I’ve seen and led a lot of poor performers during my career. There are all sorts. People who are unmotivated or lazy. Some who only work when you’re looking at them closely. And others who lie to try to make others think that they’re actually doing a good job.
Why do people perform poorly?
Poor performance is not all about a person’s skills or how smart they are. Team culture has a whole lot to do with poor performance. Working within a dysfunctional team can have people constantly wishing they were somewhere else. Leaders who aren’t managing poor performance also have an effect on the other members of the team, who wish they would do something about it.
A bad team culture is not an excuse though. If a team member is performing badly, leaders need to start managing poor performance. If a team member is not able to perform within the team, then they may need to leave.
Managers who don’t start managing poor performance will eventually damage their reputation as team members wonder how a poor performer keeps getting away with it.
How poor performers get away with it
Most poor performers in the workplace get away with it for a number of reasons. You can fix all of them.
1. Poor performance behaviours have become normal
“That’s just how it works around here”
“That’s the nature of this industry”
I’ve heard these statements before and they can be damaging. They are an acceptance of a team culture which is not working. But because it’s “normal”, everyone just gets on with their day.
As a leader, when you aren’t managing poor performance, you are telling everybody around you that this is OK. Some people might even follow the lead of the poor performer, and their work will suffer. Others will simply become angry because leaders aren’t managing poor performance.
2. Line managers don’t always see the performance issues
In projects, people are grouped into teams, but the manager of each person doesn’t necessarily work in the same team. You might have a Project Lead who is accountable for managing the day to day work, but people within that project team may be directly line-managed by somebody else altogether.
This means the line manager may not be able to see the poor performance, as they aren’t working closely with the project. Project leaders may also be unable to manage the poor performance of someone in their team because they don’t have formal responsibility for it.
What results is a mess of responsibilities, where the project lead needs to convince others that poor performance is happening, before anything can be done about it.
3. Raising poor performance is uncomfortable
When somebody isn’t performing, it isn’t fun. Having that conversation is awkward and deciding how to do it correctly can also be difficult.
You should approach the person directly to address your concerns, followed by their line manager, and then a step above that if you get no result. But this will always depend on the dynamics of your workplace.
The thing that stops many people from raising performance issues is the uncomfortable nature of the conversation. Will you be seen as “rocking the boat” by raising concerns? Will people think of you negatively for attacking somebody’s credibility? Is it just easier if you just stay silent, to avoid the hassle? Will you be accused of bullying?
Why you should start managing poor performance now
There are good reasons why you need to start managing poor performance, even when you feel it will create conflict.
1. People watch the poor behaviour and see it go unpunished
People start to lose respect for the leadership who aren’t managing poor performance. As a leader, it’s your responsibility to solve it, otherwise it might just be your fault.
2. The work starts to suffer
Clearly, when somebody is performing poorly, the quality of the work suffers. Whether it be work just not getting done, or that the team is just working badly.
3. You will damage your own credibility
Do you really want to work where poor performers go unpunished? Are you going to sit by and let this happen? If you are unable to raise the performance issue then ultimately, you are performing poorly yourself, by letting everybody down.
If this keeps happening, your reputation and credibility will suffer.
Poor performers are damaging for teams and workplaces, making life more stressful for everyone. It saps motivation, reduces enthusiasm and creates unhappy people.
Do you really want that happening on your watch? I don’t think so. That’s why you need to start managing poor performance today.