How to Turn Your Underperformers into Superstars

Lately, I’ve written about the need for more humanness in the workplace due to the changing paradigm the pandemic has ushered in. Dealing with underperformers can be a touchy subject for some leaders, however, it bears looking at through the lens of empowering your team.

If you ignore what is happening with an underperformer, you run the risk of that person’s sub-par performance producing a domino effect which can create instability within your team and the organization.

Employee churn is becoming more costly, and it is your responsibility as a leader to deal with employees at all levels. With the right intentions, focus and support, you can help your underperformers shine as superstars.


Top 2 Reasons for Underperforming

Let us explore the top two reasons why employees might not be performing to their fullest potential. 

#1 – Personal Stories & Life’s Challenges

Employees bring their entire life stories with them into the workplace, whether that be their home office or your physical office. Unfortunately, these stories might not always happy ones. Some people come from backgrounds where they never received praise for doing great work. Others may use work to escape from an unhappy or challenging home situation. When your people underperform, it is likely not because they are unable to do their jobs. They may be held back by stress at home, personal challenges, fears, and insecurities that come from other aspects of their life.

That is why it is critical you take the time to understand what your employees are dealing with so you can better understand how to support them. Together, you can figure out a strategy that will help them cope with whatever it is they are trying to manage, in the most fair and productive way possible.

The objective here is to understand what is getting in the way for them, so you can be empathetic to their situation and help them succeed vs. penalize them. In other words, leading from the heart and connecting at the human level will help you turn a challenging situation into a positive one.  

#2 – Negative Workplace Culture

As I mentioned in our previous blog, some leaders may still subscribe to the “status quo” command and control style of leadership. Many of these leaders would say that the best method for dealing with underperformers is to fire the bottom 10% of the workforce. In my opinion, this does nothing to improve the situation, and it is contradictory to a leader’s overall responsibility. 

If a leader decides to terminate an employee without ever really understanding what might be happening to cause the decline in performance, that can send the message that the company is driven by control and does not necessarily care about their people. 

I have made the same mistake myself in the past when I first started my leadership journey. I was too quick to judge someone as an underperformer without having enough information about what they were trying to manage in both aspects of their life, personal and professional.

It was not until I started getting to know them as a person that this learning came to life for me. I discovered that there were often personal reasons behind their lack of performance, and once we made some minor work condition modifications like changing their start time to accommodate their schedule, it made all the difference. In my career, I have had the privilege of watching some underperformers turn into our best performing employees, and all it took was empathy, honest two-way communication, and a caring heart to make that happen.  

Tapping Into Your Empathy

Have you ever stopped to think about what your employees might be dealing with on a personal level? As a leader, you need to show that you value your people and understand that life is bigger than what happens at work. Maintaining open communication and seeking to understand is a great way to start tuning into what’s going on behind the scenes.

Help for Helping Underperformers

Have you had underperformers in your organization? If so, were you able to resolve the situation? If not, why not? If you are unsure about how to approach an underperformer in your organization, I would be happy to have a chat and help you get the clarity you need to move forward. Feel free to reach out to me at joanne.trotta@leadersedgeinc.ca or call me at 1.855.871.3374. I look forward to hearing from you!

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