One of the many advantages of modern technology is that it empowers organizations to gather real-time operational insights. This includes how each team or department is performing, as well as how individual team members are performing. However, not all types of underperformance can be measured in quantifiable metrics. 

Regardless of the area of opportunity, the sooner underperformance is identified, the sooner a solution can be implemented. Here are the signs of underperformance, the common ripple effects, and essential employee motivation strategies. 


What is workplace underperformance?

Employees are the life pulse of every organization. When employee productivity is high, you can scale and grow with ease. When productivity is low, it can have a rapid and negative ripple effect. 

There are a variety of factors that can positively and negatively impact performance. Your objective is to notice what influences employee performance, identify trends, and take a strategic approach to maintain and boost performance. 

In addition to automated performance metrics, underperformance can be measured by:


  • A decline in quality or failure to meet performance standards.
  • Disruptive, negative, abusive, or unprofessional conduct. 
  • Non-compliance with policies, procedures, or rules.


The ripple effect of underperformance

A decline in performance isn’t isolated to the employee or the clients they serve. The ripple effect of a decline can span far and wide, negatively impacting the entire team or department. The smaller your organization, the faster the ripple effect.


Department-wide decreased productivity—someone must pick up the slack of an underperforming employee. This is typically someone else in the department, whose performance is also likely to decline. 

Burnout—employees who pick up the slack may be able to maintain their productivity short-term. However, the longer they are working double duty, the more likely they are to burn out.

Client turnover—both the underperforming employee and the burned-out employee are delivering work that is not aligned with your quality standards. This can decrease the rate of leads you convert and increase client turnover. 

A decline in morale—the longer underperformance goes unresolved, the more it ripples throughout your organization. This often includes a decline in morale, collaboration, and company culture. 


How to motivate an underperforming employee?

Addressing a change in performance head-on is the most respectful approach for the employee of concern. Approach the employee motivation strategies below with the intention of:


  • Learning something new.
  • Identifying the root cause.
  • Supporting your employee’s success. 


This approach assumes positive intent, as your employee may not realize their performance has declined. Or if they have noticed, they may not have considered the ripple effect it has caused or may soon contribute to. 


Your employee’s success is your success, so ensure each strategy below is implemented in alignment with your mission, vision, values, and desired company culture. 


#1 Ask questions 

While it is essential to prepare prior to your employee one-on-one, don’t overthink it to the point that you begin to make assumptions. However, you can begin by asking yourself questions to identify if there are organizational areas of opportunity. 


Do all employees have a clear expectation of their job duties and quality standards? For example, are they provided with a list of job duties and a metric for how to assess quality?


Could this be an onboarding area of opportunity? For example, are the same performance issues common in other new hires in the same position? 


Is recurrent and ongoing training sufficient? For example, was there a training session to learn the new software and a resource provided if they had questions?


Are the consequences of underperformance clearly outlined? For example, will they be written up?


Is ongoing support in place, including truly open lines of communication, internal mentorship, and regular one-on-ones?  For example, can they ask questions without being made to feel inferior or bothersome?


Are there any recent organizational changes that could be contributing to their declined performance? For example, leadership change or new software?


Are there any patterns that you can identify that impact the employee’s performance? For example, does their performance always decline during your busy season?


Are there recent shifts to company culture that could be impacting performance or employee morale? For example, have the organization-wide numbers been down and they are feeling more pressure to perform?

Precisely how are they underperforming? Gather specific examples so that you can share their areas of opportunity. 


#2 Identify collaborative solutions

The questions above help you to prepare, now it’s time to talk. Schedule a one-on-one to discuss your performance concerns. Don’t beat around the bush, but don’t dive into the area of opportunity just yet. 


Begin by asking how things are going in their team and department. Then, share that you have a few concerns about their recent performance and that you would like to discuss a collaborative solution. Let them know that you appreciate their honesty and that you support open lines of communication. 


Next, share specific examples of their declined quality and gauge their response. Listen closely, as their response will guide you toward your next questions. 


If their response is vague, follow up with questions such as:


  • Do they feel positively challenged?
  • Is their position fulfilling?
  • Do they feel new or increase stress at work?
  • Are they experiencing any personal stressors?
  • What can you or the team do to support their success?


The objective is to determine what the next steps are, so remain open and ready for any response. They may be genuinely surprised that their performance has declined. 


They may also be aware of their declining performance and able to easily articulate what they need. For example, they are spread too thin with non-skill-related tasks. 

Or they agree that there are organizational areas of opportunities that you uncovered in Strategy #1.  


#3 Reassess your recruitment strategies

If the underperforming employee is fairly new to your organization, recruitment could be the issue. They may be motivated to do a great job, but the position wasn’t the right fit in the first place—or is not what they expected. 


  • They may not possess the skills or experience to perform to your standards.
  • If the position is new or the duties have recently shifted, training may not be sufficient.
  • Your company culture may not be as described in their interview or not the right fit for them.


If a recruitment area of opportunity is identified, with the right mindset, communication, and support you may be able to turn things around. Also, new employees can provide a powerful outside perspective, so if they are eager to share their thoughts—listen. 


Ready to better target your new hires?

In addition to identifying how to motivate an underperforming employee, you must continually add aligned new recruits to your team. While partnering with a recruitment firm may sound like another expense, the industry insights, resources, and technology of an outside recruitment firm save both time and stress. 


Even if you have an HR department, they wear many hats, leaving little time for much more than passive recruitment strategies. By partnering with ISO Talent, you access local and global top-tier candidates who are aligned with your culture and brand. This boosts performance, retention, and helps to maintain or reshape your company culture. 


We invite you to reach out today to learn more!