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Why Smart Employees Underperform

We’ve all been there. After an extensive and thorough search for a key manager, one candidate stands

out. This candidate has the right experience, solid qualifications, and a relevant work history, and has

given an impressive performance during the interview process. She said the right things, put forward

some great ideas and generally presented very well. You commit and make the hire. Three months

later, you begin to question your decision. Your new hire’s team appears disgruntled, morale is low,

and output and productivity are well behind the figures from the previous quarter. After investigating

further and speaking with a few key team members, you realize there is a disconnect—a mismatch. While

the hire looked impressive on paper and presented well during one-on-one interviews, your new hire’s

style, approach, and behavior on the job are simply inconsistent with the values and expectations of your

organization. Your new hire is not a good fit and you need to make a change. We are going to look at

seven reasons this could be.

1. Inadequate Capability

Don’t judge a book by its cover, and don’t believe what you read on a resume!

Capability refers to the skills, tools and experience that a person needs in order to successfully perform

her job. When any of these factors are missing, there is an increased chance that the employee will


Diagnostics that help you identify if an underperforming employee has adequate capability:

Skills—Do you know what skills are needed to perform the job and whether the employee possesses

those skills? If she doesn’t possess the necessary skills, how will you help her acquire them, and how long

do you expect that process to take? Skills training takes time and money, and results are never guaranteed

unless there is adequate commitment from both the manager and the employee.

Tools—Even if an individual has the skills and experience to do the job, does he have the tools to deliver

peak performance? The tools don’t have to be the most up-to-date, they just need to work well.

Experience—Just because an employee has the skills to do a job doesn’t mean that he has the experience

to apply those skills in his specific position. This is especially true for recent graduates, outside hires from

different industries and internal hires from different departments.

2. Poor Job Fit

“Fit” reflects the behaviors and interests needed to succeed in a job

Many people fall into the trap of choosing a profession or job that is a bad fit. We are who we are.

Our “mental DNA” is influenced both by our genetics and our early life experiences, and it is almost

completely formed by the time we are 20 years old. Rather than trying to understand ourselves so that we

can choose a calling that builds on our strengths and aligns with our interests, we choose jobs because of

peer pressure and societal influences.

Skills can be taught, but behaviors are much more difficult to change

Skills can improve through training and mentoring, but it takes tremendous effort and motivation to

change natural behavior. If an individual isn’t motivated to change, then he probably won’t.

It is important to understand a person’s innate behaviors and interests when trying to match him with the

right job. Know the job, know what type of person is successful in that job, and then hire others who have

the behavioral traits that fit that job. This is easier said than done because it is difficult to gauge behaviors

in a job interview, but behavioral assessments can be extremely helpful.

3. Fuzzy Goals and Accountabilities

Clear goals help focus and motivate employees to achieve the desired results

Employees need to be very clear about their responsibilities and about the results you expect them to

achieve. Daily work and priorities are easily affected by the crisis of the day, new requests or changes in

direction. Setting and tracking SMART goals helps your employees focus on what is most important to

your business, and clear accountabilities help ensure that the work gets done with minimal conflict.

Use SMART goals to create clarity and improve the employee’s performance

Specific–Your employee has a much better chance of accomplishing a specific goal than a general goal.

Measurable–Establish concrete criteria for measuring progress toward the attainment of each goal you


Aligned–The individual’s goals need to support the organization’s priorities.

Realistic–To be realistic, a goal must represent an objective toward which you are both willing and able

to work.

Timed–A goal should be grounded within a time frame; otherwise there is no sense of urgency.

4. Poor Relationship with Manager

Do as I say and not as I do…clear as mud!

A poor relationship with one’s boss is the number one reason for failure at work. There are two common

flashpoints that adversely impact performance.

1. The employee is unclear about the manager’s expectations. Goals should cascade down from a

manager to his employees so that everyone understands how they contribute to the objectives of both the

team and the organization. If an employee does not understand the goals she has been given, or if she

hasn’t been given goals at all, then it is on her to seek clarity.

