x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Workplace Doctor: How to help a likeable but lacklustre worker reach full potential

Member of the team has great energy but poor delivery on projects. Is she lacking motivation or confidence? Workplace Doctor is here to help.

A member of my team is very likeable and a great asset to the group in terms of the banter and energy she brings to the working day. However, this does not translate into her work and her delivery on projects is somewhat lacklustre. Sometimes I feel this is due to a lack of motivation. Or perhaps a lack of confidence. How can I help her achieve her full potential? MA, Dubai

Isn’t it great to have people like this in your team – friendly, outgoing, entertaining people who seem to bring a smile to work and who have apparently boundless energy to offer?

But sometimes, as in this case, that energy seems to slip away when you ask for it to be applied to the actual job she is being paid to do. You have come up with a couple of reasons why she might be this way, but more important you have also flagged the danger: she isn’t achieving her full potential, and this is an issue for her, for you and for the team, so it has to be addressed.

Lots of us have a strong need to belong, and many of us find that the best way to become important to people in the team we work with is to make ourselves liked – by being entertaining and a source of fun and laughter within the group. If we are successful and we do become well-liked, as your team member seems to be, then often that is job done: the primary need we have at work, which is to belong and to be liked, has been met. In that sort of case, given how much energy is being spent on this, it is perhaps not surprising if there is not much energy left to be applied to the job itself.

I think you’re right that this sort of behaviour can stem from a lack of confidence or self-esteem. You can address this in a number of ways. One is to remind her frequently that you value her work as much as her positive attitude and to give her positive feedback when she does things well. This should be something she likes to get and responds well to, so she may begin to redirect some of her energy into doing her job well, because you have now made how she does her job another way to get the validation she needs.

Alongside this positive stuff, over time add some constructive critical feedback when she does less well. But remember to keep that feedback friendly and short – and most of all, with the critical feedback make sure you criticise the action and not the individual, or you’ll do more damage to her self-esteem.

You can also, over time, probe gently to find out why she feels she lacks self-confidence or self-esteem. Don’t be heavy handed about this, and always remember to offer lots of encouragement, which will go a long way to help her build or rebuild her confidence in any event. Also, don’t forget that this lack of self-esteem is only a theory – it may not be the case at all.

She might lack confidence because she herself feels she lacks competence. Make sure she really feels able to meet the demands of the job, and if you find there is an area where she doesn’t feel competent, help her to fix it by offering her whatever skills development support she needs.

If you feel she lacks the motivation she used to have, then usually something that has changed. Her attitude to the organisation may have changed. Maybe she feels less positive towards it, while still feeling very positive towards her friends and colleagues in the team. If so, then she may well behave as you are describing.

Here, you’ll need to find out why her attitude to the organisation is changing. Does she feel overlooked, or overworked or under-rewarded? Has the organisation actually changed in some way – fewer resources, more clients to service for example – which might mean her attitude has shifted? Remember that we often don’t realise attitudes have shifted until we see behaviours change – and the common mistake leaders make then is to address the behaviours and not the shifted attitude which underpins those behaviour changes.

This employee sounds like she could and should be an asset to your team, so take the time to get her where you want her to be. Do remember that the next downwards shift is for her to begin to deliver substandard work, and as team leader you would have to address that very swiftly. So act now to help this individual to bring to her work that same energy and commitment she brings to her relationships at work. Do it right and you’ll be well rewarded by helping to develop a colleague who is a valued and valuable team member working to her full potential.

Roger Delves is the director of the Ashridge Masters in Management at Ashridge Business School and co-author of The Top 50 Management Dilemmas: Fast solutions to Everyday Challenges. Email him at business@thenational.ae for advice on any work issues, whether as an employee, a manager or a colleague

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