There are telltale signs when a team begins to underperform.
Any manager’s goal should be to catch underperformance and address it before the issue reaches critical mass in the form of declining numbers, profits, and productivity.
How do you spot underperformance, and how do you know when a previously adequate or even good employee has taken a negative turn? If you can’t spot the warning signs, you can’t take action to address them. The result can be a time-consuming HR process, personnel changes, and disruptive staff upheaval that is also negative to the bottom line. Here are the signs that your team and team members are underperforming and the steps you can take to turn things around before it is too late.
Signs Your Team is in Danger of Underperforming
Engagement drops off.
A lack of engagement is an early warning sign that your team is not performing to its potential and could be headed for disaster. An engaged employee is committed to their job, passionate about what they do, and sees a future with the organization. They are emotionally invested in what is happening on multiple levels. A disengaged employee is someone who is going through the motions. The job is just a job. Their goal is to get through the day and go home.
Measuring engagement can be tricky, but some signs of a disengaged employee include poor communication, silence at meetings, absenteeism, and a rejection of new ideas out of hand.
A disengaged employee is not interested in trying something new or pushing boundaries. This requires initiative and drive. Sure, the employee might show up on time to meetings and go through the motions, but they will rarely, if ever, offer perspective, insight, or new ideas. They will communicate, but it will be the bare minimum. They will exist but not engage.
Peers start to complain.
When peers begin complaining, a manager’s ears should perk up. People will generally put up with some level of frustration. No one wants to be a tattletale, and most people will simply deal with a negative issue here and there and go about their day. Once you reach a verbalization point, especially to a manager, there is likely a significant problem.
If you have engaged employees, they want to do a good job and are emotionally invested in doing so. A peer who doesn’t really care that much is an obstacle to them being able to perform. If you have an underperforming employee, are poorly communicating, missing deadlines, or are not very productive, you likely will hear about it. The best thing you can do is to have an open-door policy and encourage good communication. If your team knows they can come to you, the sooner you hear about this type of issue.
Work quality declines.
Errors repeatedly occurring is a sign that your employee has mentally checked out. Someone who is going through the motions or is not fully committed is more likely to make careless errors. In some ways, errors and a decline in quality is both a sign of underperformance and a result.
Anyone can make a mistake. It happens. But there are differences between an honest mistake and a careless one. Does the employee perform due diligence and quality checks to catch the mistakes? Was the error something that should have been caught, or was there an extenuating circumstance? Does the employee take proactive action to ensure work quality, or are they entirely reactive to what happens around them? In evaluating work quality, there are important questions for managers to ask and answer.
There is a drop in productivity
A drop in productivity is a common sign that a team or team member has begun to underperform. If the team used to produce at a certain level and that productivity has dropped off for reasons unknown, it’s a sign that things are amiss. This applies to engagement; disengaged team members go through the motions and do the bare minimum they need to get through the day.
This sign shows itself in having a team or team member who always says something can’t be done in a given timeframe. Sure, everyone can struggle with a tight deadline, but if a team always says a deadline is unreasonable or impossible, it’s time to take a closer look at performance. A strong performing team and a team member will try to meet challenging deadlines, working with peers to prioritize and shift projects around to make things work. A poor performer will complain or indicate that things can’t be done because they are “swamped.”
What You Can Do About Underperformance
Open lines of communication are one key way to both deal with and prevent underperformance issues. Employees want to feel valued and heard. If your team believes you are not interested in their ideas, they will stop sharing them. If they believe you will not take action or do anything about a poorly performing team member, they will stop telling you about it. If they think you don’t care about them or their concerns, they won’t care about you or the organization. Engagement is a two-way street. And engagement will help keep your employees motivated and performing strongly.
If a team member has begun to perform poorly, dig into the reasons. Sometimes they are quite solvable. For example, poor work quality can sometimes be due to carelessness, but it also can be systemic. If it’s systemic, there might be organizational adjustments that can be made to address the matter.
As a manager, the most important thing you can do to address underperformance is to be proactive. This will give you the answer to the question of what is causing the underperformance. For example, an entire team’s performance can be dragged down by one unproductive member. In that instance, it’s essential to take action and make a change to save the team overall.
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