Underperformance and how it can be managed

Positive conflicts in the workplace

Employees can be our most meaningful and greatest assets if we manage them properly. But sometimes, they can be our biggest pain point when we are not aligned with them, or more especially when they are underperforming. As a high-performance coach, I interacted with employees from different companies. Very often, a lot of them believe that they are delivering exceptionally in their work. But almost every leader has struggled to managed people/a person who thinks they do outstanding work when in actual fact their work leaves very little to be desired.

Many underperforming employees can be helped in several ways. Sometimes, they may have lost a sense of purpose, motivation or direction. Personal life crisis can also account for the subpar delivery of work.  There are some cases in which improper time management or an overwhelming number of tasks, can cause employees to underperform. 10 coaches of Forbes Coaches Council were asked why they think the smartest employees may be underperforming and what to do about it. Here’s what some of them said:

“Smart people sometimes tend to get overconfident in their abilities to get things done. They tend to believe they know it all and do not need any further education or input. They may decline soliciting others’ opinions for the same reasons. Managers need to showcase everyone’s strengths in a tactful way and help smart people understand that everyone has value to bring to the table.”   – Gia Ganesh, Gia Ganesh Coaching

“An employee’s level of engagement usually parallels their performance. If one of your brightest employees is underperforming, it could be a sign that they feel like they’re not being heard, their work isn’t appreciated, or they’re not valued or respected as an individual. Managers who connect with employees on a personal level, recognizing their unique contributions, inspire high performance.”   – Jody Michael, Jody Michael Associates

“Unfortunately, smart employees are not always the best fit for an organization, a team, or a certain role. Research has consistently shown that high-fit employees will perform better, be more satisfied with their jobs, and more committed to their organizations. In addition to smarts, managers should consider how their employees’ personality, values and needs align with their environment.”  – Ross Blankenship, PhD, Bespoke Partners

“Gaining honest, actionable feedback can be highly effective in employee engagement and growth. Asking open-ended and insightful questions, ensure you are clear on what exactly they are saying, and make sure you have enough information to act upon what they have to say or to be able to explain why you cannot act. Finally, follow up to let them know their feedback is being considered or actioned.”   – Lianne Lyne, PLP Coaching, LLC

In his book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, Daniel Pink highlights research confirming some incentives can cause significant impact on performance. “The more ‘smarts’ required by the employee, the more they can be negatively impacted by incentives. Managers need to look for three things: autonomy (let them make decisions), mastery (give opportunities for them to get better), and purpose (what is their ‘why?’).”   – Dean Miles, Bridgepoint Coaching & Strategy Group.

As displayed above, it is clear that the underperformance of employees can be caused by several other things. The key is to identify what’s causing the problem. Here are some questions to ask to guide your assessment of why your employee may be underperforming. Is the person a poor fit for the job? Does the person lack the necessary soft and hard skills? Does the person know what is expected of them? Do they feel insufficiently motivated or do they feel underappreciated? There is very often a mismatch between what managers and employees think is important when it comes to performance, Weintraub explains. It’s critical to consider the role you might be playing in the problem. “You may have contributed to the negative situation,” says Manzoni. “After all, it’s rare that it’s all the subordinate’s fault just as it’s rare that it’s all the boss’s.” Don’t focus exclusively on what the underperformer needs to do to remedy the situation — think about what changes you can make as well.

As high performing leaders, we can also ensure that our team members are on the same wave length as we are. We should recognize the cause of the struggle and make available the necessary resources to get them back on the road to high performance. Here are 4 keys that both leaders and employees can begin with to correct problem behaviours and patterns with performance.


As busy corporate workers or entrepreneurs, it is very easy to get stuck in the routine. Many of us have developed bad habits we did not realize existed until things got terrible. This is simply because we got stuck in the routine of doing things. We failed to be present, to bring our consciousness and thinking to carefully analyze our decisions and our actions. Being present does not mean focus on all the troubles you are facing currently. Being present means recognizing that you have challenges, tuning your mind to accept the circumstances, and more importantly thinking forward to find solutions to those challenges. Being present means listening to your body to take a break when you are tired. It means having a good cry when your emotions are too heavy and you cannot seem to keep a level head. Always ask yourself before you do anything, why are you about to do whatever it is you are going to do. How is it going to affect me? Will it hurt others or myself? Being present is being aware that every simple step you take will create that future you will live in. Make sure that you can see the future although you are in the present.


As leaders, we carry the responsibility of being clear to our employees about the company’s performance objectives. By offering clarity, our employees can design a road map to how to deliver efficiently what we expect of them.


Imagine you are busily getting some work done and someone comes to break some terrible to news to you? What do you do? You can wail, throw your hands in the air and beat yourself up. Yes, you can, but what do you do afterwards? How do you position yourself for better? Do you know the consequences of your failure to rise up to the challenge? What has helped me in very trying times is always reflecting on how much worse things will be if I do not get up the next morning to do what I have to do. Trust me, I have not woken up every day wanting to do my best. There are days when I did not want to wake up at all. However, every time I think about how much worse I will feel if I do not do what I should, I am driven to get up, suck it up and get it done. Mentally, you must intentionally position yourself to be active irrespective of how you feel. Always ask yourself, what are the consequences if I fail to do this? That realization will give you the adrenaline boost you need to perform.


According to researchers at Duke University, habits account for about 40 percent of our behaviour on any given day.  “Understanding how to build new habits (and how your current ones work) is essential for making progress in your health, your happiness, and your life in general” – James Clear.

High performance is a lifestyle. Day in day out, you have to ask yourself how day went. What worked well and what did not work out so great? Why did things not go as planned? If you achieved an extraordinary feat, how did you get it done? Do not wait for your whole life to come to a halt before you analyze your habits. Reflect on your day on a daily basis so you can build new habits where there are loop holes. This will release the emotional and mental burden on you to turn your whole life around because the option to make gradual changes is available to you!

Helping an unaware underperformer be more realistic about their work requires a lot of attention and involvement. Understanding what’s driving their lack of awareness will either help you determine what support they need in order to improve, or confirm your assessment that they just might not be able to satisfy the requirements of the job. – Forbes, 2020 The life of a high-performer is not about the past or even the future; it is always about the present. The present is the most important chance we will ever get in creating the future we want for ourselves. And so as leaders and employees on a single team, we can align ourselves with a common goal and brace ourselves with the mindset and skillset to consistently high perform to meet expectations.

Are you ready for TRANSFORMATION?

Dzigbordi K. Dosoo: The H.E.L.P. Coach

Dzigbordi K. Dosoo is a Personal Impact, Professional Growth and Influence Expert specializing in Humanness, Entrepreneurship, Leadership and Power – H.E.L.P.

A career spanning over two decades, she has established herself as a Certified High Performance Coach, Speaker, Author, Wellness Expert and award-winning Entrepreneur with a clientele ranging from C-Suite Executives, Senior Management, Practitioners and Sales Leaders spanning 3 continents.

She is the Founder of Dzigbordi K. Dosoo (DKD) Holdings; a premier lifestyle business group with brand subsidiaries that include Dzigbordi Consulting Group& Allure Africa.

Dzigbordi has been featured on CNN for her entrepreneurial expertise. She is one of the most decorated female entrepreneurs in Ghana having being named “CIMG Marketing Woman of the Year” in 2009; “Top 10 most respected CEOs in Ghana, 2012; Global Heart of Leadership Award and, Women Rising “100 Most Influential Ghanaian Women”, 2017.

She can be reached on [email protected] and @dzigbordikwaku across all social media platforms.

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