Don’t Blame Negative, Under-Performing Employees – 3 Reasons They Are Not at Fault

SkipWeisman_facilitating the IDEAL Work Environment System with a Small Business Client

In a recent survey 44% of small business owners reported being unhappy with the performance of their employees.

To solve this type of problem, small business owners must first identify the cause and then create applicable solutions. There can be many reasons why employees under-perform and some leaders may point to poor attitudes, low motivation, low morale and individuals’ inability to work with others, or accept and adapt to change.

Although those reasons may be valid on the surface, there are always underlying issues that have led to the causes identified by the business leader.

The good news is that there are only two aspects to evaluate with under-performing employees. It’s either due to an individual’s:

  • ability, or
  • their attitude.

In either instance, the employee is not at fault.

(If you’d like help distinguishing whether its an ability or attitude issue and the communication issues that may have caused it and how better communication can fix it – let’s have a conversation. To schedule a free, no obligation Workplace Communication Assessment Strategy Session, go here now)

There are three primary communication mistakes business leaders make that prevent employees from being engaged in their workplace and contributing at higher levels:

Business Leader Mistake #1 – Not Giving Employees a Reason to be Engaged, Motivated & Contribute

Many business leaders mistakenly believe that providing someone the privilege of a steady income and certain quality of life via a paycheck should be enough to create a motivated employee.

Yet, studies continue to show that salary and benefits, although important for providing base levels of motivation, is not enough to generate higher levels of engagement.

Many managers and leaders say they are frustrated with the feeling they have to continually find ways to light a fire under their people to get them to do what needs to be done. Instead they should be investing energy in connecting to their employees on a personal level to instead find ways to light a fire within them.

One extremely effective way to do this is to apply the Employee Engagement Equation.

The Employee Motivation Equation begins with creating an inspiring vision for the company that employees at all levels will be excited to contribute to. Daniel Pink, in his 2010 book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us identified “Purpose” as one of the key motivating components for a 21st Century workforce.

Business Leader Mistake #2 – Creating a De-Motivating Environment

In any new relationship there is always a honeymoon period where all the parties involved have good feelings about the possibilities moving forward. It’s the same when a new hire joins a company.

Unfortunately, a survey of about 1.2 million employees at mostly Fortune 1000 companies in the early part of this century conducted by Sirota Survey Intelligence, and revealed in 2005 that in 85% of companies, employee morale sharply declines after an employee’s first six months on the job, and continues to fade in ensuring years.

In a significant number of companies, as this Sirota research shows, something is occurring in these work environments that causes an enthusiastic and engaged employee to change their attitude.

Many factors can be attributed to this drop off, some of which include:

  • Poorly communicated job descriptions and responsibilities causing uncertain performance expectations for the individual,
  • Inequity in managers addressing inappropriate behaviors and poor performance of co-workers,
  • Managers that play favorites and communicate disrespectfully in the workplace,
  • Lack of positive feedback for contributions made

Business Leader Mistake #3 – Making a Wrong Hiring Choice

In the haste to fill positions, often those making the hiring decisions fail to invest enough time in making sure the new hire is a good fit for the position.

A “good fit’ includes assessing skills, knowledge, attitude, talent, and the education and experience a prospective team member will bring into the work environment. I call this the S.K.A.T.E. Hiring Profile (Skills, Knowledge, Attitude, Talent, & Education/Experience).

Additionally, sometimes due to unforeseen circumstances employees are asked to fill roles not originally intended, and for which their skills and talents are not the best fit.

In these situations, despite the employee’s best efforts he or she is unable to meet desired performance expectations, causing both the employee and the employer become disenchanted with the relationship. Yet, the onus must be on the employer to get it right when inviting someone into his or her work culture, and when asking a team member to take on additional work responsibilities.

What You Can Do

Before proclaiming employees are unmotivated, and/or unwilling, to perform to expectations and bring positive attitudes to the work environment start evaluating these three workforce mistakes from an organizational leadership and communication perspective to see where there is room for improvement.

Remember that it comes down to only two causes. It is either an ability problem or an attitude problem. too many times training and coaching are provided as solutions to an attitude problem, which is a huge waste of resources. As you might imagine, fixing an attitude problem is much different, and much harder, than an ability problem, in most cases.

Here are 3 steps to get you started:

  1. First step is to get clarity there.
  2. Second, once you make that decision, know that for whichever you choose, the foundational cause of that situation is some form of communication.
  3. Third, decide on the best way to approach the situation and the individual.

