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  • Writer's pictureAmii Barnard-Bahn

How Do You Motivate An Underperforming Team Member?

Updated: Dec 23, 2021

I recently received a great question from one of my newsletter subscribers: “I have some under-performing members on my team, but not so under-performing that I want to see them out of the organization. I am having a hard time motivating one particular individual...any advice on how to handle this on a day-to-day basis?”

Motivating others is one of the top 5 challenges that managers face in the workplace. Leadership theorist John Adair has posited a 50/50 rule: 50% of a person’s motivation comes from within, and 50% comes from the work environment. Your task? Focus on the 50% of motivation that is created by the work environment.

Understand that people are motivated by different things. For some, external factors are important, such as wealth, perks, status and position. For others, motivation is more about intrinsic factors, such as feeling satisfied, having control over their work, enjoying a sense of challenge, feeling valued, or realizing their potential. 

Leadership assessment tools can help identify the sources of motivation for employees, but you can also simply ask your employee

Find a good time to meet with your employee, ideally at a regularly scheduled 1:1 meeting. Tell them you’d like to talk about their work performance, and the impact this is having on the team. Give specific examples of their under-performing work; be kind, but direct, in sharing specific examples (e.g. you have arrived late to our last 4 team meetings, which disrespects the team’s time and gets us off to a poor start; in our recent meetings, you’ve made sarcastic comments which contributes to a negative team environment and is causing some team members to shut down). Elicit their best thinking on the situation. What are their thoughts about this? How are they relating to their work – what do they like and dislike? Are they aware of the impact of their behavior? How do they like to be recognized? Let them know how their behavior may influence their future opportunities. 

My leadership mantra: Be kind, clear, fair and firm. And if, after a reasonable time frame and good faith support on your part, your employee’s behavior doesn’t improve? You may need to have a crucial conversation about job requirements and expectations and whether this is a good fit. Good luck!

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