Understanding Underperformance

If you ignore a rattle or hum in your vehicle’s engine for too long, your car may stop running. One defective part can cause the automobile to break down completely. Similarly, the smooth functioning of a team is impacted by its weakest link. When one person routinely underperforms, the whole team suffers. People who consistently do subpar work adversely affect the team in the following three ways.

(1) Loss of opportunity.
Underperformers cause the team to focus inwardly rather than outwardly. Teammates expend precious energy covering the gaps left by an incompetent co-worker instead of searching for opportunities to expand the team’s influence.

(2) Loss of productivity.
Not only do underperformers prevent the team from taking advantage of opportunities, they also hinder productivity. They fail to accomplish their assignments, or execute them so poorly that others have to redo their work. Underperformers create an organizational bottleneck that impedes progress.

(3) Loss of morale.
On a successful team, every high performer knows who the weak links are. Over time, if the underperformers do not show improvement, other teammates begin to resent their ineptitude. Such a situation drags down the morale of the entire team.

Going Under the Hood: Diagnosing Underperformance

As a leader, you endanger the team by failing to address poor job performance. When you notice someone has developed a pattern of poor work, ask the following questions about him or her.

(1) Are they out of their league?
Perhaps they simply are not qualified for the job and have been entrusted with more responsibility than they can handle.

(2) Are they out of position?
Someone may have plentiful ability, and yet still perform poorly if they are in the wrong place. If this is the case, consider the possibility of transferring them to another role better suited to their natural strengths.

(3) Are they out of their comfort zone?
While venturing outside of our comfort zone can bring growth, some environments make us so uncomfortable that we have difficulty functioning at a high level. If this holds true for an underperformer, look for ways to put them at ease and to make them feel more secure.

(4) Are they beyond their understanding?
Poor performance may indicate that someone has not been properly trained to fulfill his or her job requirements. In this case, additional training may be able to help the underperformer improve.

Unsalvageable: It’s Not Your Job to “Fix” Every Underperformer

As leaders, we put faith in our people, care about them deeply, and believe in their ability to grow. For these reasons, we can sometimes be tempted to help underperformers more than is wise. We think that by devoting extra attention to them we can lead them to succeed. However, while we are responsible to them, we aren’t responsible for them. Ultimately, only they can make the changes needed to bring their performance up to a satisfactory level.  responsibility

As a leader, your main duty is to steward the organization, not to salvage the career of underperformers. It’s your job to build an effective team, not to make everyone happy.

Question to Consider

As a leader, how do you determine whether spending extra time coaching an underperformer will be fruitful or futile?

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