Performance Issues:  Why won’t they do it??

Photo by Matthew Henry on Unsplash


By Anika Costa and Paul “Paulie” Gavoni

Guest Authors

Recently, while conducting an 8-hour supervision course for behavior analysts, one of the participants raised her hand during our discussion about delivering feedback and asked, “how do I get staff to do what I need them to do, meaning, how EXACTLY do you do it?” As an analyst managing a large group of staff in a school, she stated that she had a difficult time getting staff compliance with data collection.

The analyst went on to explain that she told her staff what to do and even showed them how to collect the data. When that didn’t work, she tried rewarding the staff with different things like donuts on Tuesdays or fun activity Fridays. Still, not everyone complied.  Next, she explained, she reprimanded the staff by sending “punishing” emails listing all the punishment they would contact if they didn’t collect data.

After all of that, she shared only a couple of staff began to collect data. “I have tried EVERYTHING!” she said.  After listening to her story, I asked WHY she thought her staff were not doing what she asked them to do. “They just don’t care, I trained them, and they don’t care. I had multiple classrooms and lots of other responsibilities. I just ended up collecting the data myself. It was just too much trying to get them to do what I needed them to do.”

So, I asked a few more questions:

Instructor: “Did you give your staff a written description of exactly how to collect data?”

Analyst: “Well no, I showed them…”

Instructor: “OK, what about a formal training on data collection?”

Analyst: “Well they had all been at the school before and were supposed to collect data, I assumed they knew how to collect data.”

Instructor: “Did the staff know the expectation and the ‘WHY’ or importance of data collection”

Analyst: “They knew it was part of their job and they were expected to collect data daily.”

Instructor: “OK, were they given a protocol as to how to collect the data?”

Analyst: “Well, no.”

Instructor: “What about data sheets and colored pencils and highlighters, graph paper? Were they given data collection tools?”

Analyst: “I made lots of copies of data sheets.”

We continued our conversation and could have spent most of the training on this topic. In my final questions I asked the analyst to think about staff performance and how often she or another supervisor monitor the staff engaging in data collection and provided feedback on data collection.

Analyst: “Well, I provided feedback to the staff when they didn’t collect the data.”

Instructor: “What do you think the issue was here? Lack of skill, training, motivation?”

Does this scenario sound familiar? If you’ve worked in any profession long enough, you’ve likely heard different versions of the same complaint.  This story is not uncommon. You know, grumblings like “they aren’t doing their job,” “they aren’t holding up their end,” or “I told them what to do and they still aren’t doing it.”   We’ve all heard this, and most of us have likely said it ourselves.  Some even hurl adjectives like “lazy,” “useless,” “weak,” or perhaps “ridiculous” as frustration sets in when staff aren’t performing as expected.

Soon fingers are pointed, feelings hurt, and all the while nothing changes. And in some cases, large sums of money are dumped into training as the assumption is made that staff have not been trained properly.  This cycle repeats itself in many organizations across the country.

The irony is that in our eagerness to support the client, we (behavior analysts) seem to develop “behavior analytic myopia” as we approach our client’s behavior as unique to the environment and fail to link it with staff performance.   Somehow our behavior analytic compass falls out of whack and we lose our way as we blame, complain, and continue down the hamster wheel of resentment instead of seeking to support staff performance.

Unfortunately, poorly performing staff can inadvertently hinder a client’s progress or have other adverse effects (Daniels & Bailey, 2014).  One of the roles of a Human Service Supervisor is to identify why an employee is performing poorly and intervene to ensure performance is improved. When staff aren’t performing (e.g. an RBT isn’t running a plan correctly; a teacher isn’t instructing students effectively), there is always a reason beyond “lazy” or any of the choice adjectives above.  Simply put, they either can’t do it, or won’t do it.  More accurately put, there is either a skill deficit or a performance deficit.

But how does one determine this without painstaking and time-consuming assessments?  Don’t despair!  Organizational Behavior Management (OBM) practitioners have already developed a simple tool that can help.  This tool, known as the Performance Diagnostic Checklist (Carr et. al, 2013), contains a series of simple questions that can be used to determine the ultimate root cause of performance issues.

You might think about the PDC as the Functional Behavior Assessment (FBA) of performance management.  Except where the FBA tells us why a behavior is occurring, the PDC tells us why it is not.  Below we highlight some of these questions and provide a brief explanation as to their importance for evaluating and improving performance.


And here is the best part!  The assessment comes with built in recommendations for several evidence/function based interventions for improving staff performance. Specifically, the intervention Planning Section provides appropriate interventions in the four areas assessed including: (a) training, (b) task clarification and prompting, (c) resources, materials, and processes, and (d) performance consequences, effort, and competition (Carr et al. 2013).


