May 30

Addressing underperformance: 3 questions every leader must ask

Are you grappling with underperforming team members? If you're shouldering tasks that your team should be taking on, tolerating a leader who's not delivering, or patiently waiting for team members to up their game, then let's face it, you're facing a genuine challenge. It's a performance drain, a time-sucker and an obstacle on the road to where you want to be.
The solution lies in addressing three pivotal questions to prompt decisive action and the progress you seek.

Question 1: What's the Actual Behaviour?

Leaders often lament about an underperforming team member, but when asked why, their responses can be rather nebulous: "They're just not a high performer", "They're unmotivated", "They don't pay enough attention". These are vague and don't suggest a clear course of action. That's where the 'video camera test' comes in. It prompts specificity. Imagine you could film this person at the moment they're falling short. What would you see? Identifying the concrete behaviours is the first step towards resolution.

Question 2: Have We Aligned Our Expectations?

Leadership isn't a one-way street; it involves creating robust agreements to which both parties commit. A common pitfall for leaders is to assume that their team members fully understand their expectations. This can lead to misunderstandings and underperformance. Don't fall into this trap. Instead, explicitly outline what you're looking for, ensure that your team member comprehends and agrees, and then forge an explicit agreement about what success looks like.

Question 3: What's the Decision, Tolerate, Terminate, or Transform?

Three options are presented to you: tolerate the status quo, terminate the team member, or transform the situation. The path you choose defines your leadership style. Tolerating underperformance certainly doesn't breed excellence. Termination may sometimes be necessary, but it's not a decision to be taken lightly due to the potential costs of recruitment and onboarding a new employee.

The third option, transformation, is the real game changer. It prompts a series of difficult, yet essential, self-reflections: Do you believe in the capacity for change and learning new behaviours? Are you confident in your own abilities to enact change?

Simon's Story

Let me illustrate with a real-life example from my own work.

Simon, a C-suite leader, was on the verge of being ousted from his organisation. The CEO had already initiated the search for a replacement. However, knowing the CEO well, he entrusted me with a task - to see if Simon could be salvaged. We identified the specific behaviours at issue, aligned expectations, and embarked on a structured transformation process.

Within two to three months, Simon had turned his performance around completely and become the CEO's right-hand man. His potential was always there, it was just a matter of addressing and altering a few key behaviours.

So, there you have it. In addressing underperformance, ask yourself:

  • What's the actual behaviour?
  • Have we aligned our expectations?
  • And crucially, will you tolerate, terminate, or transform?

PLUS, whenever you're ready, here are 4 ways we can help you multiply your impact on your people, your purpose and your profits:

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