Underperformance

Underperformance

June 28, 2024
Turnaround is a Team Effort

Every business, department or team has periods when things don’t go to plan. Targets may be  repeatedly missed. A marketing campaign delivers disappointing results. Team members either fail to give their best or their best seems some way short of good enough.

In these circumstances, it is easy to leap to more negative conclusions. Did the campaign idea misfire? Maybe some employees are incompetent? Does the organisation need a wholesale restructure?

That could be the case, but it rarely is. More often, underperformance is the result of confusion, miscommunication or a lack of motivation. In other words, it can often be turned around with a top-down commitment to better communication and making small but consistent improvements.

IDENTIFYING THE ISSUES

When things are not going well, one obvious conclusion is that people aren’t working hard enough.

In reality, it is often the case that at least some employees are working too hard and staying too late.

The first thing many successful businesses do during a period of underperformance is to promote better work/life balance. Nobody produces their best work when all they do is work. Counterintuitively, one of the solutions to underperformance might be for everyone to do a bit less but focus a bit more.

After that, underperformance requires a review of the working environment, and particularly the way information moves up and down the chain of command.

  • Are instructions properly communicated? Are they clear and relevant? Is there a way for those tasked with acting on instructions to ask questions or suggest refinements, and do managers listen to frontline staff? Do their line managers listen to them?
  • Do individuals understand their role? Do they understand not just what to do, but how that fits in with the rest of the team or department? Do they know where to go with concerns or questions? Are they adequately trained for the job in hand?
  • Do individuals take ownership? Do your people feel responsible for the successful completion of a task, or are they happy to ‘do their bit’ and leave anything else to others? Do they pass on useful information to other links in the chain and collaborate easily, or do teams and departments operate in a bubble?

 

EFFECTIVE MANAGEMENT

Once issues have been identified, leaders must act. That might mean creating more effective communication channels and encouraging their use. It might mean extra training for staff, more consistent messages around company culture, or even granting more autonomy to key individuals or teams. It might mean being more tolerant of honest mistakes.

Whatever it is, it needs to be part of a strategy of continual improvement. Leaders should act quickly in the first instance, before inefficiency becomes a habit. Then they need to stay on top of the situation so better ways of working become part of company culture. That can be achieved in several ways:

  • Keep in touch. At UHY we recommend making use of regular Keep in Touch (KiT) meetings. These should be held throughout the organisation, ideally in a face-to-face setting as often as possible. KiTs should be part of a smooth two-way communication channel. Managers might use a KiT to ask frontline staff to focus more on a particular issue. Frontline staff should be free to suggest better ways to achieve this, or even to ask for more resources. KiTs should be a conversation, not a confrontation.
  • If an individual is clearly underperforming, KiT meetings should be a private and calm space to discuss the issues that might be impacting their work and suggest remedial action. That might include extra training, more flexible hours or clearer instructions from team leaders.
  • KiTs can also be used for regular (weekly, monthly or quarterly, depending on the role) performance appraisals.

When individuals are clear in what they have to do and confident in their ability to do it, teams and departments tend to work more effectively. To make sure that is true, use SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound) to define and measure targets.

CELEBRATE SUCCESS

When you see underperformance as a symptom of suboptimal systems and processes – rather than the result of individual failings – the solutions become more obvious. Communication is key. Give everyone a stake in turning poor performance around. Keep on top of the challenges teams and individuals face and be open to their ideas for making things better.

As results improve, celebrate success. Build incentives, offer rewards and recognise improvement. When the period for urgent action is over, survey your team and find out what they think is and isn’t working, and solicit their ideas.

Sometimes, turning round underperformance requires more drastic action, but that should be a last resort. In most cases, implementing small, incremental and consistent improvements are all it takes.

 

For more information, contact Alan Farrelly, Managing Director, UHY Farrelly Dawe White Limited alanfarrelly@fdw.ie