Although there are times when diminished performance is due to employee laziness or deception, those reasons are usually the exception. Far more often, when a previously high-performing employee demonstrates a pattern of decreased performance, it is likely that there are other factors in play.
It is important for a manager to understand the root causes of declining performance so that those are addressed and the manager is not guilty of “symptom chasing.” I have identified below the four main causes of underperformance:
- Unclear expectations: The manager may not have been clear about expectations for an assignment or role. This lack of clarity is prevalent at both ends of the management tenure continuum. Newer leaders who have not had experience managing and delegating often fail to set expectations appropriately. Conversely, long-tenured leaders may take for granted that work assignments are well understood and need no clarification.
- Overqualification: Individuals who have more experience and knowledge than their position requires may be bored and on autopilot. Such overqualified employees may inadvertently overlook details required for routine work, but are capable and willing to take on greater challenges. They may be an underused resource waiting to be discovered!
- Underqualification: During a robust economy with low unemployment, individuals are often promoted quickly and given greater responsibilities without adequate preparation. Such underqualified employees might be sufficiently prepared with education and training; however, they simply may not be capable of handling the position or the responsibilities to which they have been assigned.
- Personal problems: Issues outside of work often impact performance at work. Although it can be difficult to address these issues sensitively and carefully, some employees genuinely need to be cut some slack, at least temporarily, when their personal lives severely collide with their work lives. Showing support during such times can endear a leader to their employees and increase loyalty and productivity once personal issues subside.
It is critical that a leader spend adequate time understanding the root causes of diminished performance before entering into a performance discussion. This is the only way to ensure the best possible outcome for the employee and team. In Part 2 of this blog, I will discuss how to approach that least favorite of conversations: the performance discussion.
THE TAKEAWAY: Before beginning a corrective performance discussion, a manager must take time to understand the root causes of a subordinate’s diminished performance.
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