A team member underperforming? There's an interesting reason why.

Hannah Sims · 11 Oct

The new season of The Apprentice has come to be, bringing us another set of unimaginable human beings competing in suits, with a combined arrogance that makes them seem like highly developed strain of Donald Trumps.

Goat Eat Goat

Yet it is the boardroom scenes, where they turn on one ‘weak link’ and point the finger of blame to avoid being fired, that makes for the most uncomfortable/entertaining viewing. Sadly, ganging up and scapegoating are common, cowardly human survival techniques.
We're quick to point the finger of blame if someone on our team appears not to pull their weight. Scapegoating feels great. Unless you’re the goat.

This is the goat.


This isn’t the jungle. This isn’t even Bear Grylls’s approximation of a jungle. Why do we need survival techniques?
What we’re saying is that when you have a team with one clear underperformer, think twice before you single them out.

Often the problem you’re seeing isn’t about performance. Not really. It starts somewhere else: with communication.

Ask yourself:

Have I outlined the expectations for the task?
Have I fed back immediately after a task?
Did I give this person guidance from the outset?

Great expectations

Often a lot of issues with performance are down to expectations. And expectations can be completely different from person to person if you don’t communicate. Expectations are set a long way back- right at the start of the hiring process.

When you pick candidates, do you clearly state the role?

Do people know what they’re interviewing for, and is their job still what they interviewed for? Often roles can change. For instance, someone might start out running campaigns but end up taking on some of the social media too, or might be an account manager who ends up dealing with someone else’s clients. Both these scenarios have happened to one single member of our team and both in the last year. In any case, when the new member joins or takes on a new role, make sure they are trained properly and know how to do their job- don’t expect people to muddle through.

Are priorities clear?

Some people may not realise a job falls under their remit. Or they may think that something isn’t an important part of the job: the small, forgettable spreadsheet update that they forget to do on a Friday afternoon that you need ready for your Monday morning meeting, for instance. Friday afternoon is never probably a great time to get people to update something, though.

When you brief a new task, are the KPIs indicated?

Does everyone know what the aim of the task is? Often people are just involved in a chain and lose sight of the end goal. This problem is probably worse in necklace factories than it is in your office.


What’s in it for me?

It’s always good to see an objective from your team member’s point of view. Maybe they aren’t a stakeholder, so what drives them? Is this task on their appraisal? Does a bonus depend on it? Can you at least bring a buffet lunch to the meeting? What about a man jumping out of a cake?

At the end of the task, does everyone know how they did?

Set time aside to feedback what you think went well and what went badly. Before delivering feedback, ask the team member for their take on it? It could be radically different from your own!

If their takeaway is too different, reassess your own communication skills. You know that thing where you think you’re discussing the same film and then, a cameo by Joanna Lumley in a catsuit and several finger puppets later, realising that you’re really, really not but it’s now too late to deny knowledge of seeing said film? This is probably worse. Communication is really important!

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