Responding to a Struggling Team Member with Empathy and Development

According to Amy Gallo, it is vital to respond to unexplained underperformance of a new team member with some of the following concrete steps.  I have added some more of our steps regarding empathy and development that may help achieve more adaptive outcomes for all:

  • Never allow challenges in performance go unaddressed – or the situation will likely grow worse.
  • Ask the individual what they think is causing the underperformance.
  • Investigate what is causing the problem – do they need more training or are they unmotivated? Offer more training and development meetings so it’s not just the underperformer’s problem alone.  If they don’t respond to more attention, then it is likely to be more the team member’s issue.
  • Ask other team members what they think is going on and how things can be improved.
  • Invite the underperformer to make suggestions for correction. If they don’t make any or sufficient improvements, then there likely is an intractable underperformance issue.
  • Make a plan to address the underperformance.
  • Regularly monitor their progress.
  • Discuss the problem with the client and their supervisor.
  • If things don’t get better, start to discuss potential consequences to the low performer.
  • Praise and reward good deeds, even when most of the underperformance continues (i.e., frequent errors, falling behind on tasks, or refusal to do tasks).
  • Follow up with the individual regularly. See if they are making any improvements. You might meet with them 3-5 times per week instead of weekly.  Make suggestions regarding task and time management.
  • Pay attention if the team member keeps their word – if they agree to make positive changes in an area of their performance and then see if they do it.
  • If there are no signs of real progress over time, consider involving human resources. You may need to take further action such as a formal performance improvement plan.
  • Don’t be surprised if at some point the employee gives notice of their leaving the organization as well. Even though this is not the desired outcome of raising performance, their decision frees the organization to find a more compatible team member.
  • It is normal to have feelings of resentment regarding having spent more time and money on the ramped-up training and development. Sometimes one can feel betrayed by the employee not keeping their word or by not doing the job they promised to do.  I find one can practice mindfulness and shift the thoughts to being appreciative of the optimized collateral results that came from the ramped-up training and development.  For example, you may have developed a new system that benefits future team members or you may have completed a project that will benefit the organization.
  • Think about what signs may have been missed during the hiring process.
  • When you go on and hire a successful employee, you may realize that it was as simple as hiring the right person for the job.


Enjoy the day.



How to Help an Underperformer by Amy Gallo

Harvard Business Review.  June 23, 2014.

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