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Removing Underperformers... The Right Way

Underperformers need to go. There is no room on our team for them. Right? Well, let’s look at this through a Gapology lens.

While underperforming is absolutely a problem for any team, and chronic underperformers need to be managed with urgency, we must begin by looking at ourselves, as leaders. Most often, underperforming team members are a direct result of being under-led.

Team members look to their bosses for direction and support to perform at their highest levels and when they don’t receive those things, everything starts to crumble.

  • Without closing the Knowledge Gaps, the team will not know what to do and how to do things. They will struggle to work on the things that really matter to achieve the organization’s purpose.

  • Without closing the Importance Gaps, they won’t know why they need to do the things they are being asked to do or they won’t know the priority order of those things.

  • And without closing the Action Gaps, they won’t be connected to the accountability of their performance, and will therefore struggle with remaining committed to them.

We own closing these gaps, proactively, if possible, if we are to ever expect them to perform at a high level, and if we fail in this, we must look ourselves in the mirror first before we ever move them to a Corrective Action step.

Here are some tips to use to leverage your knowledge of Gapology to set your team members up for success:

Validate that the Knowledge Gap is closed

  • Ensure the training process includes trackable elements that include validation methods.

  • Ensure a coaching process is in place to provide growth from knowledge-based learning to skill-building

  • Ask the team member to explain the process in which they are underperforming. Have them walk you through all the steps to validate knowledge.

  • Ask them to demonstrate the proper steps of the process. Look for skill inadequacies.

Validate that the Importance Gap is closed

  • Ensure that behavioral and result expectations are clearly documented and that their communication of them is clearly documented

  • Ensure that the team members have agreed to perform the expectations

  • Review the priority list you have set for the team members. Is it built to deliver your Purpose and Expectations? Have you kept them simple and easy to remember?

  • Validate that the team member knows and understands why the Expectations and Priorities are important.

Validate that the Action Gap is closed

  • Ensure that you have measurable elements to the expectations and have created a method of accountability for them. Scorecarding with exception reporting are essential processes to include.

  • Validate that the team member is committed to taking action. Get their verbal commitment or a signed document stating that they are committed to taking the action.

  • Ensure that you have created a culture of action where you are consistent in your celebration of those performing to the expectation and consistent in coaching with documentation of those who are not. Regular and consistent “Gap Calls”, where you review expectations vs. performance, are great processes to follow to drive action and commitment. These must be supportive exercises where the team members feel that you are conducting them to help them learn and improve. Trust-building is paramount here.

These steps to validate the closure of Performance Gaps are just examples, of course, but you can use your own methods that would be applicable to your business and level of leadership.

If, however, you have closed the Performance Gaps and these individuals remain as underperformers, you may need to move to a Corrective Action process. The power in following the Gapology processes that we have outlined here is that you can move in a much more confident way to partner with your organization’s Human Resources or senior leadership team to begin Corrective Action. It is critical that you have consistent and complete documentation of all your conversations and actions, as well as follow all organizational policies and applicable laws.

In Gapology, we speak extensively about A, B, and C players. A-players are your top-performing group of team members, B-players are in the middle group, and C-players are your underperformers. Identifying these groups is the first step to follow to funnel your efforts accordingly. In our experience working with various organizations in several industries, we have discovered that many A-players are hiding in the C-group. With a focused effort, and strategic approach using tips like the ones we’ve shared here, those hidden gems can be quickly polished off and become some of your very best performers.


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