2. Managers fail to adapt their styles to the employees’ preferred styles. Every employee/manager

relationship is unique and requires a different management approach.

Managers and employees who understand each other’s preferred styles will better understand how to

communicate and work together effectively. We have identified seven factors that strongly predict the

compatibility between a manager and her workers. These are: self-assurance, self-reliance, conformity,

optimism, decisiveness, objectivity, and approach to learning. Assessing a manager and her employees

allows her to use objective information about herself and her workers so that they can work more

effectively toward a common goal

5. Poor Relationship with Co-Workers

Can’t we just all get along?

There are four primary factors that harm relationships among co-workers:

1. Insensitivity toward others–Insensitive co-workers damage any sort of team dynamic and potentially

expose the employer to hostile work environment and employment discrimination law suits.

2. Unclear accountability–Conflict between interdependent employees or groups emerges because they

are unclear about business objectives, priorities, and deadlines, as well as processes and resources for


3. Poor cultural fit-Cultural fit refers to the employee’s compatibility with the organization’s values

and mode of operation. While the employee presents well on paper and performs well during one-on-

one interviews, the employee’s style, approach, and behavior on the job are simply inconsistent with the

values and expectations of your organization.

4. Incompatible styles–Co-workers have communication styles and natural behaviors that simply don’t

mesh well with one another, and neither is willing to adapt his style. This creates conflict and hostility,

which creates stress and distraction for the entire team.

6. Health and Wellness Issues

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure

Approximately $260 billion in output is lost each year in the US because of health-related problems.

Whether they are absent from work altogether, or present but working at a reduced capacity, employees

suffering from physical or mental illness have difficulty performing at their peak.

Employees spend approximately 36% of their total waking hours at work. This makes the worksite

an ideal place to provide workers with the knowledge and skills needed to help improve attitudes and

behaviors concerning health.

A comprehensive worksite health promotion program typically contains six elements:

1. Education about—and encouragement of—healthy living, focusing on overarching lifestyle changes.

Disseminate information and build awareness of healthy living issues, preferably tailored to employees’

interests and needs.

2. Supportive social and physical environments. This includes implementing policies that promote healthy

behaviors and reduce risk of disease.

3. Links to related programs that help employees balance work and family life.

4. Worksite screening programs ideally linked to medical care that ensures follow-up and appropriate

treatment as necessary.

5. Processes for supporting individual behavior change with follow-up interventions.

6. A continuous improvement process that enhances the program’s effectiveness.

7. Physical and Environmental Factors

Snug as a bug in a rug

Numerous behavioral studies have proven that a pleasant and comfortable work environment improves

worker productivity and reduces turnover. For example, indoor temperature affects several human

responses, including thermal comfort, perceived air quality, sick building syndrome symptoms, and

performance at work. Researchers in Finland showed that when the interior air temperature was 86°F,

worker performance was 8.9% below worker performance at the optimal temperature of 71.6°F.

Physical Factors

1. Workplace layout encourages efficient communication flow but minimal disruption

2. Ergonomically correct workplace reduces fatigue and distractions to reduce errors and injury

3. Safety awareness and concerns that can cause stress and accidents

Environmental Factors

1. Temperature

2. Air Quality

3. Lighting Conditions

4. Excessive Noise

5. Traffic

Indeed, it has been found that a productive work environment requires that management be able to

positively motivate its employees in an infrastructure that is amenable to employees’ needs.

Written By: Dan Lacy, Founder

Dynasty Business Consulting





New Focus HR is a human resources consulting and training company that services all organizations. Our expert team collaborates with businesses to attract, motivate, retrain and retain their biggest assets, employees. While engaged with an organization, our focus is to find solutions that improve the company’s internal HR-related practices while increasing results at the same time! Our focus. Your results.