Leveling Up Under-Performing Employees

by | May 9, 2024 | Blog, Resources

Leadership is a four-letter word: HARD.  

I think it is one of the greatest jobs in the world, and it’s hard.  


At its best, leadership is about setting course, casting vision, creating productive meetings and rallying the team to achieve big things.  At its hardest, it is right correcting to a lagging market, managing of budgets, and having difficult conversations with under-performing employees.


Over the years leading high performing teams, I’ve learned to ask three critical questions when it comes to leveling-up under-performing employees.


  1. Is it my fault?  Have I trained, resourced and coached them with everything they need to be successful?  Have I done my due diligence as a leader and actually done the work of leading?  This is so much more than giving them a job description and a laptop.  As leaders we must connect the “why” to their contribution.  Do they understand the significance of their role and contribution to the organization’s success?  And by-the-way this is an ongoing conversation, not a once and done.  Every leader has the responsibility to make sure everyone understands how their individual contribution is part of a much larger picture.  
  2. Is their personal life affecting their performance?  Have we as an organization built a culture of vulnerability-based trust where people are seen, heard and known?  Do people feel the freedom to share their personal troubles?  Personal life does affect professional life.  As a leader we should know the people who work for us in such a way that they know they can be real, authentic and vulnerable.  I personally believe that when organizations lean into the work of building a healthy organization, it will trickle into every individual life in positive ways that will in turn affect their personal lives in positive ways.
  3. Did we make the wrong hire?  Most of the time this is not the case, but in those rare cases that we did make the wrong hire, or perhaps put them in the wrong seat of the bus we need to course correct for the sake of the employee and the organization.  If we’ve placed someone in the wrong position, guaranteed they’re not loving life either.  Shifting people to a different position that they are better suited for is not only good for the overall organization, but it is the kind thing to do for the employee.  What if they were just a bad hire?  Hiring is 50/50.  Some people interview great and are low performers. Some people interview horrible and prove to be rock stars!  If you have someone that you’ve diagnosed as a bad hire, the kindest thing to do is to release them to their next opportunity.  Prolonging releasing someone for any reason is quite frankly lazy, and cowardly leadership.  If it’s good for the organization it will ultimately be good for the individual as well.  Do the courageous thing and release them to their next opportunity.  One of the best tools we have available to us now is The Working Genius assessment from The Table Group.  This is a productivity assessment that will help people understand why they love some roles and abhor others.  I would include this as part of the interview process.


Leadership is hard, but it is also one of the most rewarding things I’ve had the honor to do.  Go lead well!