What causes staff underperformance and how to deal with it

What causes staff underperformance and how to deal with it

Dealing with staff underperformance can be challenging. When poor work performance no longer refers to an isolated case of a person and is starting to spread into your team, it’s high time you took action. The process of sorting it out starts by taking the time needed to find out the “why’s” behind it. 

What causes staff underperformance?

To answer that, consider this question first: What happens when more than one of your team members undershoots their targets? Well, sooner or later, your credibility as a team — and your own as manager or team leader — will be in question.  And who’s to blame? Well, trying to get to the bottom of the problem of why your team falls short in achieving your milestones, you should consider the following aspects: 

1. Management shortcomings 

The first thing you need to evaluate when dealing with staff underperformance is whether the team is sufficiently and properly supported; and managed. If you’re in charge, make self-assessment your priority. Why? Well, simply because ambiguity in guidelines, inefficient communication, lack of direction and orientation may be the root cause of staff underperformance. 

Management shortcomings largely affect — if not define — the way employees perform. The sooner you trace back to the origin of the problem, the quicker you’ll be able to react and balance things; before the situation escalates into a crisis, affecting your whole team. 

2. Lack of motivation

You may also notice that, in some cases, staff underperformance goes hand in hand with low energy; and lack of motivation. To further explain, talented — or, at least, skilled — people may be devoid of appreciation and recognition; be it in a literal way or when said qualities are not effectively monetized into promotions, pay raises etc. 

In a similar fashion, demotivation may also be a symptom of being stuck in roles that no longer offer inspiration. When people perform repetitive and monotonous tasks, it is highly unlikely for them to be mentally stimulated and, thus, fully productive. Challenges, goals and rewards all act as types of fuel in the workplace. And, as such, they give employees the drive and motivation to go the extra mile. So, how would you assess your team members with this aspect in mind? 

3. Lack of resources  

Teams and organizations may deal with staff underperformance when resources are no longer sufficient or appropriate; or, generally, pertinent to the organization’s current needs. By resources, we mean platforms, tools, materials, as well as the staff needed for a company — or a team, within an organization — to function effectively and efficiently. But, what does that mean in practice? 

Well, suppose your company has recently started growing faster; perhaps, like never before. Up till this point, you and your team probably made the best out of what you had at hand; in terms of aforementioned assets. Put another way, you managed to somehow make ends meet. But, even so, what worked in the past won’t necessarily work now or in the future. All in all, you need to make radical changes to advance both your team and the resources you offer to them.

Dealing with staff underperformance

To address staff underperformance and help your team get back on track, you may try the following suggestions:

1. Re-evaluate your management style and practices 

Dealing with staff underperformance may be a good opportunity for you to improve inefficient management processes; and the methods you may have established so far. To elaborate, you’ll probably need to re-adapt your management style, the way you communicate with your team, and how you set priorities. In doing so, you’ll work towards making sure there’s alignment between ownership and priorities and that team members demonstrate accountability. 

All said aspects will be adapted to best serve your team’s needs. And the way to do so, is by taking the time needed to first interview underperforming employees. Why? Well, you’ll not only learn more about the issues and concerns they’re dealing with individually; this will be also helpful in getting valuable feedback, regarding the impact you have on your team, as a whole. And thus, you’ll hopefully manage to make the adjustments.

2. Resolve issues once they arise

Take action to devise a strategy of creating and implementing solutions aligned to the problems your employees are currently facing. If, for example, your departments have outgrown the available resources — both in quantity and in quality — you probably need to make some improvements.  

For example, you may need to offer specialized training, in order to help your team run processes in a more efficient way. An on-the-fly approach of resolving issues, may no longer be enough. In a similar fashion, you may need to further grow your team, to support the increased workload. So, take action and turn the identified problems into growth opportunities.

3. Hold people accountable and drive motivation into your team

How? By making it clear that each one of your team member’s contributions is critical in meeting collective goals. In doing so, people are highly likely to not only perform as expected; it is highly likely that they’ll also go the extra mile, when needed. Make sure all of your team members understand that it’s your collective effort that will get your team to success. This will be feasible only if you jointly work towards achieving your next — clearly defined and well planned — milestones.

4. Invest time and energy to nurturing your relationship with your team members

Pay attention to their feedback and be on your toes to identify patterns in the things they emphasize on; such as the way you work or the challenges you’re dealing with together, as a team. You may be surprised to find out that your team members may also come up with solutions and ideas to the issues you’re dealing with. Note here that staff underperformance may prove to be a great opportunity to get to know your team better; and discover or rediscover aspects / perspectives of people you’ve been working with for a long time.

Final thoughts on staff underperformance

Getting to the root causes of staff underperformance is the first step you need to take as a head of your team, to balance things out. To help “underperforming employees” and not “underperformers” — a misleading labeling, that establishes the relevant mood and foreshadows future productivity — one should first self-evaluate and, thus, readapt the management style and approaches they practice. In a similar fashion, setting clear expectations and performance standards, making sure recognition and appreciation are among the team’s core values, will also help build a culture that will help said team achieve their goals.