The Underlying Cause of Underperformance

Shyrwinsteel Sia
Shyrwinsteel Sia Jul 19, 2023 ยท 3 min read

I have encountered many instances over the years where a team member is under-performing. I have learned that they usually fall into four major reasons, the last one I only learned recently. Each of these four should be handled differently. So it is your job to identify it properly in order to treat it correctly.

Alignment Issue

This means the person does not understand what makes a work good. One of the most important skills as a leader is to be able to describe vividly to your team how success looks like. You have to be able to clarify to your team member what thing they have to do to be able to win. I usually think of this part as telling the person as if it were a basketball game: “see that number over there? its called a scoreboard. your job is to put as many balls into that ring and make that number bigger than the opponent.”

Competence Issue

The person is just not capable of doing what is asked. They are for sure lacking the skills needed and more often than not, the knee-jerk reaction of most managers is to train them. However, most of these problems are more foundational. They mostly lack the fundamental knowledge upon which a skill is built upon. In the same basketball analogy, the guy can’t sink a ball. Most of the time, its not because he can’t throw. But rather he lacks the fundamental knowledge that the wrist plays a vital role and not just pushing the ball into the air. So when faced with a competence issue, deconstruct how the skill is executed and fix the fundamentals.

Motivation Issue

Sometimes, people know the game. They are also competent. But for some reason or another, they just don’t feel like doing it. This is a Motivation Issue. Your people are not robots. I never believe that there will ever be a separation between life and work. Work does not exist in a vacuum. It is instead a subset of life. So it means that this person’s life will affect their work, like a breakup or a family member’s death. Other times, they do not see their career going anywhere. To solve this issue, you might need to have a conversation. Be sympathetic. Provide a support and create an environment for them to get up.

Values Issue

The last one, which I only learned recently is the Values Issue. Sometimes, people under-perform because your core values clash. You both believe in polar opposites of one thing. You believe that the best thing is to go right but this person wants to go left. They absolutely hate following your orders because your the boss. Let’s face it, not all people will like you and that’s fine. If you are not not insecure, you should be able to just move on without a hitch. The way to solve this problem is to address the elephant in the room. If the person acknowledges this and both of you can still continue, then it should be good. But values are very personal and do not change. More often than not, it is better to amicably and mutually agree to part ways.