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Leadership Today - Practical Tips For Leaders

Sep 1, 2023


Leadership is challenging at the best of times, but even more so when people aren’t hitting the mark. This week we explore how to deal with underperformance.



Hello and welcome to episode 199 of the Leadership Today podcast where each week we share practical tips to improve your leadership. This week we explore how to deal with underperformance.

Leadership is challenging at the best of time, but even more so when people aren’t hitting the mark. Underperformance can be tricky to address. Research shows that the further people are away from performance standards, the less feedback they receive. Managers often avoid dealing with underperformance, hoping that things will magically get better with time. But performance rarely improves by itself. It takes a concerted effort on the part of the leader and the individual to turn things around.

It’s helpful to consider two dimensions of underperformance - skill and will.

Skill refers to a person’s capability and proficiency in performing their tasks. It's possible that an individual's skills are not aligned with the requirements of their role, leading to subpar performance. Addressing skill-related underperformance involves identifying skill gaps and providing the necessary resources for improvement.

Will refers to the person’s motivation in completing their tasks. Motivation plays a significant role in performance. Low motivation can result from various factors, including personal issues, disengagement, or a lack of recognition. Dealing with will-related underperformance involves understanding the root cause of demotivation and implementing strategies to reignite enthusiasm and commitment.

Underperformance may also be a mix of skill and will gaps.

With those principles in mind, here are five practical strategies you can apply to help with underperformance in your team.

  1. Goal Setting and Monitoring: Set clear, achievable performance goals that align with the person’s role and the team's objectives. Clarity comes first. If people aren’t clear about their role and expectations, you can’t manage underperformance. Regularly monitor progress and provide timely feedback. This approach keeps employees on track and motivated to achieve tangible results, addressing both skill and will dimensions of underperformance.
  2. Personalised Development Plans: For skill-related underperformance, work with the employee to create a tailored development plan. Identify areas that need improvement and provide resources such as workshops, courses, or mentorship. This proactive approach not only enhances skills but also demonstrates your commitment to their growth.
  3. Motivational Conversations: When dealing with will-related underperformance, engage in motivational conversations. Understand the person’s concerns, aspirations, and potential roadblocks. Together, devise strategies to reignite their passion and commitment to their role. Sometimes, a simple change in responsibilities or opportunities for skill application can reignite enthusiasm.
  4. Constructive Feedback and Recognition: Initiate open and honest conversations with underperforming employees. Address skill gaps by providing specific feedback and suggesting training opportunities. For issues related to motivation, recognise their efforts and contributions particularly where you see improvements, reinforcing the value they bring to the team. Constructive feedback motivates improvement and fosters a sense of belonging.
  5. Mentorship and Role Modelling: Pair underperforming employees with mentors who can provide guidance and support. Mentorship encourages skill development and fosters a sense of belonging. Additionally, lead by example—demonstrate enthusiasm, dedication, and a growth mindset. Your actions can inspire others to embrace improvement and take ownership of their performance.

Underperformance can be tricky to manage well. Being clear and supportive, while also providing the help and development people need, will provide your best opportunity to turn things around.


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