What to do when some team members are lagging behind

I speak to many leaders that, since Covid, have outlying individuals in their team who aren’t pulling their weight in client-facing work. Many cite the time at home as having given space for reflection and an easing of pace. They’ve come back less excited by their customer-facing work and not willing to give their all. What do you do when not all team members are on the ride?

In pre-Covid, pre-Brexit days, staff may have also felt more compelled to work hard because there were others waiting in the wings to take their jobs. But the labour shortage right now also makes it hard for leaders to apply any pressure: they know that they have to work harder to keep staff, and so staff are under less pressure to prove themselves. Handling it as follows should help you tread the line between tough and supportive.

Make it clear you’ve noticed their weak performance

A team member that isn’t pulling their weight is going to drag the team down at some point. If you don’t call them out, others may follow suit, or become cross they’re being made to work harder. Tell the team member that you need them to put in more effort. In your particular case, the problem they need to be aware of is that their slower approach isn’t going to cut it here. However, you can say you will help them with regular, clear feedback on how to improve. Also tell them you’d like to hear from them if there’s anything specific that’s stopping them, so you could help with that too. Even if there is nothing, say that you’re ready for open dialogue, and if at any point they think of anything you could do to help, you’re here to listen. Make sure you check in regularly, providing feedback to them and giving them the time and space for them to feed back to you.

Make it clear to them why their work matters

Whether they’re making coffee or running the kitchen, make it clear to staff how they play a role in delivering the company strategy. Show how their actions ladder up to the delivery of the company’s mission and vision. It’s not ‘just’ making coffee, it’s delivering the excellent customer service that your company is known for. Without their high quality work, the company loses its direction completely. This sort of laddering up from their individual frontline work to the impact on strategy is a powerful way to make people see why their work matters and hopefully improve their commitment to the cause.

Find ways to make their work more interesting

Research repeatedly shows that good jobs, e.g. those that have variety, importance, autonomy and opportunities for feedback, are more motivating. Within the bounds of the roles that you can offer, what can you do to make these team members’ roles more engaging? Look at job rotation or upskilling to provide variety; link to strategy to provide importance; explore whether and how autonomy can be increased; and don’t miss the opportunity for feedback. This isn’t a quick fix – you may need to keep playing around with it until you find the thing that they seem to care about, because we’re all different in what precisely we want from work.


Three resources that will help: 

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