A well-performing team can transform a good business into a great one. Therefore, it’s vitally important that you ensure your staff members are fulfilled and performing to the best of their abilities. Of course, you can do so by tracking KPIs and scheduling regular reviews, but a large part of ensuring your team is at its best is also identifying an under-performing staff member/s. Left unconfronted, under-performing employees can restrict productivity, affect team morale and even compromise your company values. So, how do you identify these under-performing staff members? And how should you address them once you do? To help you, we have highlighted 5 red flags typical of an underachiever. If you’re lucky enough to have a team exempt from underperformers, you can keep these indicators in your back pocket should a problem arise in the future. If not, we’ve also provided practical advice to help you address any performance issues you’re currently experiencing.
How to identify an under-performing staff member
Whilst KPIs can play a large part in identifying an underachiever, metrics alone aren’t the sole indicator that someone is underperforming – behavioural issues are equally telling. With that in mind, here are 5 behavioural signs that you’re currently dealing with an under-performing staff member.
1. Their actions don’t reflect their words
You will have heard the phrase ‘actions speak louder than words‘ many times in many different contexts. So it’s not surprising that the same idiom rings true for your employees. In fact, failing to apply this logic within your business is predominantly why many underachievers go undetected. You see, employees will often say all the right things (especially when seeking a pay rise or promotion) without actually changing their behaviour or demonstrating their suitability for the role. Therefore, you must focus on differentiating a persons’ performance from their perceived enthusiasm. Only then can you identify the front runners from the well-articulated under-performers.
2. They neglect certain aspects of their role
We all experience aspects of our jobs that we don’t enjoy. However, there is a distinct difference between not enjoying a task and avoiding it entirely. This distinction is what separates your under-performing staff member from the rest of your employees. When staff members cherry-pick their workload and avoid less favourable tasks, they’re knowingly neglecting aspects of their role. Whilst this doesn’t negate the rest of their hard work (some employees will even adapt their workload to exceed their chargeable targets), it does not excuse prioritising tasks based upon enjoyment. If you are experiencing a similar problem within your firm, you must address the issue promptly. You can do so by helping your employees rebalance their workload to ensure they have plenty of time to fulfil all of their responsibilities. For those who continue to deprioritise certain tasks, you may need to push them on these projects (repeatedly). Although tedious, this micro managerial approach will likely incentivise them to get the job done.
3. They have become a dysfunctional star
What is a dysfunctional star? A dysfunctional star is someone who is brilliant at certain aspects of their role, but their behaviour is, at times, problematic. All too often, managers and partners avoid confronting these dysfunctional star players for fear of rocking the boat and losing them (and some of your best clients) to a competitor. However, if left unaddressed, this behaviour can cause severe cultural issues within your firm. (After all, you can’t have one rule for one person and another for everybody else.) So, what should you do? You should always address behavioural issues, regardless of the individual’s technical abilities or title. Otherwise, their position within your firm may compromise (or even irreparably damage) your company’s values – a cost far greater than a couple of clients.
4. Their poor behaviour is excused as ‘their way of working’
The culture of your business is imperative to your success. Why? Because it directly influences staff satisfaction, company retention rates and overall productivity levels. But what does that have to do with your under-performing staff member? Under-performing staff members aren’t just people who miss targets or neglect unfavourable tasks – they are also people who disrupt your working culture. Therefore you must address any adverse behaviour to protect and uphold your company values. Otherwise, you are signalling to your employees (and clients) that you condone this kind of disrespectful behaviour. If left unresolved, these cultural issues could lead to losing staff and clientele – and that’s not even the worst-case scenario.
5. They are suddenly underperforming or acting differently
Not all under-performing staff members are serial offenders. Sometimes a sudden change in performance can be a one-off occurrence – a symptom of a different, more personal issue. The key in this scenario is to have systems in place to monitor performance – that way, when someone’s performance does drop off, you will notice and, in turn, address the issue. However, not all changes in behaviour are as obvious as a missed deadline. Sometimes they are far more subtle. So don’t rely solely on performance numerics to identify an under-performing staff member. Finally, when raising your concern, do so with an open mind. Your intention should be to offer support, to help your team member. Yes, you want to resolve your performance issue, but you must also treat your staff with care and empathy – particularly in these isolated situations.
