Sticky solutions to your everyday business challenges
Question: Help! I have an underperformer who thinks she’s doing great. I inherited her from another department after a recent downsizing effort, and she’s completely unaware that her performance is not at the level that it needs to be. I really need every one of my team members to perform well, so I really need advice on how to help her improve her performance.
Answer: Almost every leader has been in the uncomfortable position of managing someone who thinks their performance is terrific when it’s actually just adequate, or worse. In fact, it’s one of the more frequent — and draining — performance problems we’ve observed.
The sooner that you can identify the likely cause of your team member’s lack of self-awareness, these three approaches will help you correct the problem behaviors — or understand whether that’s even possible.
Assess whether she’ll accept help. It’s emotionally draining to keep faking success or status that’s not legitimate. In contrast to the people who experience imposter syndrome, many others fall victim to the Dunning-Krueger effect, a cognitive bias that prevents people from recognizing how badly they’re performing and that they need help. Psychological research suggests that we’re not very good at evaluating ourselves accurately. In fact, we frequently overestimate our own abilities. If this is the case for your team member, you may consider asking her to participate in a 360-degree feedback assessment to learn how her behavior is impacting others.
Provide resources and support. Most employees need leadership, mentoring, and strong supervision in order to develop, particularly if they’re stepping into a role that is new to them. If your employee were to participate in a 360 assessment, you can use the feedback to help her target where her natural skills are insufficient to meet the requirements of her role and responsibilities, then provided targeted training and support to help her grow.
Target praise carefully. When an employee with an inflated sense of their own performance delivers high-quality work or conducts an interaction well, it’s important to praise them. But letting the praise stand alone can encourage them to think that everything they do is outstanding. Connect your positive comments to other things you want your employee to address. For example, you could say, “Now that you’ve done so well with the ABC presentation, for the next one, I’d like you to also [do the next thing they need to improve]. It’s important because…” Make sure you’re clear about both the necessary new behavior and why it’s required as part of satisfactory job performance. She may still think too highly of herself, but doing this gives you a better chance of getting the crucial behaviors you need.