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Addressing Underperformance: A Manager's Guide

As a manager, addressing underperformance is part of the role. It's challenging, especially when you think about the ripple effects on the rest of the team. But the real question is, how can you support an employee who's struggling to meet expectations?

How do you guide them towards positive change?

And when is it time to reassess and decide on the best way forward for everyone involved?

Understanding the Cause:

The first step is understanding. Think of it as being a doctor trying to diagnose a patient. Is the underperformance stemming from a lack of skills, dwindling motivation, or external pressures? Identifying the root cause isn’t about placing blame, but about finding the best remedy.

The Mirror of Self-Reflection:

Here’s a slightly uncomfortable, yet essential question: Could we, as managers, be part of the challenge? Leadership is a journey of growth. Being open to feedback and self-reflection can illuminate areas we might need to tweak in our management style.

Open Communication:

Sometimes, all it takes is a conversation. Engaging in open, heart-to-heart dialogues might reveal challenges a team member is silently grappling with. It's a way to say, "I see you. I’m here. Let’s work on this together."

Crafting a Strategy for Improvement

Customized Roadmaps:

Once we’ve understood the heart of the matter, it’s time to draw a roadmap. Craft a performance plan that’s tailored for the individual. This isn’t a one-size-fits-all checklist, but a thoughtful strategy that considers their unique strengths and challenges.

Continuous Learning:

Imagine if we all stopped learning after school. The world would be stagnant! Foster a culture where team members are encouraged to continually hone their skills. Be it workshops, courses, or seminars – investing in learning is like planting seeds for future success.

The Power of Mentoring:

Introducing a mentorship program can be transformative. When peers support each other, not only do skills get exchanged, but bonds strengthen, creating a resilient team fabric.

The Journey of Monitoring and Encouragement

The Compass of Consistent Check-Ins:

Navigating the path to improved performance is a journey. Regular check-ins act as compass points, ensuring that team members are heading in the right direction and have the resources they need.

The Art of Constructive Feedback:

Offering feedback is an art. The brushstrokes should paint a picture that’s honest yet encouraging, guiding the team member towards solutions, rather than making them feel cornered.

Celebrating Milestones:

Remember the elation of your first bike ride without training wheels? In the corporate arena, even small victories matter. Celebrate them. It’s a way to boost confidence and morale, letting team members know they're valued and appreciated.

Navigating Tough Waters with Care

Weighing the Choices:

Sometimes, despite best efforts, things don’t work out. If performance doesn’t improve, it might be time to reassess the employee's role. It's crucial that such decisions prioritize both the individual's and the company’s best interests.

The Pillar of Transparency:

Honesty and clarity are foundational. Engage in open conversations about the consequences of sustained underperformance. Ensure that these discussions are filled with respect, empathy, and fairness.

The Ripple Effect:

Decisions have a ripple effect. While one individual might be directly impacted, the entire team feels the waves. As leaders, it's our responsibility to ensure those ripples foster trust and maintain team unity.

Leadership Essentials: Directives for Success


  • Act with urgency. Swift action yields the best outcomes.

  • Self-assess. Question how your leadership tactics might be impacting team dynamics.

  • Craft a decisive, actionable strategy to elevate performance.


  • Complacency. Stay proactive and monitor progress diligently.

  • Investing in denial. If someone refuses to recognize a challenge, reconsider where you focus your energy.

  • Broadcasting specific performance setbacks to the broader team. Maintain confidentiality. It's not always about the broad strokes of management; sometimes, it's in the finer details, as seen in the case of Eric and Amelia.

Real life case: Commitment Yields Results

Eric led the marketing division at a prominent tech company, steering a dynamic team of eight. His newest hire, Amelia*, joined as a junior data analyst, tasked with the dual responsibilities of deciphering marketing metrics and crafting innovative strategies grounded in data-driven insights.

Amelia's zeal for conceptualizing marketing strategies was palpable, but Eric discerned an underlying issue: Amelia's confidence in handling data seemed shaky. "The reports she submitted often had gaps or misinterpretations of vital data points," Eric recounts.

Digging deeper, Eric realized that Amelia's challenges weren't just about her data skills; they were intertwined with her self-confidence. Instead of seeing this as a setback, Eric saw it as an opportunity. He paired Amelia with a senior data analyst, not just for technical mentorship but also for boosting her confidence through consistent support and feedback.

These sessions were supplemented with hands-on training, allowing Amelia to familiarize herself with the tools and analytics techniques. Concurrently, Eric's bi-weekly check-ins with Amelia pivoted to not just focus on her technical progress but also on her self-assurance and mindset.

"Amelia brought a unique, fresh perspective to our marketing strategies. It was evident that once she regained her confidence, her data analytical skills would naturally follow suit," Eric asserts. Over the next four months, the mentorship did wonders.

Though Amelia faced challenges initially, with consistent encouragement and guidance, the discrepancies in her reports reduced substantially.

Together, Eric and Amelia also established data validation templates and checklists. These not only acted as tools for accurate data interpretation but also as confidence boosters for Amelia.

By the end of the fifth month, Amelia was not just proficiently analyzing data, but her insights were also anticipating market trends, becoming instrumental in the firm's landmark campaigns.

Reflecting on this journey, Eric notes, "Guiding Amelia was beyond just skill enhancement. It was about empowering her, boosting her confidence, and investing in our team's collective future. True leadership lies in identifying such potential and patiently nurturing it to fruition."

Wrapping Up

Underperformance isn't just a frustrating hurdle; it's an opportunity waiting to be seized. When we lean into the fascinating insights of neuroscience and combine them with empathy and the right support, we're armed with the perfect tools to turn challenges into moments of profound growth.

Before you stand at the crossroads of a pivotal decision, remember the unmatched potential of high-performance coaching.

It's not just about skills or mindset; it's about fostering an environment where every team member feels valued and empowered.

And when we get this right, it's not just a win for the individual, but a roaring success for the organization as a whole. Each effort, each connection, and each link in this journey brings us one step closer to crafting a resonating symphony of success.

I’ll be hosting a live discussion on LinkedIn on Wednesday, 11th October at 3pm CET. If you’re around, I’d love for you to tune in and share your thoughts. Let’s delve deep into some insightful conversations!

Click on this link to sign up -> LinkedIn live event - Let's talk underperformance

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