How to Stop Tolerating Underperformance


It's a trap I see leaders fall into all too often. They have a team member who just doesn't deliver. But they keep tolerating it.  

What holds them back?

“I just don’t have the time or energy to deal with this (the problem employee) right now.”

“There are bigger issues to deal with! I’ll get to this later.”

“I don’t know where to start to solve this problem.”

As the situation drags on, it creates bigger issues. The quality of the team's work suffers, other team members begin to grow resentful and the team member fails to get much-needed feedback and coaching. Or, even worse, you begin to lose credibility as a leader.

If all this sounds familiar, I've got a game plan to help you get the situation back on track.

What's The Real Issue?

To address your employee's poor performance, start by identifying the root cause of the problem. This may take some detective work. Does the employee lack some core skills or experience? If you’re not sure, find out by creating opportunities for him to take on tasks or projects so you can better assess his capabilities. Pick opportunities that minimize the risk for you and the company, but that will help you gain clarity about what’s really going on.

If you discover that a skills gap is the primary issue for the employee, create a development plan. It could include giving exposure to projects to develop critical skills, opportunities to work with peers who have strengths in areas the employee needs to develop and more real-time coaching and feedback from you. And don’t forget to identify formal training opportunities for the employee. (My WOW! Highlight AudioSM enables even the busiest people to squeeze in career development training.)

Emphasize the Impact

Of course, underdeveloped skills or lack of experience may not be the problem. Another common reason for underperformance is lack of self-awareness. If you, or the employee’s prior managers, haven’t clearly communicated the derailing behavior along with at least three impacts of that behavior, the employee may consider your feedback a mere difference of opinion or simply nitpicking.

So, when you deliver the feedback, help the employee understand the consequences of his actions. This will ensure that he understands what he is communicating to others when he exhibits this type of behavior. For example, instead of simply pointing out that the employee missed a deadline, explain how that missed deadline affected you, the team as a whole and the quality of the work.

Other Reasons Employees Underperform

There are a couple of more factors to explore as you evaluate your employee's performance issues.

First, does she clearly understand the expectations for her role? Make sure the two of you are on the same page about what success really looks like for her role. This could include a conversation about priorities, the quality of the work and timelines.

And don’t forget to examine one of the most important factors: your own role in the employee's underperformance. Have you fallen into the trap of micromanaging (which keeps her from growing), being too hands off or relying on others to deliver feedback that you should?

This week, I challenge you to tackle that employee performance issue that’s been lingering too long. Identify the first two steps you will take to either clarify the root cause or to address it if you already know what it is. The stakes are simply too high not to act now. You’ll be glad you did.