Rekindling the Flame: Motivating Underperforming Talent

Every entrepreneur knows the frustration of having a talented employee who just isn’t meeting their full potential. They possess the skills and knowledge, yet their output falls short of expectations. This can be incredibly disheartening, but before you throw in the towel, consider this: there’s a good chance motivation, not ability, is the culprit.

Here’s the good news: with the right approach, you can reignite their passion and get them firing on all cylinders. Let’s explore three key strategies to motivate underperforming talent and unlock their true potential:

  1. Unearthing the Root Cause: A Collaborative Conversation

The first step is understanding why your employee isn’t performing. Avoid accusatory one-on-ones. Instead, frame your discussion as a collaborative effort to identify roadblocks. Here’s how:

  • Set the Stage: Schedule a dedicated meeting in a private space. Express your concern for their success and the company’s goals.
  • Focus on Specifics: Use data and concrete examples to illustrate the performance gap. For instance, “In the last quarter, deadlines were missed on three projects, causing delays for the team.” Avoid generalizations like, “Your work just isn’t up to par.”
  • Open the Dialogue: Ask open-ended questions that encourage honest feedback. Examples include, “What challenges are you facing that might be hindering your work?” or “Is there anything I can do to better support your success?”

Example: Sarah, a graphic designer, consistently misses deadlines. In your meeting, you highlight specific instances and ask her about the roadblocks. She reveals feeling overwhelmed by her workload and a lack of clarity on project priorities.

Solution: Collaborate with Sarah to create a more manageable workload and prioritize tasks. Implement project management tools or set weekly check-ins to ensure she’s on track.

  1. Rekindling Passion: Aligning Purpose and Contribution

Sometimes, a disconnect exists between the employee’s personal values and the company’s mission. People are more motivated when they feel their work has a meaningful impact.

  • Articulate your “Why”: Remind your employees of the company’s mission and vision. How does their work contribute to the bigger picture?
  • Highlight their Impact: Showcase how their past contributions have made a difference. Did their design win a client? Did their code fix a critical bug? Share testimonials or positive customer feedback.
  • Empower Ownership: Give your employees greater control over their projects. This fosters a sense of responsibility and ownership, leading to increased engagement.

Example: John, a software developer, seems uninspired by his tasks. You discuss the company’s goal of creating innovative financial tools that empower small businesses.

Solution: Encourage John to participate in brainstorming sessions for new features. Allow him to choose a challenging coding task that aligns with his interests. Recognize his contributions when his work directly impacts clients.

  1. Reimagining the Role: Growth Opportunities and Recognition

Stagnation breeds boredom. Employees crave opportunities to learn and grow. Consider these strategies:

  • Upskilling and Development: Provide access to training programs, workshops, or online courses relevant to their field. This investment shows your commitment to their growth and future with the company.
  • Lateral Moves: If an employee feels pigeonholed, explore cross-training or lateral moves within the company. This allows them to leverage their existing skills while gaining new experiences.
  • Internal Recognition: Celebrate individual and team achievements beyond just promotions. Public praise during team meetings, personalized notes, or small awards can make a big difference.

Example: Mary, a marketing specialist, expresses a desire for a more strategic role.

Solution: Enroll Mary in a digital marketing certification course. Delegate tasks that allow her to develop her strategic thinking skills. Publicly acknowledge her contributions during team meetings for her innovative marketing campaigns.

Remember: Motivation is a two-way street. While these strategies can help, the onus is also on the employee to take initiative and be accountable. However, by fostering open communication, aligning purpose, and creating opportunities for growth, you can reignite their passion and unlock their full potential.

Additional Tips:

  • Tailor your Approach: Not all employees respond to the same motivators. Take time to understand what works best for each individual.
  • Celebrate Progress: Acknowledge improvements, no matter how small. Positive reinforcement fuels continued effort.
  • Be Patient: Rekindling motivation takes time. Set
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Rob Basso is a recognized small business expert, successful business owner and entrepreneur.

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