4 Uncommon Ways To Motivate an Underperforming Employee

Ordinary leaders believe that if some employees are under-performing, you must fire them.

But not you!

Underperformance is very common nowadays due to the increasing levels of stress and competition.

Sadly, performance issues and employees spirit are too often ignored by leadership due to the endless battle for a bigger market share, decreasing costs and increasing profits.

When you are too busy to motivate your people, don’t expect much in return. The most dangerous part is that underperformance is an infection that can spread fast, unless you deal with it right away.

On a side note, the last reason for underperforming is the salary. Increasing the salary has the least effect on increasing performance.

If you notice a downgrade in an employee’s performance, then it’s a warning sign that their spirit needs a boost, not their pocket!

Here are 4 proven ‘uncommon’ ways to motivate an underperforming employee:

1. The ‘Passion’ Conversation

Invite your employee or the whole team for a close, personal conversation about their passions and what they really love to do.

Ask them to forget about work and really express what makes them come alive. They can freely talk about the moments that brought them the most joy in the past.

When an employee expresses his/her passion, engage him in a brainstorming session to find creative ways to link his passion to work.

For example, if an employee’s passion is playing guitar, ask him to bring his guitar to work every day and play for the team early in the morning or during the lunch break.

2. Leverage The Strengths

Never ever talk about areas of weaknesses. Never say “I notice some performance issues, and I know you can do better.” And never ever try to make it look good by saying, “there are areas of improvements we need to work on.”

These 2 phrases have the same meaning and communicate the message: “You’re not good enough.”

As an inspirational leader, you must have a trained eye to see the best side of each member of your team. So, when someone is underperforming, remind him/her of their strengths and their achievements.

Give them the freedom to do their work in a way that leverages their strengths.

For example, if you have an underperforming sales professional who hates doing written reports, let him focus more on being in the field where he feels most powerful, and either simplify the report requirements, make them less frequent or ask for an oral report.

Don’t corner your employees in tasks that drain their energy and affect their performance.

3. The Creative Project

Sometimes boredom is a big reason for underperformance. When an employee feels that there is nothing new to learn and that the growth and development rate has come to saturation, performance goes down immediately.

This is the perfect time to either assign new responsibilities to your employee or ask him to pick a problem at work and start a creative project to solve this problem. Give him full ownership to lead that project. If you trust your people, they will give back their intense loyalty.

4. The “Why You’re Awesome” Letter

When I do this exercise in my motivational workshops, it brings tears of joy to the participants’ eyes.

Ask your team members to write an anonymous sticky note to each other about “Why You Are Awesome” and stick it on each other’s desks.

“You’re awesome because you always make me laugh”, “You’re awesome because I can trust you when I go on vacation”, “You’re awesome because you taught me a lot” etc.

This will generate huge positive karma in the workplace and people will come alive again after feeling how much they are being loved and appreciated by everyone around them.

Yes, I know these 4 ways might look strange and uncommon, but when does an inspirational leader follow the ordinary path?

Remember, your #1 role as a leader is to create a passion-driven culture where people feel great and at the same time maximize profits.


Mohamed Tohami is a bestselling author and Egypt’s #1 motivation expert. He is also a professional member of the Global Speakers Federation and the (USA) National Speakers Association, the premier organizations for professional speakers.

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