Aug 22, 2023

What are the Indicators of an Underperforming Employee?

We discuss Dave Kline’s indicators of underperforming employees and what solutions you can apply to turn things around.

Dave Kline, Maven’s MGMT Accelerator teacher, applies his decades of experience in team leading and manager mentorship to his course. He's worked at Bridgewater Associates and Moody Analytics. During his career, he's led teams of 200, 2, and everything in between.
Through Dave’s comprehensive program, students learn how to develop systems to manage top-performing teams. 
One recurring obstacle for many managers is employee underperformance. Dave faced this issue at Bridgewater and throughout his other experiences.
To the above point, Gallup reports that the economy loses $450 to $550 billion annually due to poorly performing employees. 
However, much of the time, an employee that’s not delivering can develop into a key contributor with consistently high performance. While there might be instances calling for an exit, intentionality as a manager can keep an underperformer employed and help them thrive in their role.

6 Indicators of an Underperforming Employee and What To Do

During Dave’s time at high-profile organizations like Bridgewater, he honed his skills in detecting the signs of underperforming employees.
It’s entirely human for people to hit walls at their jobs, and it’s a manager's job to incorporate some finesse, identify the root cause ASAP, and rectify the issues. More importantly, leaders can’t be indecisive…it’s a cardinal sin of management. Acting immediately and purposefully will prove vital when a team member is struggling.
Knowing the following signs of underperformance and applying the appropriate, intentional solutions will–more often than not–unlock an employee’s full potential:
Sign #1: Missing Skills
  • Does an employee need to gain the requisite skills to perform at the level of the rest of your team? If so, you aren’t alone. Forbes claims 70% of organizations suffer from a skills shortage. 
  • Fortunately, lacking a specific set of skills doesn’t mean your team member is incapable. They merely require training to bolster their skillset. 
  • Do your best to employ engaging training practices so that lessons stick. For instance, training frameworks are bolstered by curating relevant training materials to guide employees through a comprehensive and insightful learning journey. This technique is known as having a playlist, which offers a sequential informational flow, allowing your team members to progress to more complex materials. 
Sign #2: Lack of Ability
  • A lack of ability can be a challenging obstacle for many. After all, while skills can be taught and learned, abilities are broader and innate.
  • Since the employee lacks intangible qualities, training materials alone won’t suffice. Instead, any training must be performed in conjunction with coaching.
  • While training focuses more on teaching skills and building knowledge bases, coaching revolves around attitude choice, behaviors, self-awareness, and development needs. It’s more comprehensive than training.
Sign #3: New Experience
  • Someone might have the skill and ability to face a new challenge, but they might need to gain experience. For instance, stepping into unfamiliar territory might require increased emotional intelligence–a stiff challenge for many evolving professionals.
  • Often, mentoring is the answer for underperforming employees challenged by new experiences.
  • Mentoring and coaching overlap, but mentoring is more driven by the mentee, while the coach initiates the coaching. Also, mentoring tends to be more personalized and doesn’t typically measure performance like coaching does. 
  • Reports indicate that 90% of employees with a mentor are happy with their current role. As this LinkedIn article points out, job satisfaction typically yields higher employee production levels.
Sign #4: Demoralization
  • Here’s where your accessibility as a team leader is an absolute must. A demoralized team member should feel safe to come to you with their issues.
  • When you obtain this information (or you’ve detected the problem), take it to your boss and consult. 
  • From there, you can embark on a decision-making process informing your following course of action.
  • Part of this consultation process could mean reassessing your current management style and frameworks to get the most out of your team members.
Sign #5: Waning Interest
  • Your employees are human, and they can stagnate while doing the same thing repeatedly. It’s only natural that someone with the potential to perform at peak functionality under-delivers when disengaged.
  • Sometimes, a realignment of tasks and responsibilities can make all the difference. New challenges to conquer can reinvigorate focus, passion, attitude, and workplace performance.
Sign #6: Values Mismatch
  • Some relationships reach their end. Things could have changed over time, or you’ve realized your values don’t align. 
  • When underperforming employees don’t share your values, and no amount of finesse can rectify the issue, it’s likely time to consider an exit

Improve Your Managerial Abilities with Dave Kline

You could be managing a new team or new to management yourself. Conversely, you might be highly experienced, working with the same people, and have noticed issues sustaining high performance.
When your team isn’t at peak functionality, it impacts many facets of your performance as a manager, from decision-making to delivering desired results. 
Conventional leaders might fire underperformers. But is that really the answer? Employee turnover costs add up exponentially, for one. Plus, just because someone is underperforming now doesn’t detract from their long-term value. When you invest in an underperformer's success, you can reverse course and transform them into one of your key people over time.
It’s all about managers looking at themselves in the mirror, asking themselves what they can do, and being more intentional with their leadership approach. 
Dave Kline runs the MGMT Accelerator course at Maven. He works with professionals like you to develop successful managerial frameworks and approaches to enhance leadership. 
Through the MGMT Accelerator course, you’ll improve your soft skills (e.g., delegation), team problem-solving, build trust, enhance alignment with your boss, and more!
Dave’s experiences at Bridgewater Associates, Moody Analytics, and as a mentor and teacher have helped him develop a codified management playbook. His course offers practical takeaways to guide your growth into an exceptional manager and leader. You can learn more about the MGMT Accelerator co-founder on this Entrepreneur’s Handbook podcast.
At Maven, you get access to highly engaging and effective live courses that are peer-driven and expert-led. You learn from driven professionals going through experiences like yours, helping you supercharge your career.

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