How to address performance issues
Confronting a performance issue is an unpleasant task at the best of times. After all, there’s no great way to tell someone they’re underperforming. However, there are some steps you can take to ease the process and facilitate a productive conversation.
Address the problem sooner rather than later
Addressing a performance issue is far easier (and more effective) when you do so early on. Why? Because delaying the conversation only allows the problem to develop further. Instead, address the issue as soon as it is brought to your attention – that way, you can limit the amount of damage done and save yourself any further headaches.
Prepare your points
Confronting an underperforming staff member is never easy. However, there are some steps you can take beforehand to ensure the conversation is as productive (and constructive) as possible. In preparation, write down three reasons explaining why you have called this meeting. You must then provide tangible evidence for each – you cannot solely rely on hearsay. That way, once you’re in the meeting, you can quickly justify your reasons before shifting the focus to finding a solution. It’s also important to note that these conversations can become highly emotional and, at times, confrontational. With that in mind, make sure you book a private room for this meeting – one where you won’t be disturbed or visible to others. In doing so, you can help preserve your employees’ dignity by preventing any further upset or embarrassment.
Be calm and empathetic
These meetings can be highly upsetting for staff members, so it’s vital that you remain calm and composed throughout. Try not to react or become emotional yourself – instead, allow them space to vent or cry before getting back to the issue at hand. Remember, these people might think their jobs are at risk, so be empathetic. Whilst it is unfortunate that you cannot entirely prevent an emotional reaction, there are some steps you can take to help diffuse any tension:
- Avoid words like “always” and “never” – even if you’re right, these words are very confrontational and allow very little room for nuance. Instead, opt for phrases like “usually”, “often” and “rarely”.
- Reassure them – some employees will immediately assume their jobs are at risk. Reassure them that isn’t the case with contrasting statements like “I want you to know that you are a valued member of the team” or “I’m having this conversation with you because I want you to improve and advance your career.“
- Allow for self-reflection – often, your team member will know if something isn’t going well. By taking a step back and asking them to reflect upon their performance (instead of conducting the whole discussion), you can avoid projecting feelings of blame and have a far more productive conversation.
Agree upon actionable steps to rectify the issue
Most people don’t willingly underperform – usually, they’re seeking support to help rectify their behaviour. Therefore, it’s important to conclude these meetings with a specific and actionable plan. By agreeing upon a clear set of expectations, your employee will understand (in no uncertain terms) what they need to do to resolve their performance issue. These terms should encompass every aspect of their job description, including specific performance objectives and KPIs. It’s also incredibly beneficial to schedule weekly/monthly conversations to review their performance and assess their results. By providing extra support, regular reviews and specific guidelines, you aren’t simply raising an issue with an under-performing staff member – you’re helping them resolve the problem. a
Be proactive, not reactive
The best way to combat your issue with under-performing staff members is to take a proactive approach, not a reactive one. Instead of waiting for a problem to arise, try outlining clear expectations for every member of your team. Not only will this limit mistakes due to misdirection or ambiguity, but it will also make performance issues easier to identify. As a result, you can limit the amount of time wasted on damage control and nip any concerns straight in the bud.
Want to Excel as a Line Manager?
Find out more about our on-demand course!
By the end of the ‘How to Excel as a Line Manager‘ course you will have:
- Understood the role and purpose of a line manager and how that changes if you operate in a matrix structure
- Diarised regular touch-points with your direct reports to help keep them feeling supported and motivated
- Practised giving feedback in a way that results in behavioural change
- Put together a development plan in conjunction with one of your direct reports
- Understood what it takes to motivate your direct reports
- Set motivating targets with your direct reports