Five Hints You Could Be an Underperformer… Even When No One Says Anything

Is it not strange that desire should so many years outlive performance?”—William Shakespeare, British playwright

After years of loyalty to an employer, you may assume you’re doing good work even when no one takes the time to say it. Possibly you’ve hit a level of stability after struggling for a while, and conclude you must be doing fine, since no one has claimed otherwise. Or you may just feel complacent after achieving laurels and back-pats for doing good work in the past, to the point where you shift into automatic and count on routines to keep you on the right path.

Just because no one brings it up, however, doesn’t mean you’re not under-performing. Some managers just assume you know what you’re doing and say nothing. Others may not want to say anything for fear of embarrassing you. And then all of a sudden, you’re blindsided by a “performance plan.” Or if everyone gets a Christmas bonus except you, that would be another major hint.

Even if there is no obvious evidence like the above, you still may be under-performing. So take a moment to look for any of the following signs in your daily work.

1. You’re a jack of minor tasks, guru of none. If you get an important project, and everything else you do could fall by the wayside, you could be an under-performer. Somehow, you get all the housekeeping chores, you never get to make presentations, and nobody wants you to help with important projects. Look at your to-do list. If you’re always “busy” doing low-priority administrative tasks, or if your tasks combined don’t add up in value to one or two of the higher-priority tasks others handle, ask yourself why. Your team may have pushed you to the sidelines because you don’t perform well.

Side note: If you’re in a leadership position, you may have fallen into the common trap of doing menial tasks that should actually be assigned to someone else, simply because you’re capable of doing them! It’s important to prioritize tasks that are a fit for your unique abilities, and delegate the rest. If you want to hear about a specific example, you should check this out: Video – Spotting Job Productivity Killers.

2. You just don’t care. If you’re disengaged from your job, and you treat your employer like an ATM, you could be an under-performer. You go to work only to pay the bills and don’t care about anything but meeting your deadlines on time—and you sometimes miss some of those. You don’t own your job and would never contribute discretionary time. You can keep a job for years this way, but you’re still under-performing. So ask yourself: Are you willing to put enough energy and time into your work to matter? If not, find something you actually enjoy, or determine if you have a physical or mental issue preventing you from doing your best. Even seemingly small things like too little sleep can kill your engagement.

3. You’re coasting on routine. If your job looks the same today as it did two years ago, and you groan if anyone wants to give you a new project, you could be an under-performer. The “tried and true” can only carry you so far (← click to tweet). Routine works best when coupled with a tight strategy in which you coordinate closely with your team, but work must shift to match the market. You probably need to go against the grain in a deliberate and calculated way.

4. You get lots of written feedback. If your boss and coworkers are constantly sending you emails “trying to be helpful,” you could be an under-performer. This usually happens in two circumstances: either your manager is trying to yank you back onto right path, or she’s documenting reasons to fire you. A sudden flurry of notes, suggestions, reprimands, or outright outlines of what you should do ought to put you on alert. Get to work immediately on improving your performance.

5. You’re a poor fit. If you’re often confused or unable to do some of the work after two years in your job, you could be an under-performer. The job may just not be the right fit for you, or you’re truly unable to handle it. This can happen to people who think, “I have managing experience. I can handle any managing job,” and get hired on the basis of past experience. But managing a paper mill may not make you the best manager for a drug R&D company or an environmental firm. Your choice: either put in overtime to fill in the gaps, or admit the poor fit and find a more appropriate job.

Word to the Wise

Most of the time, you know what you’re doing and aren’t doing it badly. But if you find yourself in any of the above situations, or in any others where you have a gut feeling something’s not right, then step up and ask your manager about your performance. If you learn you’re dragging your team down to the point your job is endangered, then regroup and learn how to do your job right—or find something else that’s a better fit for you.

© 2017 Laura Stack.

About Laura Stack, your next keynote speaker:

Laura Stack, MBA, CSP, CPAE is an award-winning keynote speaker, bestselling author, and noted authority on productivity and performance. Funny, engaging, and full of real life strategies that work, Laura will change mindsets and attitudes so your people can maximize productivity, strengthen performance, and get the job done right. Her presentations at corporate events, sales kick-off meetings, and association conferences help audiences improve output, increase speed in execution, and save time in the office. Stack has authored seven books, including her newest work, Doing the Right Things Right: How the Effective Executive Spends Time (Jan. 2016). To have Laura Stack speak at your next event, call 303-471-7401, email, or CONTACT US.

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