If you’d like help distinguishing whether its an ability or attitude issue and the communication issues that may have caused it and how better communication can fix it – let’s have a conversation. To schedule a free, no obligation Workplace Communication Assessment Strategy Session, go here now


7 thoughts on “Don’t Blame Negative, Under-Performing Employees – 3 Reasons They Are Not at Fault

  1. Alan Allard says:


    My compliments to you for speaking up on this matter and holding managers and leaders accountable.

    It’s ironic that managers and senior leaders want employees to take responsibility for their performance (and rightly so) yet the same “leaders” refuse to take responsibility for the performance of their employees.

    An under-performing employee is in a company because a hiring manager hired them and that same manager is keeping them on. That’s on the company, not the employee.

    A manager is paid, in part, for the results they are able to achieve through others. When an employee under-performs, that person’s manager is also under-performing.

    The bottom line is that both parties are equally responsible, just in different ways.

  2. David Shedd says:


    Excellent blog and dead on. In all these cases, it is the leadership’s responsibility and accountability to have a performing (“winning”) team. If they don’t, then all fingers point back to them. Besides, if they blame others for the continued under-performance, then they are themselves giving the example of unaccountable behavior that is at the root of so much corporate malaise.

  3. Skip Weisman, Workplace Communication Expert says:

    Alan and David,
    Thank you for stopping by and being inspired to comment.
    I’m pleased you found value in and reinforced my position on this issue. I guess this is also why in sports its the coach that gets fired, and under-performing employees (athletes) get traded or released?

    In my work with clients I offer 3 related strategies, to begin building a “Championship Workforce:”
    1) start with a blank slate tomorrow for everyone and create a new set of performance and attitude expectations for the work environment;
    2) give everyone on the team the coaching, training, feedback and support they need to step up to meet the new standards;
    3) set a “trading deadline” and make moves to upgrade the position if some team members are unable or unwilling to meet the new standards.
    a “trading deadline” approach like athletic leagues have in a couple of months prior to the playoffs when roster moves can be made.

    Just like in athletics, depending on the present state of the team and the aggressiveness in the approach this can take anywhere from 3 months to 5 years to transform a work environment.

    Thanks, again for adding to the discussion.

  4. Mel Kleiman says:


    I totally buy into your third reason that in many cases the wrong person is hired.

    Reason 1 and 2 are cop outs. When it comes to motivation it is totally an internal thing. It is easy to get things done when every thing is the way you like it. The truly motivate person gets things done even when things are not always the way they would like them to be.

    Make it simple managers don’t motivate anyone all they do is manipulate them by giving them more of the things they want and like to do.

    One of my favorite quotes. “There is no future in any job. The future is in the way you do the job.”

  5. Skip Weisman, Workplace Communication Expert says:

    Thanks for stopping by and being ‘motivated’ to leave a comment and add to the discussion. I appreciate your thoughts and believe we’re of similar mindsets, possibly just saying things slightly different in some instances.

    I do have to say I’m extremely surprised that you do not believe that leaders can create a de-motivating environment by their actions and behaviors. It seems to me you are saying employee should just “suck it up” and do their job regardless of the work environment the leader creates.

    I’ve worked with and transformed business leaders who had a habit of yelling at employees in public, demeaning them in front of co-workers and even, amazingly customers. This is not appropriate, nor motivating. Leaders who play favorites, and have different rules for different people’s performance/behaviors that do not fit with an individual’s position and role is also tremendously de-motivating. I could go on.

    Most of the 7 Deadliest Sins of Leadership & Workplace Communication create the type of work environment I am talking about. The report available as a free download at that link has case studies offering solutions that have worked for most any type of industry and work environment.

    Employees also need to have a ‘purpose’ other than they paycheck. That’s why I recommend to leaders they create an inspiring vision for the future employees can get excited about contributing to. I call it my “Championship Game” approach to leadership. What is your organization’s “Championship Game?” (World Series, Super Bowl, etc.)

    Thanks, again for contributing and stopping by, please feel free to continue to share your ideas to give me a better sense for your experiences.

  6. ahmed says:

    Second point is very important in terms of creating the right workplace and have the facility and morale to achieve organization goals. Being a good leader you need more obervation tactic and implementing open door policy to discuss mistakes and options for better productivity.

  7. Skip Weisman, Workplace Communication Expert says:

    Ahmed, Thanks for commenting. Open door policy for discussing mistakes and allowing for learning is absolutely vital. Thanks for adding that value and reinforcing that point. Part of the open door policy is to maintain an “open mind” policy to make that evaluation effective. Glad you felt inspired to contribute to the discussion, please come back and share your thoughts again.

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