Vesta Digital Blog

What To Do If You Are Underperforming

Posted on: December 13, 2010

What To Do If You Are UnderperformingDo you feel like no matter what you do you can never measure up to par? It can be frustrating to feel like all the work you do ends up going unnoticed or written off. The first step to curing underperformance is admitting it. If your work simply doesn’t cut it, you need to take the necessary actions to change.

If you are a small business owner and you just can’t seem to see results from your efforts, or if you are an employee at a larger enterprise and you seem to be written off no matter what you do, there is an answer. Amy Gallo wrote a great blog post on Harvard Business Review about what to do if you are underperforming:

Ask for help

“If you’re screwing up, you should be open with your boss,” urges Jean-François Manzoni, Professor of Leadership and Organizational Development at IMD International and co-author of The Set-Up-to-Fail Syndrome: How Good Managers Cause Great People to Fail. Many bosses respond better to “I need help” than they do the various rationalizations and explanations that often accompany poor performance. Be concrete about what you ask for. “Others will be more open to helping you if you show them how they can help, and you show them you are taking responsibility for what’s in your control,” says Manzoni.

Involving others — peers, mentors, even direct reports — can also be helpful. Ask for feedback about how you are performing and advice on how you can improve. These discussions serve two purposes. One, they help you gain useful insight into your own behavior. Two, they also let people know you are working on the issue. If they know that, they are more likely to give you the benefit of the doubt in assessing your future performance.

Decide what to focus on

J. Richard Hackman, the Edgar Pierce Professor of Social and Organizational Psychology at Harvard University and author of Leading Teams: Setting the Stage for Great Performances, recommends using a three-part checklist to assess the underlying causes:

  1. Effort. Am I putting enough time and energy into the work?
  2. Strategy. Am I working smartly rather than relying on routine?
  3. Talent. Do I have the skills, knowledge, and capabilities to do my job well?

“Just asking one’s self those three simple questions often will surface some concrete things one can do to improve,” says Hackman. Use the answers to decide where to focus your efforts.

Principles to Remember


  • Recognize what is in your control to change and what isn’t
  • Sincerely ask for advice and feedback
  • Include others in your improvement efforts so they can see and appreciate your progress


  • Be defensive about your underperformance and try to blame it on outside events or other people
  • Assume that just because you are improving, others recognize it
  • Stay at a job where you’ve become permanently labeled an underperformer

If you are a small business owner and you have employees that are underperforming, it is important to be understanding and offer help when you can. If you are underperforming, follow the above principles and restore your reputation. It is important to assert the effort it takes to improve for your company and for yourself.

Distributed by IntelBuilder Social Media Platform


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