Too often, when someone underperforms or fails, our industry’s knee-jerk response is that person is stupid, lazy, incompetent or has some other character flaw. And while that may be true, it is not the place to start! We have provided you a sequential checklist for you to follow to help you determine why the person is underperforming and if it’s correctable. Below this chart we’ve elaborated on each concept in more depth.

There are two reasons people fail or underperform: can’t or won’t. Let’s first evaluate whether they actually can do the job.

Begin with “Can’t” and place a check mark in the box next to each item the underperformer exemplifies. The first empty box in the sequence provides you with the next step toward correcting the underperformance.

Once you’ve addressed that issue, continue through the remaining items in the sequence and repeat the process for correcting each of the next identified gaps.

Do they have a talent for this?
If not, can you realign roles and responsibilities to better deploy the talent on your team?
Have they acquired the necessary skills for this?
What is your training and development plan?
Are their priorities aligned accurately?
When someone is juggling too many balls, sometimes one or two might get dropped.
Are there any obstacles in the way?
Can they be modified, delegated or discontinued?
Do they understand why it's important?
Have you taken the time to explain the importance of this role and/or responsibility?
Is the compensation aligned?
Does your compensation and recognition structure support their role and responsibilities?
Are there incremental consequences?
Consequences must be meaningful, consistent and incremental.
Now you can begin the exit strategy.
If all seven boxes are checked, the person has been given every opportunity to succeed and you may now begin the exit strategy.



1. Talent Uncovered

The first thing to evaluate is whether they have a talent for what you’re asking them to do. Is the role one that requires a high attention to detail or exceptional interpersonal skills? Does it require conceptual and strategic thinking or tactical implementation? How you can tell if someone has a talent for something:

A. It takes them very little time to do it.
B. Their energy stays high while doing it.
C. Their attitude stays positive while doing it.

Conversely, if they have no talent for something (and we have all experienced this):

A. It takes them forever to do it (often beginning with procrastination because they hate it).
B. Their energy dissipates rapidly while doing it.
C. Their attitude craters while doing it.

To help you and your team member with this somewhat ephemeral concept, we have built the following matrix. This will help you begin to see their pattern of talents and how they may or may not align with their current role and responsibilities. Work with them to plot where they fall on each attribute below. (If they have both attributes equally the plot point should be in the middle, however, this is rare.)

Now review the results of this matrix and assess if any realignment or changes need to take place to help this individual increase their impact on the team’s performance. If these attributes, i.e., talents, align with their current role and responsibilities, put a check mark here and move on to step 2.

2. Training Delivered

If an advisor or support staff person is underperforming in a role for which they have demonstrated a talent, the second question you must ask is, “Have they been trained adequately for this role?” Too often, we place someone in a job and somehow assume that they will “pick it up as they go,” with very little guidance, direction, training and/ or development. We would never assume that just because someone is a good athlete, they could just “pick up” tennis or basketball, or master a martial art or any other particular sport that requires discrete skills, techniques and strategies. Too often, our industry throws people in the deep end of the pool without a single swimming lesson and then wonders why its attrition rate is so high. It takes more time up front to adequately train someone but the long-term benefit of higher execution and retention is more than worth the short-term cost.

If they have been trained and developed on the skills and techniques necessary to do the job, we can now move to step 3.

3. Priorities Aligned

Have a discussion with the person utilizing our “Create Capacity” worksheet just following this “Performance Matrix.” This will help you and your teammate define the critical priorities that will have the greatest impact on your practice and/or team. If they’re focused on the right priorities, the next step is:

4. Obstacles Removed

The crisis of the moment in the guise of market volatility, the expectations and/or demands of our clientele or simply the reactive personality of our team leader can lay waste to “the best laid plans of mice and men,” to quote John Steinbeck. When someone is juggling too many balls, sometimes one or two might get dropped. Again, using the “Create Capacity” worksheet, you can help them define issues and items that must be modified, delegated or discontinued in order for your teammate to be able to focus more of their time on those critical activities and objectives.

After going through these four steps, you will definitively know whether they can do the job for which they have been hired. Now, it’s time to determine why they won’t do the job.


5. Understand Importance

Let’s ask a question: have you ever been asked to do something by a superior that you thought was really stupid and/or was a complete waste of your time, so you didn’t do it and hoped they wouldn’t notice? We all have. Many of us, if told to go left with no rational explanation, are going to go right, almost out of spite. However, if the ratio- nale for going left is explained and we’re allowed to ask a couple of clarifying questions and the answer makes sense, we’ll go left all day long. So the question is, have you taken the time to explain the importance of this task and its impact on the team, the client and/or themselves? We tend to be very good at telling people WHAT to do and HOW to do something, but too often we leave out the most important explanation… Why? Help people (including your children) understand the rationale for what you’re asking them to do.

6. Compensation/Recognition Aligned

One of our mantras is “when in doubt follow the compensation.” Does your current compensation, bonus and recognition structure support and reinforce the direction you’re attempting to take your organization and the individual performers within it? By the way, for you parents out there, take a look at what you consistently “recognize” with your children: is it the squeaky wheel or the steady quiet performer, is it the under- achiever or the overachiever? Too often we can send a signal to our kids, “If you want my attention, you have to screw up.” Obviously we don’t do this intentionally, but often the message is received loud and clear.

If this is aligned, the next step is:

7.  Incremental Consequences

You would be surprised how many times we have conversations with leaders experiencing performance issues and, when we ask, “So what have been the consequences so far?” and they say, “I can’t tell you how many conversations I’ve had with this person on this issue.” Our response is, “We know you have talked with them but what have been the consequences?” Or, to put it another way, “Another conversation is not a consequence.” Good consequences have three variables: they must be meaningful, consistent and incremental.

  • Meaningful: Sending a misbehaving child to their room to play video games is not a meaningful consequence. You must know what they value and their noncompliance must put that at risk.
  • Consistent: Does your “no” mean “no” or is it just a deferred “yes?” People in general and children, in particular, do not thrive in an incon- sistent environment. Consistent does not mean rigid, it’s more akin to creating a rhythm, a predictable, supportive and accountable culture of congeniality, teamwork and initiative.
  • Incremental: The consequences must incrementally increase if you hope to get the attention of the underperformer.

8. Exit Strategy

Finally, when you have check marks by all of the previous seven items, it’s time to begin an exit strategy because the person has been given every opportunity to succeed. You can tell your advisors, “I will work very hard to help you succeed in your new career, but I will never work harder than you for your career.”

Download the complete Transformational Leadership Toolkit for actionable resources to execute on these insights.