What do you do if your Team is Underperforming? Part 2 – Setting the Scene

In my previous blog before Easter I talked about some of the underlying causes which lead to team underperformance especially if the prevailing team culture is known for its ‘warm and fuzzy’ environment and its people-centric focus. Baby and Bathwater

Undoubtedly you do not want to ‘throw the baby out with the bath water’ in turning a people-focused culture around, so here are some tips on how best to address the issue of group underperformance in a more systematic and comprehensive way that avoids short term knee-jerk reactions or ‘scape-goating.’

Leadership from the Top

First and foremost, cultures tend to follow the direction and focus that the leader provides regardless of whether that is through the leader’s action or inaction, commission or omission. Therefore it is advisable for you as the leader to get on the front foot and announce from the outset that complacency leading to poor performance will no longer be tolerated. You need to be seen and heard repeating this message as often as possible, as well as clearly outlining to your organisation or team, the strategies and plans that will be put in place to support this ‘line in the sand.’ As well as actively communicating this message whenever and wherever the opportunity arises, actions by you as their leader such as championing outstanding behaviour that leads to extraordinary results, helps to remind the people within your culture that this topic is now very high on your radar.

For example – I had just completed a series of nationwide workshops for a client of mine focused specifically on the subject of ‘Prospecting’ for their Business Development executives, and one of the key topics on the training agenda was the simple task of how to ask directly for referrals from current satisfied business customers. Immediately following the workshop, one of the participants made the conscious decision to actively engage in this one change in his behaviour. As a consequence he proceeded to write $5 million in extra business within three weeks of the workshop which represented a very significant increase to his current portfolio. As a result of hearing about this rapid turnaround in this one individual’s performance, his leaders not only spread the word of his success internally to all of his colleagues nationwide, but they made it an imperative action for everyone to take as a result. Within only four weeks, the successful ‘role model’ was nominated as Business Development Manager of the month due to his stand-out performance, the key message being not his extraordinary results, but the change in behaviour that led to such a demonstrable and immediate pay-off. This has already begun to affect a groundswell of focused activity and accomplishment that was previously lying dormant within this people-centric (‘we don’t sell here – we relate!’) culture.

Creating the Urgency for Change

Because we are all creatures of habit and the most difficult habits to break or change are the ones with which we feel most comfortable, it is important to tackle inertia and resistance head-on.  People need to know where this spotlight on underperformance is originating from; why it is important for them to change; and why it is so time-sensitive. Therefore it is important to spell out the reasons loud and clear, and in particular why further resistance or complacency is not an option. If there is not an obvious crisis already brewing that you can readily draw their attention to, it will be important for you to find clear and irrefutable evidence supporting this need for change and the urgency with which change has to happen. I am not saying that you should manufacture false evidence or drag out half-truths, but if, as the leader, you genuinely and congruently believe you have an underperforming culture which is confirmed by group or team profiling, then chances are you will be able to find the evidence quite easily, in the form of falling sales graphs; customer feedback research; cultural surveys; industry benchmarks and the like. And the message that must be drawn from this supporting evidence, is that underperformance needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency, or everyone including you, will suffer the consequences as a group. The intention is to ensure that the pain of not changing will be perceived as being greater than the pain of changing.

Re-Aligning the Focus

Now that the negative consequences have been clearly laid out for all to hear and see, it is equally important to paint the positive alternatives that might lay ahead as a result and re-align the focus on what the team or the organisation has been challenged to achieve via a turnaround in performance. While some might call this the ‘vision thing’ or the ‘light on the hill’ I prefer to see it more as the ‘carrot’ to support the ‘stick’ that has been clearly communicated, so that both aspects of people’s motivational strategies have been taken into account. From a group profiling perspective it is important to be aware that for some people their strongest motivator is to avoid a pain while for others it is to achieve a gain, so it is important to ensure that both sides of the motivational coin are covered, if you want to gain alignment across the board for driving out complacency. If this re-alignment can include appropriate team or organisational benchmarks and measurements as part of a set of stretch targets then even better.

Now that you have clearly set the scene and created the prevailing mood for change from within your team or organisation, it is time to lay down some of the supporting structures and strategies to engineer not only the turnaround in performance, but also its sustainability long term. Up until now, all that has been addressed is the ‘why,’ but without the ‘what’ and the ‘how’ and the ‘what if’ being addressed, you have the direction and maybe some forward motion, but very little else to support the vehicle. You need to lay down proper infrastructure, supply the road map, and set out the road rules with appropriate signage along the way in order to keep things on track towards your ultimate destination.

In future blogs, I will talk further on the structure and support needed to drive out underperformance.

The topics I will be covering are:-

  • Training and Education
  • Ongoing Support Development – Mentoring, Coaching and Managing
  • Performance Measurement – Appropriate and Accurate KPIs
  • Reward and Recognition – Team and Individual
  • Celebration
  • Performance Management
  • Capability – Individual and Organisational

I look forward to your own comments on this subject, and if you know of anyone who heads up a team or a company who may benefit from reading this material due to their current business circumstances, please forward this on to them. If you or they would like to chat with me further about the solution to wiping out group underperformance in the workplace, especially if it is showing up in the form of cultural malaise, email me at  brian@precisionprofiling.com.au . I’d love to share with you the benefits of taking the right action.

Until next time… Let’s seek to understand more and judge less.  Have a great week – Brian

Precision Profiling – What Makes You Tick?  Through ‘Motivational Fingerprinting’ we uncover what you do, how you do it and why you do it, and most importantly, the hidden patterns that lead to your success, and that of your staff.

About Brian Clark

Brian Clark is the principal director of Precision Profiling®.

He is a renowned practitioner, writer and speaker on building total customer cultures; values driven leadership and world best practice strategy and implementation.

He has been a guest lecturer on world best practice for the executive management programme at Monash University’s business college (Mt Eliza campus); an adviser to and key note speaker for the Singapore Productivity Association and a consultant to many major Australian and overseas corporations and government departments.

Read more about Brian Clark Here


  1. I am in fact delighted to read this webpage posts which consists of lots of valuable facts, thanks for providing these data.

    • Hi Mel
      Thanks for your kind feedback. Other than the work I do on-site in businesses and corporations; face-to-face with private clients or by Skype/phone; these weekly posts of mine are the additional way I am able to share my strong belief in helping people to understand themselves and each other better, because IMHO greater understanding leads to more acceptance (as opposed to flawed judgment and therefore increased chance of conflict with and damage to others and ourselves). And doesn’t the world and our workplaces need more of that today? Please share this web site and/or blog pages with others whom you may think will appreciate my weekly musings and insights gleaned from many years of doing this specialized work. I would love to have you on board as part of my free weekly Newsletter feed if you would like to join the community. Cheers – Brian

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