4 Management Mistakes That Cause Employee Underperformance

Gone are the days when the old-school philosophy of “just do the work and get paid for it” reigned supreme. It’s no longer enough, neither as a management mantra nor an employee manifesto.

Two things are true today. First, managers cannot simply lead with a do-as-I-say, no-questions-asked mindset. Second,  employees now prioritise factors like growth, meaningfulness and job satisfaction in their career decisions as much as financial compensation.

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The interplay of these two forces can often explain performance discrepancies. Whether or not managers realise it, flawed leadership practices indirectly precipitate employee underperformance through lack of growth and job satisfaction.

Clearly, managers need to stop “managing” their people and start “leading” them towards improvement and better performance. Before that can happen, though, it’s vital to understand the ways in which bad management can cause employee underperformance.

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1. Undervalued

Managers who lack empathy often fail to listen to their employees. This alone can account for so much workplace motivation loss. When people feel that their inputs don’t matter, that their articulated needs are being ignored, or that they’re being treated like thankless grunt workers, their motivation to do well understandably tumbles.

The most crucial leadership practice a manager could practice at work is the ability to empathise with others. It makes a big difference in letting people know that they’re not being taken for granted, and that they’re being respected as professionals and as human beings at work.

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Managers intending to embody empathetic leadership practices can do so by:

  • Creating two-way feedback loops so people have a proper avenue of being heard at work
  • Cultivating genuine personal relationships with their people
  • Practicing active listening
  • Having regular individual check-ins with the team to ask if they are happy, what challenges they’re facing, what their career goals are and if these have changed, or if they have any requests for assignments they’ve been eyeing

When people feel valued and cared for at work, they’ll be more than willing to give their 110% in any endeavour they take on in the workplace.

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2. Strengths-task misalignment

Every employee has different strengths that need to be fully tapped into in order to maximise performance. Leveraging on these strengths is what allows for diversity of thought, experience, and expertise within the organisation.

Research has even shown that employees who are able to work in their strength zone are up to six times more engaged than those who aren’t.

Conversely, having square pegs in round holes is likelier to slow down efficiency and productivity. If people are being forced to spend most of their time buffering their weaknesses instead of capitalising on their strengths, performance will take a hit.

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Leaders are responsible for helping to catalyse the process of strengths-based performance management by:

  • Paying close attention to employees to find out where each of their strengths lie
  • Encouraging employees to ascertain their biggest strengths at work
  • Identifying areas for improvement: weaknesses should not be totally sidelined
  • Asking employees to come forward and request assignments that align with their strengths

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3. Underchallenged

For smarter or more capable employees, being understimulated at work can significantly decrease their motivation to perform. While they may still complete their tasks and meet their KPIs, they’re also not achieving their full potential.

Often, it’s because they feel that their talents are being underserved and that they’re not learning as much on the job as they would like. In the long run, employee retention and turnover rates are adversely affected if these employees leave to seek greener pastures.

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Here, employee satisfaction and employee engagement are closely linked through the psychological concept of “flow”. It asserts that happiness and excellent task performance are achieved when people are allowed to work on projects that are just above their current skill level.

The same logic applies to the workplace. Giving employees tasks that are incrementally more challenging helps to facilitate their personal growth, provide job satisfaction, and thus boost performance.

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4. Under-communication

Sometimes, employees fail to perform because they weren’t sufficiently briefed about it from the start. They end up being unclear on the requirements of their role and the expectations for their performance.

The problem might be traced back to an ineffective onboarding process, in which case managers need to re-evaluate and revamp the procedure to better articulate the necessary standards and indicators of performance.

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It could also be because there was a communication lapse between team members regarding the deliverables and follow-up actions of a particular task. For instance, so often, meetings and discussions are concluded without a complete wrap-up of the required actions moving forward. Everyone assumes that each person present is clear of what needs to be done next, without clarifying this assumption at all.

In some cases, the absence of proper feedback loops is to blame for an employee’s underperformance. Even if an employee knows that she’s underperforming, her efforts at improving would be far less effective without receiving constant feedback.

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