053 Managing An Underperformer Who Thinks They’re Doing Great with Liz Kislik

“As a leader, make sure you are clear about your employee’s duties and responsibilities.” – Liz Kislik

A few months ago, I read a highly relevant and specific article in HBR about managing underperformers. One of the best I’ve read in a long time.  So, I had to find the author and invite her on the show to discuss it!  Fortunately, Liz Kislik agreed, and we had a revealing conversation about a tricky scenario that many leaders have encountered.

Liz is a management consultant and executive coach who helps leaders move their companies and careers forward. She’s written for HBR, Forbes, Entrepreneur and has also graced the stage as a TEDx speaker. She holds a BA from Yale and an MBA from NYU; I’m sure I could’ve spoken to her for hours about my fondness for New York City!

In today’s episode, we discuss:

  • What causes an underperformer and their manager to view things so differently
  • How to spot a pattern of subpar performance with an objective lens
  • How to address this type of scenario skillfully, for both the organization and employee
  • And much more!

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Why It’s Important to Set Your Expectations

The leader is always responsible. Although your team certainly needs to be responsible for themselves, you are still responsible. So the first job is to make sure that they understand what their duties are. You should also let them know how they’re expected to perform, and what your standards are for their performance.

It’s on you to make sure that they actually understand what you’re expecting from them and how you evaluate them. Because it’s unfair to hold them responsible for not meeting your expectations if your expectations haven’t been explicit and concrete.


How to Manage an Underperformer

But the nuance with somebody who thinks they’re fine is they don’t think they need to change anything. And the longer they repeat that mistake or undesirable behavior because no one calls them out for it, the more they think it must be okay. And that ends up doing all kinds of damage. Other people may start modeling their behavior after this person because they seem to be doing fine or they may go on to make new or even more dangerous mistakes. You have to catch these things when it’s still small.

Setting Expectations For Performance

Some people – whether it’s pride, lack of understanding, or actually having been damaged in prior work relationships – have trouble letting you in and hearing what you’re really saying, or they get oppositional about it.

So whether it is their refusal to do what you ask or their inability to understand, at some point, if somebody isn’t delivering on performance, you have to go through whatever your company’s process is and consult with your HR, to figure out either how to change their job responsibilities so they’re not in a position to damage the rest of the group or to actually say this person does not belong in this job because they’re not delivering. And then you do the corrective action or do whatever the steps are to move them out.

Links and Resources

Connect with Liz: LinkedIn, Website

Managing an Underperformer Who Thinks They’re Doing Great by Liz Kislik (article)

How to Retain and Engage Your B Players by Liz Kislik (article)

The Art of Possibility by Benjamin Zander and Rosamund Stone Zander (book)