3 sure-fire signs someone is systemically underperforming (not just having a bad month)

Dec 10, 2010

In the previous post, I described the 3 reasons many organizations will miss their targets in 2011. The first was failing to understand the real reasons for individual under-performance.By this I mean that many business owners, C-level executives and managers spend unnecessary amounts of time trying to work out if a specific individual is systemically underperforming (as opposed to just having an ‘off’ month, or quarter), and then struggling to understand why they’re underperforming.

To short-circuit this process, let me share the 3 sure-fire litmus tests as to whether or not a specific individual on your team is systemically underperforming rather than simply having a ‘down’ month or quarter:

1. They use the ‘velvet deferral’.

The velvet deferral is like the verbal equivalent of the penny arcade ‘shove a penny’ game – everything is always on the brink of coming good: “I know we didn’t close sales x, y, or z this month, boss,” (or finish projects a, b and c – whatever) “…but it’s just a timing error – it’ll all come good next month.” This is classic under-performer-speak: everything is always just about to come right – in the next month or quarter.

Performers who are simply having a down period know life isn’t like that, and they re-forecast missed sales (or uncompleted projects, or lost opportunities) in a specific, reasoned manner.

2. They have no plan b.

Chronic under-performers epitomize Albert Einstein’s definition of insanity: they keep doing the exact same thing, expecting different results each time.

Performers who are simply having a down period will re-evaluate how they have been doing things and change tack accordingly.

3. They don’t want to go beyond secondary examination.

When asked to analyze the reasons for their under-performance, chronic under-performers will typically throw out anecdotal evidence that supports their velvet deferral (see point 1 above): “Mrs Jones broke her leg just before she was going to sign her contract and I’ll get her next week when she’s out of hospital.”; or “Fredo couldn’t book conference room ‘B’ for the kaizen session. We’ll make sure and reserve it in good time this month.

Performers who are simply having a down period blow past anecdote and try to analyze underlying data and trends to see what really is the issue: “I’ve been pushing the contract signature to a second meeting with clients. I’m going to try to do it in the first meeting from now on” or “I’ve noticed that it doesn’t work if I make meetings room-dependent. I’m going to take all our flip chart and other materials out of Conference Room B so we can meet anywhere.

Oh…and one last bonus point:

4. It’s almost always someone else’s fault.

This isn’t as consistent an indicator as the first three, but it is good confirmatory evidence: chronic under-performers almost always blame other people. Performers who are simply having a down period look to themselves first as the possible cause of failure.