HBR Guide to Delivering Effective Feedback (HBR Guide Series) - Deepstash

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How to help an Underperformer

Underperformance is frustrating, time-consuming, and demoralizing. Knowing how to turn around problematic behavior, letting go, and/or facing issues head-on is a skill. 

Outlined here key points how to approach these situations


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1. Don't ignore the problem

Underperformance rarely resolve by themselves. More often, managers ignore the problem and resort to transferring the person somewhere or letting him stay put without doing anything. They only get more and more irritable and frustrated and push the person uncomfortable. If this problem arises, take step toward solving it as soon as possible. 


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2. Consider what's causing the problem

Be objective and consider if the person is poor fit for the job, lacking the necessary skills, or misunderstood the expectations. Consider also that you might be contributing to the negative situation. Don't just focus on the underperformer, think about what changes you can make as well. 


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3. Ask others what you might be missing

Conduct a 360 review but do it carefully and confidentially. Your frustrations may be clouding your judgement where all you can see are the mistakes they are making. Make an honest effort to see what you're missing and look for evidence that proves your assumptions wrong. 


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4. Talk to the underperformer

Once you've gathered the details, explain to the underperformer exactly what you're observing, describe how the team's work is affected, and make it clear that you want to help. Ask questions like, How do we get out of this? How do we improve? It's important to engage the person in brainstorming solutions. Don't expect immediate response, they may need time to digest your feedback. 


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5.a. Confirm that the person is coachable

You can't coach someone who doesn't agree that they need help. In the initial conversation- and throughout the intervention- the employee must acknowledge the problem. If they're not open to change, you have to make a decision whether you can live with the issue and at what cost. But if you see willing ness to change and genuine interest in improving, you can work together to turn things around. 


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5.b. Confirm that the person is coachable

When you decide to coach the underperformer:

  1. Make a plan - create a concrete and measurable plan for what the both of you will do differently. Agree on specific goals, resources needed, timeline, etc. Ask them how they feel with the plan.
  2. Regularly monitor progress - Ask the person to check in regularly or agree how often you're going to check progress. It may be helpful to ask if there is anyone they can trust to provide feedback about how well they're doing in making these changes.


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5.c. Confirm that the person is coachable

When you decide to coach the underperformer:

3. Respect Confidentiality - while also letting others know  you're working on the underperformance problem, make sure to keep the specific details confidential. 

4. Praise and reward positive changes - make clear that you've noticed developments and reward them accordingly. 

5. If there isn't improvement, take action - If things don't get better, leace the coaching and get into consequences speech. Disciplinary actions, particularly letting someone go, shouldn't be taken liightly as it affects the org. 


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6. Do's and Don'ts


  • Take actions as soon as possible
  • Consider how you might be contributing to the performance issues
  • Make concrete and measurable plan for improvement


  • Assume the issue is resolved after one conversation
  • Try to coach someone who is unwilling to admit that there's an issue
  • Talk about specific performance issues with others on the team


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Mental health, stoic, theater

Underperformers in the team will always exist, having a growth mindset means being able to communicate and give appropriate actions that is both useful to the team's goals and the individual.

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