Top-Shelf Tip No. 126:

"Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things."

Peter Drucker

Five Ways You May Be Encouraging Underperformance

Do you work with underperformers? An underperforming salesperson? An underperforming customer service rep? An underperforming assistant? If so, you are probably frustrated because you know your team has great potential, but the behaviors of these individuals hold back the team, and perhaps the entire company, from ultimate success.

People who work with or manage underperformers often handle them differently. One may choose the passive-aggressive route—not communicating to them and keeping them out of the loop. Others deal these problem employees by overcompensating and taking on the underperformer's responsibilities. Neither approach is right, and adds stress and frustration.

Business author Alex Cavoulacos points out that the blame is not solely on the underperformers; it's also on those who manage the underperformers. In this issue of Promotional Consultant Today, we share key mistakes that are often made in dealing with underperformers, plus five steps to turn their actions around so that they can become valued members of the team.

1. You Don't Share Your Goals. As a manager, your employee needs two critical pieces of information from you: what your goals are for him or her, and what your goals are for yourself and your team overall. Cavoulacos says that without knowing what success looks like, you're like two ships sailing in the night with different destination coordinates.

Make sure your goals are clear to all team members, and put these goals in writing. Then make the effort to have one-on-one meetings with your direct reports to ensure they know their role in achieving these goals. Make expectations clear to them.

2. You Don't Give Feedback. When frustrated with an employee, do you give constructive feedback? Often, it's easier to complain about the employee and do the task yourself, rather than educating the employee on what he or she needs to improve. Be sure to address how to do things better next time, and document what you share with the employee (recap in an email, for example). This will be important to refer to if you don't see improvements. Also, be timely in your feedback. Let them know as soon as possible.

3. You Don't Give Clear, Actionable Feedback. When giving feedback, be specific in the action steps the employee needs to take to improve his or her behavior. What you say needs to be clear and actionable. What that means is that saying, "I want to see you work on your communication," is too vague if you're asking someone to send better emails. To be sure your direction is clear, ask yourself: Could my employee take away at least one thing that he or she can change from what I just said? If the answer is no, it's not specific enough.

4. You Manage Everyone The Same Way. When managing a team of diverse personalities and skill sets, it's important to adapt your style to each employee. Some people thrive with more structure, and others are motivated by being set free. Know your employees personally and learn how each individual works best. Some require more one-on-one time with you. Some require more feedback. By having a better sense of how to work with everyone, you'll get through to them better—and gain their respect in the process.

5. You Tell, But Don't Show. There's great value in leading by example. If you're trying to work on your employees' written communication, make sure your emails to them are clear examples. Or, if you are pushing them to be more responsive, make sure you are responsive as well. Practice the behavior you expect from others.

Managing underperformers does take both time and patience. But if you can turn them into high performers, you'll gain their loyalty.

Ready for more tips? Read PCT again tomorrow.

Source: Alex Cavoulacos is a founder of The Muse, where she focuses on the product, engineering and operations of the fast-growing businesses. She co-wrote, The New Rules of Work, which was published in April. Outside the office, Cavoulacos can be found on her road bike or deep in a book.

Compiled by Cassandra Johnson