Hacks for Tech and Digital leaders to manage poor performers

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Tech and Digital Leaders


Poor performance by team members can undermine business growth as well as morale. It can quickly damage your company’s growth if left unchecked. Yet, in my experience, tech and digital leaders and managers are often slow or reluctant to deal with under-performers. This arises mainly because of three fears:

  • the fear of potential conflict from tough performance conversations,
  • fear of loss of respect and trust from the team and
  • the fear of getting it wrong and ending up in a tribunal or court.

Here are 4 crucial hacks for tech and digital leaders to improve the way you manage performance problems:

Set clear goals and standards

Leaders and managers often contribute unknowingly to poor performance situations arising in the first place. This usually occurs when managers fail to set and sufficiently reinforce performance standards. This is the start of a slippery slope. Unclear or vague goals and standards often lead to misunderstandings, missteps and underperformance.  So, start by ensuring you hold regular goal setting and performance conversations to clarify your expectations and goals. Be prepared to restate and reinforce these on a regular basis, as people don’t always fully understand the first time around.

Provide regular and candid feedback

Many managers struggle with tough feedback conversations. They end up falling into one of 3 common traps: they avoid the conversation, over-criticize or use the popular but highly ineffective “sandwich approach”. This last technique involves diluting critical feedback by layering it between opening and closing ‘slices’ of positive feedback. To avoid these problems, we encourage you to use our powerful 6-stage feedback process and AIM Feedback Framework™. These will help you handle these tricky situations, see: Bringing candour to tough feedback conversations

Don’t ignore the problem

Many leaders and managers avoid difficult performance conversations in the hope that the problem will resolve itself. However, avoidance only worsens the situation. It will cause resentment among strong performers in your team and damage your reputation as an effective manager. But worst of all, it will undermine your team’s performance.

Therefore, it is important to tackle performance problems swiftly, applying empathy, fairness and professionalism throughout. Remember that most people want to improve so give them a fair opportunity to do so. Identify the root cause of the problem – is it a lack of skill, a lack of will/motivation, or personal challenges outside work. Show them you believe they can change as your positive expectations will boost their confidence and performance. Provide them with support and guidance to help them succeed. But if they don’t improve within a reasonable period (typically no more than a month or two), move to formal disciplinary proceedings. It is important any action taken is done with the help of HR experts and in accordance with your company’s HR policies.   

Don’t hesitate to fire persistent underperformers

If you have undertaken all the above steps, you shouldn’t hesitate to fire an underperformer if they still don’t improve. People fired for poor performance will usually find another job relatively quickly. In fact, most find ones better suited to their skills, strengths and style. Humans are incredibly adaptable so things will almost certainly work out ok, even if it seems like a tough call at the time. Make the call and move on, don’t dwell on it.




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About the Author

James Brook
Founder and MD | Leadership Consultant | Organizational Psychologist

James is a leadership consultant, organizational psychologist and executive coach. He has over 25 years’ experience working with leaders, teams and organizations globally to optimize their performance, talent and future success. He specializes in positive leadership, thriving workplaces, collaboration and influencing, organizational change and transformation, accelerating innovation and coaching executives and leaders in innovative sectors including Tech, Digital, E-commerce and Life Sciences.

Before setting up Plexus Leadership, James held leadership roles in HR and Talent Management in the UK and abroad with companies such as NatWest, Yahoo! and Novo Nordisk Pharmaceuticals. After this, he founded and led several talent and leadership consulting and assessment businesses, including Strengthscope®, an online strengths assessment and development business serving a wide range of UK and global clients. James grew this venture into a global market leader before selling the business in 2018.

James has supported, advised and coached leaders and teams globally across diverse industries and geographies. Clients he has worked with include Allen & Overy, Commvault, Equinor, Facebook, GSK, Hilton, John Lewis, Novartis Pharmaceuticals, NHS, Oracle, Sainsbury’s, Swiss Re, Tesco, Takeda Pharmaceuticals, WSP and Yahoo!.

James has a Master’s in Organizational Psychology, an MBA, an Advanced Diploma in Executive Coaching and a Harvard Business qualification in Sustainable Business Strategy. He is a member of the Institute of Directors, the Association of Business Psychologists and a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (FCIPD). He is currently undertaking a PhD in Organizational Psychology examining the start-up experiences of Tech and Digital entrepreneurs.

James is a regular contributor and speaker on leadership, coaching, innovative talent management and the future of work. His most recent book, Optimize Your Strengths, explores how leaders can create thriving workplaces by inspiring and supporting people to optimize their potential and teamwork to deliver breakthrough results.

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