Understanding the difference between can’t & won’t do in your school

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Hello, my name is Kathryn Pithey and I am an HR manager at EPM.

In this podcast we will briefly cover how line managers in schools or trusts can determine the difference between conduct issues, or capability issues, with their employees.

One of the hardest challenges for line managers in any setting, not just in education, is working out when an employee can’t carry out a task, or when they won’t carry out a task. Getting this balance right is key to retaining the trust of your employees.

Alleging that an employee has refused to carry out a task that they either haven’t been trained to handle, or do not have the capacity to tackle within a certain timeframe, can damage morale and engagement.

The worst case scenario is that it can permanently damage trust in a working relationship.

However, assuming that training will solve all behavioural or productivity issues is not always the answer and often it is not the result of a lack of ability to perform, but a lack of engagement and motivation.

As recruitment, and specifically retention, is such a key challenge facing the education sector, I am going to talk you through some examples to understand where an employee ‘can’t do’, and where an employee ‘won’t do’, and how to respond appropriately and effectively to both.

Scenario one

The issue: You have introduced a new system into your school, which will improve data visibility and given all employees an overview of how to use the system, but Employee A has made mistakes every time she has used it.

The solution: You believe that you have given sufficient training to all employees, yet Employee A is still making mistakes. It is important to remember that all employees learn differently, and at different paces, and some will need to be told more than once or receive more detailed training, and perhaps training that suits their learning style.

We all use different techniques to help us learn, so do ensure that appropriate techniques are used to support your employees and that adequate training has been given in detail to ensure the elements of their job role are fulfilled.

Consider getting employees to “sign off” when they feel confident in applying the training they have received. Also, getting them to use the new system as soon as possible after the training is always the best way to deploy those newly developed skills.

Scenario two

The issue: You have introduced a new system into your school which will improve data visibility and given all employees detailed training on how to use the system. Employee A has signed off to say they understand the process, but is still making mistakes without realising.

The solution: An area that often contributes to performance deficit is a lack of good feedback. Often employees don’t receive any feedback on whether they are doing a good job, so they are unaware of any issues with their performance, perhaps assuming that they are doing the job correctly. Ensuring employees receive regular and consistent feedback and to communicate clear expectations on areas of improvement, is key in fixing any performance issues quickly.

Where employees’ performance is still not improving, despite their engagement with additional training and taking on board feedback from managers, you will need to consider dealing with the issue under the formal capability procedure and a formal meeting will need to be held.

Scenario three

The issue: You have introduced a new system into your school which will improve data visibility, and given all employees detailed training of how to use the system. Employee A has signed off to say they understand the process and were able to do the job successfully for a while, but now their performance has slipped and they are making mistakes.

The solution: When an employee can perform a task and has received adequate training, but continues to fail to meet your expectations, this is likely to fall into the category of ‘won’t do’ and needs to be managed in a different way to the previous scenarios.

Often the most effective and appropriate way of managing this is via the disciplinary process. The disciplinary procedure is there to correct behaviours that fall short of the School’s expectations, and if there is no improvement over time, then you may need to use this process to dismiss an employee.

Most employees are likely to want to engage in a process to help them improve and you should keep this in mind and encourage that desire. By taking time to identify the true cause of performance concerns you should be able to support your school in ensuring the performance issues are addressed in the most appropriate way, hopefully preventing a repeat of the situation in the future.

This will prove invaluable to your school by re-engaging employees and producing the people outcomes you need.

We hope this introductory podcast on ‘conduct or capability, the difference between can’t and won’t’ is useful and provides a taster of the support EPM can provide.

Please also be aware we have a number of training events on appraisal and capability in late June and early July. You can find further details here. If you have any questions around anything covered in this podcast, please do get in touch with our experts on epm@epm.co.uk or 01480 431 993.

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