Managing an Underperformer | Performance Management Training

Managing an Underperformer or Slacker on the Team…

Virtually every team leader or executive has one – the dreaded underperformer.  That one person who takes up five times as much time as anyone else on your team.  They require so much more attention and produce far fewer results.  The inevitable question for many leaders becomes how to handle them or maybe even should I continue to invest energy into developing them?

While those questions are key, I submit that the most important question (often overlooked) should be “Why are they underperforming in the first place?”  As a corporate trainer one of the biggest mistakes I see leaders make is attempting to correct an underperformer without first diagnosing the cause of the poor performance.  Just like a doctor wouldn’t start evaluating a patient by prescribing medication, a leader similarly must first ask the right questions to try to determine the underlying root cause before selecting a course of action.

In my experience, poor performance is a function of one (or more) of three elements – Lack of Awareness, Lack of Ability, or Lack of Will.  Unfortunately, an employee must have all 3 – awareness, ability and will in order to perform a particular skill well.  If any of the three are missing, performance will suffer, and each cause requires a very different corrective action approach.  Let’s examine each one.

First Awareness – the simple truth is that a person isn’t going to work on a problem they don’t see themselves.  We all know people who think they’re a great cook, but they’re not.  They think they can sing, but they can’t.  Their perception of their skill level/effectiveness may not sync up with yours so checking their level of awareness is critical.  If you think they bombed during their client presentation, don’t just start berating them for the misstep.  Instead, ask them how they think it went.  Check for awareness. You should respond to the situation differently depending on the level of awareness they display.  If it’s clear that they don’t have a clue that there is a skill or performance gap, it’s critical to create awareness either through direct candid coaching, 360 feedback, or some sort of objective assessment.

Second Ability – If the team member has awareness of a skill deficiency, but they don’t have the ability to perform the skill, they may be quite frustrated.  Take myself for example I may be aware that I can’t dance well enough to become a professional ballerina and desperately want to dance professionally but awareness and motivation aren’t enough, I must have the ability as well.  In this case, training or mentorship may be the appropriate course of action.

Third Motivation.  This is perhaps the most difficult cause to address.  After all someone can know they have a skill gap or performance problem, they can posess the ability to perform better but for some reason, they just won’t.  Obviously, sending someone with a motivation problem to a training course is like putting a band aid on a broken bone – not the right solution for the problem.  Instead the key to addressing motivation problems is to first identify why they’re not motivated.  If they don’t feel valued, they may need rewards and recognition.  If they don’t enjoy the work, they might need a different role or project.  But the problem could be unrelated to their specific task – maybe they’re having problems at home and those issues are taking priority, maybe they don’t like someone they’re working closely with or maybe they feel underpaid in general and they’ve “checked out emotionally” as a result….Clearly, there could be a number of reasons why they’re not motivated.  The real fix lies in figuring out why…


Here’s a nice summary of what we’ve covered….

Awareness AbilityMotivationThey FeelThey Need
XPPCluelessCandid Feedback/360




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