When Experience Leads To Underperformance

Lucinda Carney C Psychol

Recently I was reflecting on the various types of underperformance that I have experienced throughout my career and asked myself the question, what could I have done differently to address, or better yet, stop it from happening in the first place?

Having worked in both small and large organisations I have seen a different approach to tackling the issue of underperformance. In a large, process driven organisation the performance management culture was established and therefore a ‘Grasp the Nettle’ approach felt more appropriate, where performance issues were dealt with proactively. Conversely, the approach is entirely different in a small organisation, where the impact of an underperformer can be huge because the processes are not well established and the culture is more malleable.

It is common for new managers going into a role to surround themselves with experienced others whilst they learn the ropes.  I have found through my experience that in all sizes of organisations, experience doesn’t automatically lead to performance. This is why:

  • Experience needs to be both current and relevant.
  • Self-awareness and cultural impact outweigh any experience.
  • The manager still needs to manage them and gain their respect.

In today’s ever-evolving world, our skills and experience are only relevant if we can apply them to the current situation and have the desired impact. We need to be willing to step back from what has worked in the past and evaluate whether it is actually relevant in this situation. We must be open to learning new approaches and critiquing our own with an open mind. We have to be open minded about what will work if we are to be repeatedly successful. This is an entirely different approach to relying on our experience of what has previously worked.

Given that experience obviously increaseses with age, those of us with high levels of experience tend to have an established set of strengths, even if we are capable of learning new technical skills. The same job title can require completely different strengths in the same environment – think managing a service desk of 20 people in a large business compared to a small service and implementation team in an SME. Experience can be invaluable yet the pace or skills required can make a high performer appear like a low one in the wrong environment. When it comes to attitude or impact, an overly dominant personality or tendency to be negative can outweigh any amount of relevant skill or experience and can damage a culture disproportionately.

So how do you ensure that your experienced people bring value to the table rather than chaos? My conclusion is the same as managing regular underperformance. It is absolutely essential to manage the performance of experienced staff just as consistently as those less experienced. We may feel intimidated by the experience of those we manage and leave them to it, effectively abdicating responsibility and making it difficult to redress the balance if things go wrong. Managing experienced people can be challenging, but it is still our responsibility to be confident and consistent enough to establish and maintain the relationship of performance and respect from the outset. This means setting and agreeing SMART objectives; regular and consistent ‘Check In’s’ or 1 to 1’s and being confident enough to give and request clear and open feedback.

A system like Actus can help to give you the structure and confidence to manage others, you can take a quick look at the functionality here: Actus Features

Alternatively, just get in touch and you can take a look for yourself:

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