not used to living by the calendar, you may have to coach them or provide training. The training can be offered as mentoring, coaching, or shadowing, but the key is that the employee wants to grow.

Willingness
Nothing happens until someone is willing. Sometimes employees resist coaching and mentoring. If you hear a lot of excuses or resistance you may need to cut your losses quickly. If they are dropping balls but are not willing to learn it means you are going to struggle with them in the future.

Accountability
Habits are difficult to change. In order to ensure success, you need to set up regular one-on-one conversations and coaching to ensure that the new habit is solidifying. Your employees need regular feedback and acknowledgement when they reach new levels of success.

Leadership Effectiveness
In the end employee performance circles around to leadership effectiveness. When employees drop balls leaders need to be able to diagnose the problem and then offer coaching and training to help the employee achieve success. Once employees see evidence that your coaching helps them achieve more success you organically create a culture of accountability where employees seek mentoring.

Conclusion: If you have “told them a thousand times,” it means you have allowed 999 mistakes. Diagnose the root cause of poor performance in order to set the employee up for success, and accurately measure your results.