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Dealing with Underperformers? Let These Two Principles Guide You

It’s not your job to make things easy for everybody

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BY Marishka M. Cabrera - 04 Jul 2017

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Any manager would agree that handling a new team does not come without challenges—building a good relationship with each member, getting them to trust you, ensuring that output is not affected by the change in leadership, and, of course, dealing with underperformers in the team you just inherited.

In a June article on Harvard Business Review, author and Partner Emeritus at Schaffer Consulting Ron Ashkenas suggests two principles to keep in mind as you manage the transition.

Your responsibility is to the organization

Your role as a manager means that your responsibility is to the organization and the achievement of its performance targets. Your job, Ashkenas says, is not to “compete for ‘most popular manager’ award or to make things easy for your team.” If you allow other team members to slack off, it could send the wrong message—that you’re not serious about reaching goals. This will also create resentment among those who work hard.

Not dealing with poor performers can be worse for morale than confronting the issue head on. Ashkenas writes, “You have to prioritize the team achieving its goals and everyone performing at the required level. But in order to do this, you have to set your team members up for success.”

Be clear about your expectations and don’t simply assume that your underperformers are incapable or unmotivated. Take the time to find out the reasons for their behavior, which may entail a one-on-one session—asking how you can help or if there are other jobs that better fit their skills.

For Anj Vera, founder and CEO of employer branding firm TalentView, leaders should find each individual’s strengths and provide opportunities for them to practice and grow. “Mastery breeds passion and not the other way around, the more you are good at what you do, the more you like it and invest in it over time,” she says in this Inc. Southeast Asia article on spotting superstars in your start-up.

Your success depends on the team’s success

Managers need to help team members achieve their individual and collective targets, but not do their jobs for them. Says Ashkenas, “If someone can’t perform, you have to find someone else who can, or you’ll be putting your own success at risk.”

Because Southeast Asian cultures tend to be collective rather than individualistic, it becomes all the more important that each team member carries his or her own weight or else the whole team will suffer. Perhaps you feel reluctant about calling someone out for their performance, especially if you are new to the team, but think of it as a disservice to the team if you don’t. Besides, feedback can be given in a constructive way that will ultimately benefit the employee in the long run.

As in this Inc. Southeast article on how bosses can push, and not break, their staff, it is important to communicate expectations, deadlines, and feedback clearly, since it can be demoralizing if employees are unable to gauge how they fare in the organization.

But if all else fails, you as a manager need to decide whether to replace underperformers or redistribute their work to others. But do so, Ashkenas advises, transparently and quickly.