Really intelligent employees who consistently underperform can leave us scratching our heads.  Here are 7 potential issues to look at to discover what the underlying problems might be. It’s the first step to make your diagnosis.

  1. Inadequate Capability

Capability refers to the skills, tools, and experience that a person needs in order to successfully perform their job. When any of these factors are missing, there is an increased chance that the employee will underperform.

It isn’t uncommon for hiring managers to overlook these basic factors, especially if a candidate has previous experience, solid academic credentials and comes across as intelligent and confident in a job interview. Furthermore, it’s no secret that most candidates exaggerate their abilities on their résumés and job applications.

Diagnostics that help you identify if an underperforming employee has adequate capability:

  • Skills – Do you know what skills are needed to perform the job and whether the employee possesses those skills? If they don’t possess the necessary skills, how will you help them acquire the skills, and how long do you expect that process to take? Skills training takes time and money, and results are never guaranteed unless there is adequate commitment from both the practice owner and the employee.
  • Tools – Even if an individual has the skills and experience to do the job, do they have the tools to deliver peak performance?
  • Experience – Just because an employee has the skills to do a job doesn’t mean that they have the experience to apply those skills in a specific position. This is especially true for recent graduates, outside hires from different industries, and internal hires that were tasked in areas not related to the new assignment.
  1. Poor Job Fit

Many people fall into the trap of choosing a profession or job that is a bad fit. We are who we are. Our “mental DNA” is influenced by both our genetics and our early life experiences, and it is almost completely formed by the time we are 20 years old. Rather than trying to understand ourselves so that we can choose a calling that builds on our strengths and aligns with our interests, we choose jobs because of peer pressure and societal influences.

It is important to understand a person’s innate behaviors and interests when trying to match a person with the right job. Know the job, know what type of person is successful in that job, and then hire those who have the behavioral traits that fit that job. This is easier said than done because it is difficult to gauge behaviors in a job interview, but behavioral assessments can be extremely helpful to close this gap and remove a lot of the guesswork.

Behavioural assessments are widely used by the Fortune 500 companies and can be very expensive. However, new technology solutions can bring these tools into the hands of small business owners at a very reasonable cost and be very cost effective when compared to the costs of making a bad job fit hire.

  1. Fuzzy Goals and Accountabilities

Employees need to be very clear about their responsibilities and about the results you expect them to achieve. Daily work and priorities are easily affected by the crisis of the day, new requests, or changes in direction. Setting and tracking smart goals helps your employees focus on what is most important to your business, and clear accountabilities help ensure that the work gets done with minimal conflict.

  1. Poor Relationship with Manager

Managers and employees who understand each other’s preferred styles will better understand how to communicate and work together effectively. We have identified seven factors that strongly predict the compatibility between a manager and their workers: self-assurance, self-reliance, conformity, optimism, decisiveness, objectivity, and approach to learning. Assessing a manager and employees allows them to use objective information about themselves and co-workers so that they can work more effectively toward a common goal.

  1. Poor Relationship with Coworkers

There are four primary factors that harm relationships among coworkers:

  • Insensitivity toward others
  • Unclear accountabilities
  • Poor cultural fit
  • Incompatible styles
  1. Health and Wellness Issues

Approximately $260 billion in output is lost each year in the US because of health-related problems. Whether an employee is absent from work altogether, or present but working at a reduced capacity, employees suffering from physical or mental illness have difficulty performing at their peak.

  1. Physical and Environmental Factors

Numerous behavioral studies have proven that a pleasant and comfortable work environment improves worker productivity and reduces turnover. For example, indoor temperature affects several human responses, including thermal comfort, perceived air quality, sick building syndrome symptoms, and performance at work.

Researchers in Finland showed that when the interior air temperature was 30 degrees C, worker performance was 8.9% below worker performance at the optimal temperature of 22 degrees C.

When an employee you know has the smarts starts to go off the rails of good performance, step back and make your diagnosis. These 7 factors are likely to point toward a root cause.  Only once identified can a corrective action plan be put in place.


Jan is the co-founder and president of Fit First Technologies, a company that applies its predictive analytics to the task of matching people to roles. Those algorithms drive platforms such as TalentSorter, FitFirstJobs and, which are relied upon by organizations to screen high volumes of candidates for “fit” in their open positions.


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