If you haven’t already, you’ll probably be faced with underperforming team members at multiple points during your journey as a manager. Today, we’re going to talk about the various areas that commonly cause someone to underperform and therefore, where you can focus your efforts as a manager.
Whilst every team member is different, there are only so many broad areas of underperformance (and therefore, areas to improve). So as time goes on, you’ll probably encounter these areas and become more confident in spotting them and dealing with them.
If you haven’t encountered these just yet, you should get ahead of the game and start to learn more about them and how they can cause a team member to struggle in their role.
Right, let’s look at a few of the most common areas of improvement for a team member who is underperforming at work.
This is often one of the most obvious ways in which you spot that a team member is underperforming. Deliverables are often very tangible, whether it is a piece of copy, a design, a program or a strategy document – they are all very visible and you’ll know what good looks like for this kind of work.
The good thing about this area of improvement is that there are often an objective set of standards that you can point towards in order to demonstrate what improvement looks like.
For example, when copywriting, basic standards such as spelling and grammar will apply. For web development, the fast loading of a newly developed website or webpage is an objectively good standard to hit. For consultants, arriving on time for all meetings is probably going to be a standard that is expected from everyone.
So, the question for you becomes – what are the objective standards and non-negotiable elements of deliverables for your type of work?
Write them down and ask you most senior team members (and your own manager) if you’re being fair in expecting these standards to be adhered to. Once you’ve done this, you need to be clear about them with all team members and communicate them effectively.
This means that when the inevitable happens, and a team member is underperforming due to their deliverables, you have a clear set of standards to speak to them about and give concrete feedback on how to improve.
If a team member isn’t effectively communicating with you or their team members, it can lead to a multitude of issues, not least underperformance in their role. Not to mention, it can mean problems for other team members too.
Chances are, even a team member who is performing reasonably well can step up the quality of their work and contribution by improving their communication skills.
So, if one of your team members isn’t communicating very well and it’s leading to problems, where do you start?
You start by thinking about the types of communication that are common to your day-to-day work. Chances are, that all communication will fall into one or more of:
- Chat (Slack, Teams etc)
- Video call
- Face to face
There are pros and cons to each of these and each team member may have strengths and weaknesses in each of them too.
Your job as a manager is to understand how well each team member communicates using these various mediums.
How do you do this?
Communicate with them.
Yep, not only can you watch them communicate, you can just ask them.
Personally, I really never liked using the phone when I was younger. I’ve gotten used to it over the years, but it took a good manager to spot this and ask me about it before I started to improve.
Once you’ve understood this, you can start to formulate a plan to help a team member account for any weaknesses or a lack of confidence with various forms of communication.
When it comes to underperforming, don’t underestimate the role that strong communication plays. Take the time to look at their communication style and if you see them struggling, address it quickly and openly to give them a good chance of improving.
Finally, let’s talk about attitude.
This is one of the most difficult areas of underperformance to deal with in some ways because it’s not always very tangible. This isn’t always the case – for example, someone always arriving late for calls or meetings is pretty obvious and is something that you can address.
But what if the behaviour is a bit more subtle, such as appearing not to be concentrating during a meeting? Or appearing to take notes during a meeting but you suspect they are actually processing emails or writing Slack messages?
Fixing these more subtle behaviours can be tricky as a result. But make no mistake, a big root cause of underperforming team members can be their day-to-day behaviours, so this is a big area of improvement for you to focus on.
The first thing to be aware of is that if you’re going to try to improve someone’s behaviour, this is a type of feedback that needs to be considered and thought about before delivering it. It’s very different from giving feedback on a deliverable that has spelling and grammatical errors – the former can be quite subjective, the latter is very objective. Delivering feedback to someone about their behaviour has the potential to blow up and make them upset, even if you’re 100% right to deliver it.
Despite this, the approach to starting to help someone improve in this area is the same – you need to define a set of standards and non-negotiables that you expect from your team when it comes to their behaviour.
For example, you could say the following:
- You expect everyone to welcome feedback and see it as a positive thing.
- You expect everyone to respect work and life boundaries e.g not calling or texting outside work about work matters unless it’s an emergency.
- You expect all team members to actively listen and participate in all calls and meetings.
- No laptops or phones in meetings.
These will all differ by team, but hopefully you see what I mean.
Finally, be open with your team from the start of your relationship with them as a manager that you see behaviours as an area of development and improvement for them. This helps make it less of a surprise when you do spot stuff or see underperformance – you can address it with them knowing that behaviours are fully in your remit to discuss with them.