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Confessions of a Poor Performer

I was a poor performer. 


Yep, it’s true. 


I cringe at how difficult I must have been to manage when I was a “young professional.” (I use the word professional loosely.)


The gruesome details…

  • My time management was abhorrent. I could not, for the life of me, get to work on time. Though I was reminded repeatedly that our start time was 8:00 am, I would roll in at 8:30, or 9:15, or 7:30, or sometimes 8:05, but it felt like the universe was conspiring against me when it came to arriving ON TIME. One day, I did arrive on time, but when I went to lunch that day I "happened upon" an opportunity to go bungee jumping, and I was gone for a 3-hour lunch! (True story.)
  • I was in charge of business cards for all employees. One day, I got tired of my title so I made new business cards for myself. I did not ask permission, but I did give myself a promotion with that one stealth move! (Of course, my boss noticed!) 
  • I became increasingly dissatisfied in my role (hence the business card debacle), but instead of being proactive and trying to improve my skills and prospects, I spent many hours whining and complaining, and deflecting responsibility with ninja-like precision and left NO ONE out of the conversation including customers and the owner's brother. (This was probably the nail in the coffin.)


Why do I share such an embarrassing self-portrait? 


Because I consult with leaders who suffer with poor performing employees and teams. 

  • They pull their hair out trying to convey the rules of the workplace in a way that their employees can hear and understand and will follow.
  • They try to deliver "constructive" feedback and then hope and pray that it leads to behavior change. 
  • They wonder if their employees have no shame…


Do you have an employee like the old me? 

(Or worse yet, a TEAM like the old me?)


When I look back, I'm truly embarrassed. But it is BECAUSE I was such a poor performer that I am so passionate about helping leaders approach performance in ways that GET RESULTS. 


Here are a few insights I gleaned from my personal experience in those dark years. 

  • I know myself well enough to know that I did a lot of things really well, despite my obvious faults. I’m sure this is true of your under-performing employees as well. It’s good to look for the good. I would have responded positively to a little appreciation.
  • I understand business culture well enough to know that my behavior was, in part, the result of a culture of complaining and disempowerment. Leaders: don't underestimate the power of creating a cohesive culture where the team has high standards!  
  • I see interpersonal dynamics clearly enough to know that my boss was a nice person trying to help me grow (and she had the patience of a saint). Though I screwed up a lot, she was always kind and respectful. She actually WANTED me to succeed. It was because of her kindness that I learned from my mistakes and was eventually able to grow. Relationships and kindness matter!


But let’s cut to the chase…

If you are trying to “fix” an under-performing employee or team, and your “corrective conversations” are not yielding the intended results, try this…


1) Start with the good.

  • Train yourself to see the "goodness" in every team member. When you can see a person's strengths and gifts, you can build a foundation of appreciation and leverage the person's strengths to help them perform better. 

2) Create a positive and cohesive team culture with clear expectations. 

  • Work with your team to identify team values and "operationalize" the norms and behaviors that support these values. 
  • Lay out the team's work with clear deadlines, roles, responsibilities, and frequent milestones. This will add energy to the work and keep people focused. (What do they say about idle hands?)

3) Establish a routine of evaluation and improvement. 

  • Instead of talking about performance only when things go wrong, make the conversation about "how we are doing" routine and normal. Build it into your weekly habits. 
  • For example, on Mondays, lay out the work plan and expectations for the week. Get the team fired up to do their best and meet the mark. On Fridays, evaluate. Celebrate the highs and learn from the lows. 
  • Establishing a routine like this makes team learning and continuous improvement the focus, instead of one person's poor performance. 


Improving performance is normal and routine for any high-performing team. 


If you do these things, will you never ever have performance problems again?


I imagine that people like the younger me will still creep into your world from time to time.

But, if you struggle with an employee's or team's performance and you’ve tried other approaches with limited success, TRY THIS: refocus your time and attention on building a climate of continuous feedback by acting on the suggestions above. 


Engaging your team in the routine of continuous improvement instead of focusing on individual performance can, over time, support better performance and continuous improvement for all. 


If you are struggling with engagement, trust, or performance on your team and need more assistance, reach out! I'd love to help! You can reach me at [email protected]


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*Photo by on Unsplash


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