Are there underperformers at your organization? Have their managers’ efforts at turning around their performance been unsuccessful? Try these five ideas to see if they have an impact on performance.

1. Set Clear Expectations.

It’s important for all employees that there are no questions about what success looks like and how their performance will be evaluated, but it’s even more important for underperformers. Have managers been clear about what their employees’ primary performance goals are and the expected outcomes of each one? Have they offered feedback along the way regarding the employees’ performance? Have they provided them with the appropriate amount of time, resources and tools to accomplish those performance objectives? A lack of clarity is unfair for all involved; make sure managers are taking the time to outline exactly what their expectations are to set up the employees for success.

2. Ask Them What They Need to Be Successful.

To determine what obstacles are blocking an employee’s success, it is often enlightening to ask instead of making assumptions. Any host of barriers may be impacting their efficiency and success, including interpersonal conflicts with key stakeholders, an outdated and/or inefficient process, inadequate resources, or personal challenges. When a manager frames the question in a non-judgmental, supportive way such as, “As your leader, it is my job to help you reach your goals. What can I do to support you in X goal?”, they’ll be more likely to receive a candid reaction.

The critical next step, after asking what is in their way, is helping them remove the barriers. If the manager’s leadership style is getting in the way (for example, the manager requires review of all work, which leads to a pile-up), the manager should reflect on the feedback they receive and determine what they can change to enhance the employee’s performance.

3. Provide the Right Amount of Support and Guidance.

The first questions leaders should ask themselves if they have an underperformer on their team are, “What’s my role in this situation? How have I contributed to the problem? What changes should I make to be a more effective leader with this individual?” Companies that closely monitor leaders’ employee engagement and retention also tend to place the responsibility for high performance on the leaders.

For example, a leader named Sally inherited two direct reports with reputations for being difficult. Many people made comments about how unlucky she was to work with them. Sally decided to ask her new team members what they needed from her to be successful, and she learned that their previous leader was a micromanager who didn’t empower them to drive their work responsibilities, which negatively impacted their performance. She offered the two employees the amount of support and guidance that they needed to thrive and feel in control of their work, and they became her highest performers.

4. Notice and Highlight Improvements.

Research validates what we know intuitively: Hearing feedback on what is going well is more motivating than hearing what could be improved. Seventy-five percent of a manager’s feedback should be positive, and 25 percent should be constructive. What balance have managers been using with their underperformers? Have they sought out opportunities to catch them doing something well and praised them for that behavior, or have they consistently observed and shared their thoughts on what they’re doing wrong? We’ve all experienced working with people who focus on the negative, and it’s not pleasant. When managers try changing the balance of their feedback, they’re likely to notice positive changes as a result.

5. Address Blind Spots.

A necessary, but often disliked, part of leadership is identifying and addressing behaviors that are getting in the way of individual team members’ success. Because these behaviors are often habitual, employees may not consciously notice them and the impact that they have on others, which is why they are called blind spots. Examples include being overly aggressive, dressing inappropriately, constantly self-promoting and avoiding conflict at all costs. Leaders often resist addressing blind spots, because they feel like they’re being harsh, but addressing the blind spot and supporting their team members by helping them develop more appropriate behaviors is much kinder than ignoring something that is getting in their way.

Have managers addressed their underperformers’ blind spots in the past? If not, why? If they’re concerned about addressing blind spots inappropriately, training and coaching can help them do so.

These strategies can help managers support their underperforming team members. Trying different approaches (and observing the resulting changes in behavior) is an important component of the leadership role. There is no “one-size-fits-all” approach to leading unique employees, and if managers are flexible and offer the leadership their team members need, they will enhance their credibility – and success.

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