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  • Lokajit Tikayatray

Top 4 Reasons Why Employees Underperform

Updated: May 10, 2023

One of the most crucial responsibilities of a leader is to help their employees achieve optimal performance. However, the task is easier said than done.

Often managers struggle to understand why their employees are not meeting their performance expectations.

Because of this lack of knowledge about why employees perform poorly, many managers take the convenient route. They apply generic performance improvement solutions and expect to get the best out of them.

After sixteen years of software development experience, I’ve learned that each employee is unique. They have to deal with their distinct set of challenges and often do not respond to the generic approach.

As a leader, you can’t make your team members perform if you don’t understand their challenges in the first place.

This is where it becomes crucial to learn about the four most common reasons why employees underperform and how you can help them.

1. Lack of Knowledge Or Skillset

Lack of knowledge is one of the most common reasons team members underperform. Without the required skillset, it is hard for individuals to perform their job as expected. It’s also possible that managers give the employees work that is not the most suitable for their skill set.

However, many people hide their lack of knowledge. They don’t ask for help or training to fill the skill gap. They also don’t request an assignment more aligned with what they can do best. As a result, the problem becomes more challenging to solve. It’s your responsibility as a leader to ensure that your employees have the necessary resources to do their job well. What can you do? The solution is to provide the team members with the required resources and training. Ensure employees have access to relevant information based on their role and the company’s expectation of them. As a leader, you have the authority to provide a safe environment where employees can open up about their shortcomings. It can help you identify the training requirements for each team member. If an employee lacks a specific skillset, provide them the opportunity to learn on the job. You can also send them for hands-on workshops where they can gain practical experience. Delegating tasks that align better with employees’ knowledge and expertise can also help improve their performance. This way, your team members can succeed in their roles without undue pressure or judgment.

2. Lack of Motivation

A common reason for poor performance is that employees are unclear about the company’s vision. Vague goals and expectations can lead to a lack of motivation. If an employee doesn’t know what goal they have to achieve, it’s impossible for them to feel motivated. They need to have a clear purpose that can help them focus and feel proud about it. Employees might also underperform due to a poor work environment. Unsatisfactory working conditions can lead to a negative experience that can demotivate them. In some cases, team members might not be getting the recognition they deserve. This can lead to a lack of appreciation and motivation. Sometimes employees can feel demotivated when their manager does not put effort into coaching them. If employees feel like they are not given the opportunity to improve or grow, they will become demotivated. What can you do? The solution is to ensure that your employees know your vision and how their role contributes to it. As a leader, you must make your employees understand the company’s goals and how their work fits into the bigger picture. In addition, leaders must create a positive work environment where employees feel valued. Ensure that you provide the necessary resources to do their job and recognize their work regularly. You also need to provide constant feedback to your employees to make them feel supported. Help them identify their strengths and weaknesses so that they can work on improving their skills.

3. Lack of Courage

Employees who lack courage often underperform because they are afraid to take risks. They may be afraid to speak up in meetings, suggest new ideas, pick up challenging work, or push for change. This can happen if the employee suffers from severe imposter syndrome or feels their leaders may not back them up. As a result, these employees can become passive and unengaged in their work. This can lead to low productivity, missed deadlines, and subpar work. Additionally, employees who lack courage can negatively influence their coworkers. Their fearfulness can foster an environment of caution and mistrust that can hamper collaboration and creativity. Therefore, leaders must create an environment encouraging employees to be brave and take risks. This can help individuals unleash their full potential and create a thriving workplace. What can you do? The solution is to create a safe environment where people feel comfortable taking risks. You must encourage transparency and allow employees to share their ideas openly. As a leader, it is your responsibility to assure the team that mistakes are part of the learning process and there is no penalty for sincere effort.

4. Lack of Experience and Understanding of The Role

Employees can underperform due to a lack of experience, understanding, or perceived inability to do the job. Your team members might be knowledgeable but have not gained the required experience yet. Such people always second-guess their ability to perform as they have no prior experience to back them up. Often people with theoretical knowledge or who have worked on relatively smaller projects do not feel confident. This is because they have not dealt with the challenges that come with enterprise-grade applications. Similarly, employees often do not clearly understand their roles and responsibilities. They might be unaware of the company’s culture and what their leaders expect from them. As a result, such employees perform below expectations but feel they are doing an outstanding job. What can you do? The solution is to let employees work on real projects with senior team members. The presence of experienced members will give the new employees confidence that they have the necessary support. This can help them gain the required experience without being afraid of failure. In addition, it is vital to provide your employees with a clear understanding of the organization’s expectations from the specific roles. Use your 1:1s to reinforce the roles and responsibilities of each employee. Let them know specific outcomes expected from their work.

How to Identify the Reason Behind Underperformance?

Many factors can contribute to underperformance in the workplace. It is important to identify the root cause of the problem to develop an effective solution. Don’t expect your team members to walk up to you and discuss their challenges proactively. One way to identify the reason for underperformance is to observe the employee’s behavior. If they seem disinterested or disengaged, it could signify that they are not motivated by their work.

Another clue is— team members are constantly making mistakes or failing to meet deadlines. This could indicate a lack of skills or knowledge.

If an employee is only ready to perform tasks well below their role demands, they might lack motivation or fear failure.

If an employee is exhibiting any of these behaviors, it is important to have a conversation with them. Take your time to discuss and determine the cause of the problem. Never assume your employee’s problems or define them for them.

Once you identify the reason for underperformance, you can follow the steps discussed above to address the issue.

Final Thoughts

The worst a leader can do to make their team perform is to apply a generic solution for all. The approach can be counterproductive as the solution might make the performing team members feel disengaged and drop the ball.

Hence, the best way is to analyze the various factors and devise specific solutions for each scenario.

By taking the time to identify the root cause of underperformance, you can develop a targeted solution that is more likely to be successful.

Yes, the approach might seem like a lot of work, but the result will be worthwhile if you can do it right. Your team will be more engaged and productive, and you’ll be able to achieve your goals more effectively.

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