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Performance Issues: “Can’t do” versus “Won’t do”

By Clédia Caberlon
March 10, 2020
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All organizations will have to deal with performance problems at some point. It can be either one employee or an entire department. In order to respond effectively to these deficits, it’s important to understand the two major types of performance issues. These issues are “Can’t do” and “Won’t do”.

"Can't Do" Issues

“Can’t do” performance issues exist when the employee is not able to perform the skill or task. This can happen for numerous reasons:

  • Lack of
    • Training
    • Resources/materials
    • Time
  • Physical inability to perform a task

In order to solve “Can’t do” performance issues, one should focus on antecedent control. This means focusing on what you can modify before the behavior happens. This basically sets the stage for the employee to be successful. For “Can’t do” problems, providing additional training and resources can be effective interventions.

"Won't Do" Issues

“Won’t do” performance issues occur when the employee has received the necessary training, has the needed resources, has been observed performing the task in the past, yet they are still not completing it frequently enough or at all. In this case, the employee knows how to complete the task but isn’t. It may be an easy route to assume they are lazy, unmotivated, or just don’t care. The issue with those routes is that they do not provide solutions, rather they raise more questions.

Woman exhibiting performance issues by laying head on desk.

For “won’t do” problems, the focus must be shifted to consequences (not necessarily negative) for performance issues . This means that our intervention concentrates on what happens after the behavior occurs or doesn’t. In order to increase any good behaviors an employee exhibits, incentive programs should be used. Additionally, regular and individualized feedback sessions that highlight specific aspects of current and optimal performance is a great option in handling performance issues.

Regular and individualized feedback sessions, highlighting specific aspects of current and optimal performance is a great option in handling performance issues.

Discover the Root of the Problem

Prior to developing an intervention for a performance issue, it’s crucial to identify the root of the problem. A common organizational response to employees’ performance issues is to provide more training without identifying the reason, resulting in employees attending similar trainings that don’t resolve the problem at hand.

There are many other reasons, other than lack of skills, why an employee is not performing at a desired level. For instance, staff can attend numerous trainings on the importance of wearing gloves, but if these are provided, or if employees have to walk to the other side of the building to get gloves, the training will have little effect. When employees attend trainings for reasons other than skill acquisition or retention, it results in the company’s time and resources being wasted, as it doesn’t solve the performance issue at hand.

Learn more about how to keep your staff from exhibiting performance issues on our blog post discussing the importance of staff feedback.

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