Underperformers in the Workplace

We’ve all been here before. We’ve either worked alongside them, lead them, been served by (or encountered them in a workplace where we are the customer), or we are them.

Unfortunately, not everyone enjoys what they do or are aware of their purpose every morning when they wake up. These are two of the most common causes of underperformance in the workplace.

As a leader, managing underperformance can be one of the most challenging parts of the role. Humans don’t respond well to being told what to do or forced to do something. Our defences are likely to be instantly triggered and it becomes an ‘us vs them’ confrontation that can become quite a lengthy process. Especially if it is not their capability that has caused the underperformance and is more a result of not liking their job or not knowing their purpose.


What if I was to say ‘everyone is a superstar at something, it’s just a matter of finding what it is’?


On November 24th, it is ‘Celebrate Your Unique Talent Day’. I love that almost all of the days of the year are filled with some form of celebration. There has been extensive research showing celebrations and reflection are imperative to trigger dopamine in our mind, create motivation and success. That is a topic for another day, today let’s focus on unique talents.

Our brains are all wired differently with different skills, different default modalities and different emotional drivers. Based on this wiring, there are things that we love doing, things we don’t mind doing and things that we dislike doing. Tapping into the things that we love doing naturally means our motivation and performance increases and our mind gets more satisfaction.

When we love doing something, we put more time and effort into building our skills and getting results. When we have a very clear purpose as to why we are doing it, our ability and outcome reach even higher levels.

Underperformance tends to occur when we are doing too much of the things that we dislike or don’t mind doing, and not enough of the things we love doing. It is then that our personal brand becomes impacted and we become an ‘underperformer’.



As leaders and workplaces, we tend to avoid addressing these issues until they have gone on for too long.

We then find ourselves taking on a dictator style of leadership to tell the ‘underperformer’ what they are doing or not doing and putting a process in place that we are hoping will either miraculously get them performing again or move them on. What usually happens is a very drawn out stressful process for everyone involved that doesn’t end well. The amount of time and money that has been invested in getting them trained in the role then performance managed can be extreme.

What if we first had a conversation asking what was causing the underperformance? What if we spoke to them about how much they enjoy their job and what they do? What if we worked with them to reignite their purpose or to find their unique talent which may actually be better suited to another department or another workplace? Remembering the ultimate outcome is to have them performing or no longer in the role. It is easier to work with people rather than against them.

I’ve come across several people that were underperforming and at the end of their performance management ready to be pushed out the door, only to see that they were in the totally wrong job using the wrong skills. Their unique talent was not being used and once we got them into the right job, they become an absolute superstar. This is the ultimate outcome that we are looking for!

Their unique talent was not being used and once we got them into the right job, they become an absolute superstar.

If they are not interested or putting in the effort to help themselves, then by all means a dictator style of leadership setting very clear expectations is required.  Remember, everyone truly is a superstar at something, the question is how can we help them to find what their unique talent is so they can shine for themselves, and for everyone around them?

What is your unique talent?

Here are 5 questions to start the conversation utilising EI:

  • I’ve noticed that your performance has decreased lately, is everything ok?
  • Do you like the job that you do?
  • What is your favourite part of your job and what is the part that you really dislike doing?
  • What do you feel is needed to revert your performance back to what we both know you are capable of?
  • How can I help/support you to get your performance back to what we know you can deliver?

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