Under Performance

In almost every business I deal with, there are issues to be faced with regards the under performance of certain employees or even managers. The situation becomes even more difficult and uncomfortable to deal with when those under performing think that their performance is terrific when it’s actually just adequate or worse.

A pertinent question to ask is – What causes the mismatch between the employees’ real output and their perceptions of success? In my experience I see a myriad of reasons why this happens. Some may not be receiving the resources and clear feedback they need to develop and improve while others are just unable to recognise that they’re struggling.

Whatever the cause, if business leaders fail to address the situation, the lagging employee’s work will not improve and the organisation will suffer whilst possibly losing the opportunity of gaining a better performance from a team member who could thrive if given the proper support. A more insidious risk is that the business leader will appear to condone substandard work and competent employees may become demotivated and disengaged. The gravest mistake I see time and time again in such situations is that the elephant in the room (the lack of performance) is ignored hoping that things will improve on their own. They will not.

I therefore would like to forward you some pointers of how you can approach issues related to underperformance with the aim of either improving someone’s performance or understanding whether that’s even possible.

Be clear about expectations. A common situation I normally face is where a business leader is frustrated or exasperated by the lack of results from a particular employee, whilst that employee believe he/she is doing fine because he/she is making an effort. The only solution is being direct enough about the lack of performance and what is being expected.

Provide employees with resources and support. Most employees need leadership, mentoring and strong supervision in order to develop, particularly if they’re stepping into a function that’s new to the company or are promoted to fill an absence in the organisation. If their natural skills are insufficient to meet the requirements of their role and responsibilities, they may not even perceive what their deficits are.

Determine whether you’re willing to continue investing in the individual. If you came to believe that a certain person will never perform adequately in his/her assigned role, it’s high time you decide if to change his/her job role or reduce certain responsibilities on that person. Just hoping things will improve will not make things any better.

Assess whether they’ll accept help. A company may conclude that a certain employee or manager needs to be up-skilled or trained on certain skills. However if the company just provides training to address the skill gaps without understanding whether the person is open for such input and help, it is running the risk that the provided training is ignored. This is an important indicator to understand if there is fertile ground upon which one can work on to improve performance or whether it is case where it would be best if the company lets the person go.

Target praise carefully. When an employee with an inflated sense of their own performance delivers high-quality work or conducts an interaction well, it’s important to praise them. But letting the praise stand alone can encourage them to think that everything they do is outstanding. Connect your positive comments to other things you want them to address. For example, you could say, “Now that you’ve done so well with the ABC presentation, for the next one, I’d like you to also [do the next thing they need to improve]. It’s important because…” Make sure you’re clear about both the necessary new behaviour and why it’s required as part of satisfactory job performance. They may still think too highly of themselves, but doing this gives you a better chance of getting the crucial behaviours you need.

I hope you have understood by now that addressing under performance is extremely important. Letting things fester will only make things worse. Helping an under performer requires a lot of attention and involvement. Understanding what’s driving their lack of performance will either help you determine what support they need in order to improve or come to the conclusion that they just might not be able to satisfy the requirements of the job.

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