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7 Likely Causes Of Continued Staff Underperformance And How To Tackle It.

We always encourage SME owners to delegate more to their employees but they often complain and express frustration that their staff not demonstrating good work or not even knowing what good results look like. However, in many cases, we can argue that the reality is different.

While employees may fail to perform for a number of reasons, we've found however, that a core reason could be that owners/managers don’t realize that they may be contributing to their employees’ poor performance.

So here are 7 likely causes why employees don't perform as they should and some ideas on what you can do to change this:

  • Cause #1: Many employees have no clue what’s expected of them at work

One of the foremost causes of employee underperformance is that they aren’t aware of the work standards they should maintain becauseOwners/Managers don’t help them set goals and so, there is no motivation to achieve them. Without clear guidelines about what is expected of them, employees won’t feel inclined to take initiative and perform at higher levels.

What to do: Begin by giving employees a clear set of targets that are to be achieved - this will defines the standards and expectations for them. Your team should know why they have to do a task so that they have that picture in mind and fully understand the importance of their work to the overall success of the company.

Ensure that employees are very clear on what they need to do. And that starts from firstly clarifying job titles and providing detailed job descriptions.It's important that they have a clear understanding of what is expected of them even before they are hired – at the very first job interview.

There should be clarity on daily tasks to be accomplished and accountability processes. Although most jobs require flexibility, employees must be made clear on who should do what.

Hold them accountable for what they do and do so regularly. It’s the only way to ensure consistent performance from your staff.

  • Cause #2: Employees are hesitant to share their challenges

The problem here is that most owners/managers really don't understand how employees think. An employee may need something different from the owner/manager to really understand their work processes.

As the owner/manager, you must first understand the strengths and weaknesses of each of your team members. You must consider how each person works, interacts, what motivates them and how they would want recognition for their achievements.

You must also adjust your work style to maximise your team's performance. Is an employee motivated by public praise and accolades? If yes, then make sure the employee’s results are more out front. See that the employee is not being pushed to the corner. If you keep assuming that everyone else is like you, you are likely to hit a number of stumbling blocks, and the work at hand will only be further delayed.

What to do: As an owner/manager, you may want to assign new tasks or projects to everyone according to their potential. As long as your employees are growing and stretching, your company will benefit from employee satisfaction and high productivity levels. When employees are bored, they tend to slack on performance. Make sure you maintain constant communication with your employees to see if they are challenged enough.

  • Cause #3: Employees don't know what they stand to gain

Some people perform well with instructions, but most want to know why they are given a task and what it will accomplish. They want to be part of the bigger picture, and would perform at their best when given ownership for the task or project at hand.

Employees are motivated by perks, respect and appreciation. If they feel that they are being micromanaged, their creativity and motivation will wane. The more you understand what they need, the better the chances of creating the right workplace environment to keep them motivated.

It is also important to note the choice of reward system that you set up for your team. Do you provide positive reinforcement for improved performance and good behavior? The more you reward appropriately, the higher their productivity levels.

What to do: Owners/managers can give employees the choice to pursue a particular task pr project that they are passionate about. Not only will they know what they are going to do, but also have a psychological stake in what the final results of their work will look like. Once the goals are achieved, the onwer/manager can take time to creatively celebrate the accomplishments and reflect on their employees’ hard work and dedication toward their job.

  • Cause #4: Employees lack the skills required for the job

As a small business with limited resources, we often require new hires to have skills that cut across different areas. However, for example, a new recruit with a degree in marketing may not be able to deliver in the finance department. When your employees don’t know how it’s done, the most obvious solution is to train them.

Have your team been given any on-the-job training to gain knowledge and develop essential skills to produce the desired results? Also, have they been equipped with the appropriate tools, resources and support to complete their tasks?

What to do: Make sure that your HR onboard the right employees with the required skillset for a certain position.

  • Cause #5: Employees are not actually willing to work

Your employee may simply lack the will to do the work that has been assigned to them. There is no simple solution to this problem. One reason why employees may be unwilling to perform at their job could be when there are rapid changes in the work environment.

For instance, when a business transitions from being a small company into a more professional one, it requires changes to occur in both leadership and employee accountability. Some employees may resist this accountability, thinking that it doesn’t apply to them due to their long term presence within the business.

What to do: The owner/manager must make the effort to help employees in making the transition with the business. The team will then be less disruptive to any changes and hopefully make positive contributions to the continued success of the company.

  • Cause #6: The company culture does not support team effort

It is often the case that while owners/managers don’t encourage individual work load, they may not intentionally encourage team work either. When this is the situation, any efforts made by employees to form teams would likely result in conflict.

Team work fails when the work environment and culture becomes one based on blame. Working together becomes difficult as team members focus more on losses and deciding who is at fault rather than on collaborative efforts.This also creates an environment of stress.

What to do: Owners/managers, at first, must decide on how to respond to the stress created by the lack of team work. It may be necessary to appoint a liaison to facilitate communication and resources between employees and the owner/manager to ensure the team feels supported and are able to cooperate amongst themselves.

  • Cause #7: Your directives aren't consistent with employees' capabilities

You have to understand the competency levels of your employees before assigning work. If an employee feels that they are far more competent than the work assigned them allows them to demonstrate, they either think that they are underestimated, or that you the owner/manager is not up to par.

Such beliefs on behalf of your employees are deterrents for a productive work environment as skilled employees may lose the motivation to perform well, or they may lose the will to work efficiently.

What to do about it: As an owner/manager, you must always match your directives with how efficient, capable and experienced your employee is.

When employee performances are not as expected, an owner\manager may find some solace in the fact that the answer to this problem lies in their own leadership skills.

To create and maintain an environment which inspires better productivity and creativity, strengthen work relationships with your employees as it is essential for you to recognize and respect the differences in work approaches.

Once you create a collaborative environment to work in, your employees’ motivation levels will stay at the optimum without much effort.


If owners/managers can learn and practice a few simple skills, including how to set clear expectations and motivate employee, they will see significant improvement in the performance of employees and the business as a whole.

Motivated employees will certainly work more efficiently. But more importantly they will work at a higher level. They will be better team members, work more cooperatively, be more creative, and be more dedicated and committed to the organization.

Taking the time to motivate employees is a critical key to success in business for entrepreneurs and managers. Give it the time it deserves!


We can help!

We are WNC aka "The Small Business Hospital". We provide entrepreneurs with the practical diagnostics, coaching and consulting services they need to build healthy small & medium enterprises (SMEs), so they can enjoy more life balance and personal freedom.

  • Why not get started with a Business Health Assessment? Perhaps, you know your business needs to move to the next level but you're not clear on how it's currently performing across different business areas, let alone what needs to be improved, we can run your company through a Business Health Assessment for just ₦3,000 / $6.50 /£5. It's a quick and simple but detailed check-box questionnaire that takes about 10-15 minutes to complete. Once we have your answers, you'll receive your detailed results and prescriptions within 72 hours, via WhatsApp & Email.

  • Alternatively, our Associate Business Doctors are on-hand to answer any questions you might have and share more with you about how we can help your business based on its current situation.

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