In any workplace, it’s a scenario that no leader likes to encounter: an underperforming employee. Unfortunately, due to the pandemic, it’s something that all team leaders need to be on the lookout for now more than ever. 

Even though remote work allows us to connect and do our jobs, there are indeed challenges that come from not being in the workplace and having the same resources at your fingertips. In addition, employees are dealing with more and more family issues and emotional stress due to the pandemic, and this can easily take a toll on job performance. 

Great leaders are aware of the extra challenges the pandemic has caused, and they are proactive about staying in touch with their employees and addressing their concerns before they escalate into more significant problems like performance issues. 

To best accomplish this, leaders must take both an inward and outward approach to getting their employees re-engaged and performing at their best. 

Looking inward, a leader is trying to figure out: “How have I been letting this person down? How have I been getting in the way?”

More specifically, the questions a leader asks herself to look inward:

  • Is it clear what needs to get done? How can I make the goals or expectations clearer?
  • Is the level of quality that’s required for this work clear? What examples or details can I provide to clarify the level of quality that’s needed?
  • Am I being respectful of the amount of time you have to accomplish something? Can I be doing a better job of protecting your time?
  • Do you feel you’re being set up to fail in any way? Are my expectations realistic? What am I asking that we should adjust so it’s more reasonable?
  • Do you have the tools and resources to do your job well?
  • Have I given you enough context about why this work is important, who the work is for, or any other information that is crucial to do your job well?
  • What’s irked you or rubbed you the wrong way about my management style? Does my tone come off the wrong way? Do I follow-up too frequently with you, not giving you space to breathe?

Looking outward, a leader is trying to figure out: “What on the employee’s end is limiting them? What choices or capabilities of their own are keeping them from achieving their best work and results?”

More specifically, the questions a leader asks himself to look outward:  

  • How have you been feeling about your own performance lately? Where do you see opportunities to improve, if any?
  • What are you most enjoying about the work you’re doing? What part of the work is inspiring, motivating, and energizing, if any?
  • What part of the work do you feel stuck? What have you been trying the “crack the nut” on, but it feels like you’re banging your head?
  • What part of the work is “meh”? What tasks have you felt bored or ambivalent about?
  • When’s the last time you got to talk to or connect with a customer who benefited from the work you did? Would you like more opportunities to do that, and should make that happen?
  • Do you feel you’re playing to your strengths in your role? Where do you feel like there is a steep learning curve for you?
  • Would you say you’re feeling optimistic, pessimistic, or somewhere in the middle about the company’s future?

These days, we all have more personal issues on our plate, and it’s normal to feel overwhelmed, stressed and even pessimistic. However, we must try and compartmentalize our emotions and not allow them to interfere with our professional work. Leaders need to be extra sensitive, make themselves more available, check-in regularly with their teams, and even roll up their sleeves more than usual to keep their employees on track. 

To get the best results and help any underperforming team members get back on track, it requires leaders to take an inward and honest look at themselves to make sure they are doing everything as best they can to help their team. At the same time, they must take an outwardly approach and help their teams work through the issues holding them back from achieving their full potential.

Remember, as entrepreneur and TV personality Jon Taffer said, “The greatest gift of leadership is a boss who wants you to be successful.” 

Angela Civitella is a business leadership coach and founder of Intinde.

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