No child sets out to fail in school. No employee is intentionally checked out and underperforming at work. Something causes that behavior. If kids aren’t performing in school, there are three possible reasons: a learning disability, an attention deficit, or an emotional disturbance. Find out which one it is and you can help that student learn. If people aren’t performing at work, there are four possible reasons. Finding out which one it is and helping the person to address it is part of a leader’s work.
Reason #1. There is something that you (as the leader) need to provide them that they do not have. Is there something that the person doesn’t understand about the team’s goals and objectives and their role and expected contribution? (Maybe you haven’t been clear enough.) Is there something missing (a critical resource) or deficient (a process) or dysfunctional (how we communicate) that is hindering their ability to contribute?
If you’ve answered these questions and checked with your team member to confirm they have what they need from you, then keep looking. Being curious about the cause in a change in performance is critical. It’s just too easy to put it all on the other person. Here are the three other possible reasons for underperformance.
Reason #2. They’ve hit a wall in terms of aptitude. You’ve stretched them past their capacity. If so, you’ll need to teach, mentor, and coach them up the learning curve.
Reason #3. They’re having difficulty focusing. Do they have an attention deficit? Inability to manage attention can masquerade as poor time management and disorganization. Offer coaching on becoming more focused and organized so they can prioritize and stay present to the work at hand.
Reason #4. They are experiencing some emotional fluctuation. They’re having difficulty managing something. Is there something going on inside or outside of work that is impacting them emotionally? What support do they need? Offer assistance where you can and coaching on growing their emotional intelligence so they can better self-regulate and self-manage.
Leaders push the limits. Leaders also get people to willingly, enthusiastically, and repeatedly say, “yes,” engage and contribute. That means helping ask and answer, “What’s in the way?” and “How can we address and overcome that barrier?”