Dealing with poor performance

Feb 10, 2020

“There’s no magic in these six steps. But there will be ‘magic’ in your results if you can consistently apply them!”

Any of us who are leaders of companies – or leaders of other line organizational units – are likely to have to deal with poor performance of our firms or units at some point. Rarely is any path straight up – there are often setbacks and plateaus along the way. When it happens – and how you respond to these situations – define you as a leader. Do you find a way out and up? Or do your throw up your hands, give up, and drown in despair?

Here are my thoughts on how to deal with poor performance in your organization:

  1. Acknowledge it. Don’t try to BS yourself or anyone else about the situation. If your performance is bad, face up to it. Don’t make excuses or assign blame to anyone other than yourself. Don’t try to justify it in any way. Just face the facts head-on, honestly. Your firm or team is not meeting its goals, period. It doesn’t mean that you can’t share or talk about what is going well. That’s important, too. But you have to be careful that you don’t take that too far such that sounding the alarm is ignored.
  2. Define the problem. Figuring out WHY you aren’t performing is a step in recovery that is too often skipped. Many leaders have a bias for action, something that can result in steps being taken, and time and money resources wasted, trying to solve the wrong problem. Diagnosis – and definition – of the real problem is crucial to your ability to solve it.
  3. Once you have defined the problem, solicit the input of the rest of the team. Do they agree with your assessments? If not, why not? You have to get everyone on board to, at a minimum, agree on what the problem is that you are trying to solve.
  4. Once your problem definition is finalized, solicit ideas from all members of your team in how to address the problem. This is so important, because when the problem is actually solved, you want your people to achieve some satisfaction from solving it. This is an opportunity to win some love from your people AND go in some new directions you might not have come up with on your own. And by the way, this doesn’t have to be done formally nor does it have to take a long time. Those who have ideas for the solution can offer them up and those who don’t do not have to.
  5. Once your solution ideas are agreed upon, it’s time to act. Again, this is where I see too many leaders and managers stop the process. Instead of taking decisive action, they want to loop back around to step No. 2 and start all over. “What if the problem definition is wrong? Isn’t there more information that can be gathered? Aren’t there more options? All the planning in the world won’t do you any good if you don’t act. And you have to act fast. Following all these steps doesn’t necessarily have to stretch out over days or weeks.
  6. Remeasure and report back. After you have taken actions to solve the problem, you have to quickly determine whether or not your actions are working. If not, take new actions. It is only through acting – and acting on the right problem – that you can get out of your “poor performance” mode and get back to meeting or better yet, exceeding your goals.

There’s no magic in these six steps. But there will be “magic” in your results if you can consistently apply them!

Mark Zweig is Zweig Group’s chairman and founder. Contact him at

About Zweig Group

Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.