Meet Donna. She becomes impatient and critical when paired with an instructor and lately shows nervousness and anxiety when her new supervisor comes by to discuss even more procedural changes. Her performance in the newer inventory system is tentative and error-ridden. She has been observed following the “old way” of working that was changed a few years ago. She is planning her retirement in four years, and hopes she can make to that point.

Up until now, she had a friendly co-worker who enjoyed helping her, and a team that accepted her low performance in some of the technology aspects of the job in exchange for her extensive experience. How is her new team leader to correct this problem?

First: Take it seriously. Imagine paying Donna’s full salary for the next four years when she may only be earning 60-80% of it, as well as slowing down the business, which needs to run at full speed.

Next: Talk. Leader and employee need to carve out time and discuss development. The leader should ask about concerns, bolster confidence, probe the employee’s excuses, and explain business needs. Together they must discuss the future, challenge her thinking, and hammer out a plan that they both agree on. Be clear that learning new skills is an important factor in future performance reviews. When this expectation is not formalized in a performance or development plan, employees have an easier time wriggling off the hook for gaining and using new skills in the job.

Keep in mind: When people are allowed to do a partial job and rely on coworkers for the rest, a culture of low expectations begins that can be hard to correct in the long run. Development planning is a leadership skill that can be learned to great effect. When leaders “Build Giants” all kinds of positive changes happen to productivity.

In 3 months, after Donna has been convinced she must and can improve; her productivity comes up to acceptable levels. Congratulations! She is now earning her paycheck and is no longer a poor performer! You could even show a return on investment for this effort by estimating the change in her work value vs. her cost per year.