According to Austin (2000), the PDC is rooted in performance improvement models created by Mager & Pipe (1970), Gilbert (1978), Kent (1985), Bailey and Austin (1996), and Brethhower (1997).  Since its inception, it has been further researched, refined, and applied in Human Services.  Unfortunately, though it’s been around for a while now, it’s still unknown by far too many in the field.

After discovering the value of the PDC, we have introduced the tool to many colleagues who have quickly adopted it.  In fact, when we observe performance issues we immediately begin viewing them from a PDC lens.  Rather than blame the performer, we search for root causes as outlined by the PDC.  Like us, our colleagues were excited for this “not-so-new” tool that helps to identify and correct performances issues with staff. It’s flexibility with using it in a variety of settings further validates the usefulness of the PDC within the home, community, and organizational settings.

Parting Thoughts

With budget cuts, oversight restrictions and increasing caseloads, the PDC provides analysts with a cost-effective tool that assists in efficiently pinpointing performance deficits. Any analyst who oversees staff or provides supervision would benefit from learning about the PDC and other tools related to OBM to better serve their clients and support evidence-based supervision practices.


Austin J. (2000). Performance analysis and performance diagnostics. In: Austin J., Carr J. E., editors. Handbook of applied behavior analysis. Reno, NV: Context Press; pp. 321–349. (Eds.)

Bailey, J. S., & Austin, J. (1996).  Evaluating and improving productivity in the workplace.  In B. Thyer & M. Mattaini (Eds.), Behavior analysis and social work (pp. 179-200).  Washington DC: APA.

Brethower, D. M., (1997).  Improving the value of performance.  Case studies.  Ada, MI: Author

Carr, J. E., Wilder, D., Majdalany, L., Mathisen, D., & Strain, L. (2013). An assessment-based solution to a human-service employee performance problem: An evaluation of the Performance Diagnostic Checklist–Human Services. Behavior Analysis in Practice, 6,16–32

Daniels, A. C. & Bailey, J. S. (2014). Performance management: Changing behavior that drives organizational effectiveness; Atlanta, GA: Performance Management Publications, 5th Edition, Revised.

Gilbert T. F., (1978). Human competence. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Kent, R. S., (1986).  25 steps to getting performance problems off your desk…and out of your life! New York: Dodd, Mead and Company.

Mager R. F., & Pipe P. (1970). Analyzing performance problems. Belmont, CA: Fearon Publishers.

Malott, M. (2003).  Paradox of organizational change:  Engineering organizations with behavioral systems analysis.  Reno, NV: Context Press.\

Reid, D. H., Parsons, M. B., & Green, C. W. (2012). The supervisor’s guidebook: Evidence-based strategies for promoting work quality and enjoyment among human service staff. Morganton, NC: Habilitative Management Consultants.

Rodriguez, M., Sundberg, D., Biagi, S. (2016). OBM Applied! A Practical Guide to Implementing Organizational Behavior Management (Vol. 2). Melbourne, FL: ABA Technologies, Inc.


Anika Costa

Once introduced to Applied Behavior Analysis in 2000 while working as a speech therapist, Anika quickly discovered her passion. Throughout her 18-year career, she has directly provided behavior and performance support to individuals, groups, and organizations across educational, private and community-based agencies.

A presenter at local and national conferences, Anika has used her extensive field experience as a platform for providing meaningful training, supervision, and mentoring to behavior analysts across the country. As a clinical training coordinator, student mentoring liaison and manager of two large school district contracts at Positive Behavior Support Corp., she is currently focusing on deepening her knowledge and skills in the application of OBM.

Paul Gavoni

An expert in human performance and organizational leadership, Dr. Paul “Paulie” Gavoni works in education and human services to provide administrative teams, teachers, and staff with coaching and consultation in analyzing and developing behavior and performance management systems to positively impact key performance indicators. As COO of Kaleidoscope Interventions, Paulie is passionate about applying organizational behavior management (OBM) strategies to establish positive environments that engage and bring out the best in employees so they can bring out the best in the children they serve.

Beyond his work in education and human services, Paulie is also a highly respected coach in combat sports. In 1992, Paul began boxing in South Florida and went on to win a Florida Golden Gloves Heavyweight Title in 1998. Since then, Coach “Paulie Gloves,” as he is known in the MMA community, has trained many champions and UFC vets using technologies rooted in the behavioral sciences. Coach Paulie has been featured coach in the book Beast: Blood, Struggle, and Dreams a the Heart of Mixed Martial Arts, and the article Ring to Cage: How four former boxers help mold MMA’s finest.  Coach Paulie is also an author who is published in academic journals and has written for online magazines such as ScifightingLast Word on Sports, and Bloody Elbow.

Most recently he has published his own book with Manny Rodriguez titled Quick Wins! Accelerating School Transformation through Science, Engagement, and Leadership, and is preparing his next book in collaboration with Dr. Nic Weatherly titled Deliberate Coaching:  A Toolbox for Accelerating Teacher Performance. 

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