How to get on track to success with a team member performing poorly.

If a team member performing poorly relative to expectation, the team’s leader should first make sure basic tenets for success have been established using best contracting and governance practices.

  • As the team’s leader, ensure that you:
    • Know what the team counts on the team member to do
    • Believe s/he has the ability do it.
    • Want him/her to do it.
  • Validate that s/he:
    • Knows what the team is counting on him/her to do
    • Believes s/he has the ability do it.
    • Wants to do it.
  • Verify s/he has what is needed for success; including resources (e.g., time, money, space), knowledge, experience, systems, and access to experienced advisors.
  • Ensure there is sufficient incentive to perform up to expectation.
  • Provide governance; i.e., every month or so, ask him/her to tell you:
    • What s/he is trying to accomplish
    • What has been done towards that end
    • What has been the result of those efforts
    • What has been learned
    • What s/he plans to do next.

Ask questions to push up thinking, provide guidance; offer advice, guidance, and assistance. Create an opportunity to show what is to be done.  It is rarely fair to fire someone for poor performance when s/he has never personally experienced what is expected.

Double and triple check to be sure not to label someone a poor performer when the real problem is that expectations are undeveloped, unclear, or not understood and aligned with abilities and interest. 

Resist the temptation to reassign the person to another part of the organization in order to not have to deal with the matter. A better approach is to collect, consolidate and review input from the team with respect to what s/he is good at doing, what s/he has recently contributed, how s/he has grown, and what s/he should focus on doing and accomplishing next.

Validate that the assignment is a good match.  If it is, but performance lags, it may be due to distractions or lack of drive.  Talk through with the person, tweak incentives if needed, and, if lack of attention and effort is the problem, insist they focus on what has been asked.

If lack of performance is due to shortcoming of ability, consider taking one of the following courses of action:

  • Develop in the person skills that are needed but that are lacking.  Be careful, though, to stop short of trying to teach a rabbit to swim. It is usually better to further develop and capitalize on existing strengths than to overcome weaknesses that essentially define who a person really is. See: Gallup’s Strength Finder and Max De Pree’s Management is an Art for further reference on this point.
  • Complement with strengths of others. Everyone has strengths and weaknesses and no one can be good at everything. Getting the full breadth of skills required covered through the mutual contributions of a team of strong performers is often the best way to get the best results.
  • Help him/her to find opportunities to apply their strengths in an organization more likely to have need for what s/he offers. It may initially seem cruel to let someone go but it is often a blessing as s/he knows the fit is not right, feels s/he is living an inauthentic life, and will be relieved to get on track  to success in a job for which s/he is better suited.