Turning Around an Underperformer - A Guide for Engineering Leaders

Turning Around an Underperformer - A Guide for Engineering Leaders

As Engineering Leaders, If you want to avoid 90% of the problems, you should set expectations.

✅ An intentional leader will ensure they don't come to conclusions immediately but assess the situation.

Don't wait too long, as the situation might get a bit out of control.

Let's talk about 5 themes that can lead to an Employee Under-performing:

  • Are they aware of your expectations?
  • Do they have everything they need to be successful?
  • Do they have the necessary skills?
  • Are they willing to change?
  • Do they think they are high-performers?

Let's dive into each topic,

Are they aware of your expectations? 📈


It all starts here. Begin by clarifying your expectations 💯.

You should look inward and fix your expectations if they don't know your expectations. Could you start with what you are expecting from them? Their definition could be different than yours.

  • Start by setting weekly goals for them
  • Provide frequent constructive feedback
  • Iterate and improve

If they are unaware of what you expect, they are unlikely to meet your expectations 👎.

Do they have what they need to be successful? 🏆

  • Are you providing feedback at a regular cadence?
  • Are they the right fit for your team?
  • Do they need something, but they aren't communicating?

For example, If they are consistently blocked 🕰️ as they work with an off-shore group of contractors, then it might be time to look into why. Have a conversation with them to learn if they have everything they need.

Do they have the necessary skills? 💪

Every team comes with a set of skills needed to make the team successful.

  • Do they have the skills?
  • Are they willing to learn?
  • Is there a skill gap that you can bridge? Then, you can start training them for those skills and invest some time there.
  • Are they and you investing in their skills?
  • Does org have the budget for skill training?

Find a mentor for them and look into helping them bridge the gap 🌉.

Take Accountability 👈

It could be that you needed to hire correctly 🔥. In that case, it might be time to look for another team if a team is better aligned with their needs. People change over time, and sometimes, it's all about interests. Try to find a team for them that might be a better fit. Be honest to yourself.

Next time, how would you tweak your interview process to make sure this wouldn't happen? Should more leaders be involved in decision making? Was there anything you ignored in interviews? Take all this into account.

Are they willing to change? 🔄

  • Do they have the will to change?
  • Are they committed to bridging the missing skills?
  • Are they showing a willingness to change? 🌉

change is important

After you deliver feedback which should have been an ongoing process, they must have the will to change 💪.

Are they motivated for the work they are doing? For example, if they are interested in working on backend tickets but are in a frontend team, they might need help to change.

Or could it be that their values and the work your team is doing differently and they don't think their matters? Is there a conflict within the team that needs to be resolved? It could be that they don't feel respected.

If they don't think the team culture is healthy then you might have a bigger problem. It might start with this employee but others might follow. Try to see if there is someone else who is creating that negative impact on them.

Do they think they are high-performers? 👩🏽‍💻

It can be a misunderstanding that the metric they use to measure their output differs from yours. For example,

  • Are they working on tasks that need to be aligned with your team's goals?
  • Was it communicated to them that they were doing a good job?
  • Does the vision of the company mismatches with theirs?

Work on bridging the expectations here of what high-performing means in your team or org vs their definition. Please clarify this so they can get back on track.

expectations for each other

Overall, small wins 🏆 will create momentum and give you that positive signal they may need. If they are performing again, let them know, so they know they are heading in the right direction.

You may still not succeed despite trying it all, and that's okay. We all should work on things that bring us joy. However, if there is a mismatch in vision, expectations etc., it might be time to part ways with them 💛 but make sure you have done everything you can before you get here.

With the proper support, you can still turn things around.

To summarize, in order to avoid employees underperforming, clarify expectations, provide regular feedback, assess necessary skills and training, assess willingness to change, and align definitions of high performance. Take accountability and provide support 🚀.

FREE Checklist of Questions to ask Underperforming Employees 🎁

Here's a gift for you! Take a look at the FREE Checklist of Questions you can ask Underperforming Employees! 👇

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