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Why Do Top Performers turn suddenly into very Poor Performers?

I am sure that all experienced managers have had at some point in their career one of these guys in their teams – smart, capable people, top of the list, better than anybody else today and then bored, tired, annoyed by any task they get, sometimes dragging everybody else down the next  day. Sounds familiar?

Well, managers, did you think that you may be doing something wrong? Did you take the time to think about what may be happening? Here are the potential causes that you need to investigate deeper:

1.       Employee is bored – the average time that an employee should stay on the same position with exactly the same tasks is maximum 2 years, sometimes less depending on each individual. After that, the natural tendency, especially if we are dealing with young and ambitious professionals is to get bored and start seeking for new responsibilities and challenges. Managers need to make sure that the employees seek inside the company and not elsewhere and that their newly acquired skills are not wasted. What should you do as a manager? Prevent this by constantly discussing with the employee and by constantly trying to involve him in some new projects and challenges;

2.       Employee no longer trusts his manager – if this happens, then gaining trust back is very difficult to do. What may cause this? The manager doesn’t know how to deal with poor performance – he doesn’t know how to offer different rewards depending on performance (sometimes the manager may be impresses by the poor social status of a team member and award him bonuses even if they are not deserved – be careful, it may backfire!), manager is not fair, manager offers only negative feedback, manager is not a good example (i.e. he asks the employees to be always on time at work, but he rarely follows his own rule), manager is too weak when tough decisions should be made – reasons may go on and on; spotting this is not always easy to do – employee may no longer follow rules, may no longer do tasks on time, may visibly question authority. What can be done? Work hard to gain trust again – involve employee in decision making, offer fair feedback to all members of the team, reward good performance properly, be an example to follow for the team;

3.       Poor communication from the manager down – employee doesn’t have clear goals so he can’t know if he’s performing well or not,  employee is not aware of changes implemented or changes are being implemented via force, employee doesn’t understand his role within the wider picture, employees are not encouraged to express their opinion;

4.       Poor differentiation and recognition of good performance – manager must always be fair and reward good and bad performance accordingly; top performers must know they are top performers and the team should know why they were rewarded so they can gain their respect among their colleagues;

5.       Lack of feedback - manager never has time to discuss with an employee about his performance; he is always kept in the dark not knowing whether what he did was good or bad or if any objectives were actually met. What to do?  Meet at least once a month to offer the employee feedback or if something good or bad has happened, offer feedback instantly;

6.       Poor tools offered  -this may be really frustrating – not having a computer fast enough, not having all the software the employee needs,  not having access to the printer, the internet sometimes, books or even wanting to do something and not having access to all the information – all these may turn an employee from a top performer to one who doesn’t care;

7.       Professional growth not supported properly – this may be caused by not having enough positions in the company to offer the employee (and this is something that can’t always be fixed as it is connected to the business and the company policy only); however, some small things can still be done: allow the employee to learn from others by assigning him some of their tasks from time to time, delegate some of your tasks as manager, allow the employee to teach others and develop his training skills and last but not least try to find time to allow the employee to participate in the trainings he is interested in (even if sometimes this may lead to him wanting more and leaving the company – at least you motivated him to do his best while he was in your team);

8.       Poor measurement of performance – in terms of performance measurement companies are part of either of the 3 categories: those who don’t measure performance at all (there are employees who have been working for the same company for 7 years and  nobody bothered to offer them any feedback or give them any targets to achieve), those who have implemented some measurement system but this is not too good (either reviews are not done on clear time frames, are done when the manager remembers to do it or rules, feedback and rewards  are not consistent) and finally those who have a clear performance management system that works (reviews are done on certain dates, rules are clear, rewards for good or poor performance are clear and fair, everybody has clear goals, gets  consistent feedback and knows what comes next);

9.       Poor compensation, not in line with competencies and role – this is also something that may not be fixed if the company doesn’t have the resources; however, managers must at least discuss with the employees to see if they can be motivated by other means: days off, formal and informal dinners, relaxation spaces set up, fitness subscriptions, discounts on company products – all these may matter; also, managers must remember that compensation is an important reason for employees leaving the company, but only up to a certain level. Normally entry and middle level employees care a lot about money especially if they are young (because they want a family, a house, a car, they want stuff).  For the rest money matters only up to a point – after that point you may give the employee whatever amount and find out that they still leave (because of not having enough time to spend with their family, because of not enough development opportunities, because of lack of respect, because of not being involved enough in decisions – list may go on);

10.   No involvement in decision making – employee needs to understand when changes are implemented – so managers need at least to consult the team, even if decision is already made by the board, at least they must get the chance to offer their opinion. Otherwise, they will feel left out and exploited;

11.   No balance for family/personal life – a balanced employee is a happy employee. This is why, no matter what the employee tells you, he still needs some time for himself. Even if he doesn’t have a family, he needs time with his girlfriend, his dog, his parents, time to himself – whatever – he still needs to rest and think of his own problems. Work is NOT his life, even if he is young and doesn’t understand it yet. An overworked employee, even if he does it voluntarily, will turn eventually into an unhappy employee. This is a fact!

Well, did you see all this coming? Lots of potential causes for you as managers to investigate… This may seem a bit disturbing, but you really need to take the time to think about all this because losing a top performer is worst than losing your own pride as manager.

Take care,


  1. i have experienced that sometimes, when people are promoted, they do not have the skill to meet the demands of the new position. I later read that there is actually an academic definition for this called 'the peter principle'

    1. Hi,

      I have heard of that too - when you are promoted Sales manager just because you are a great sales guy. Completely wrong! Leadership skills are not always an asset and sometimes not all the training in the world can help you acquire that. So, managers, promote carefully...

  2. Thank you for publishing your thoughts around performance. I also have a firm belief that employees need to take accountability for their own career, motivation and individual development. Having been a manager in a operational support centre environment through to managing managers. My primary goal as a manager is to lead my people to improve and advance their career. I try to provide opportunities to learn and have access to mentors and others who are highly motivated to help them decide the type of contribution they want to give. I also encourage a voice. Come speak to me if things are not working for you. I'm not your parent, nor do I want to be. I work for you as much as you work for me. I share my personal mantra....What we think we become. What are you thinking now?

    1. Francis,

      I completely agree to "We become what we think about" - that's my motto in life too. So far it has worked for me.

      I appreciate your comment and I must admit that you are one of the managers that each employee would hope for. Unfortunately I have personally experienced more managers that fit in my 11 categories above than good ones - they are all great in theory, but when it comes to practice a lot lack diplomacy, responsibility, firmness or simply they don't care for more than their salaries. In the company I work for, we promote most managers from the inside, we include them in months of trainings and still our surveys show problems.

      In terms of my personal experience, out of the 6 managers I've had so far only 2 have my respect and consideration. Out of the other 4: one was poorly prepared in HR and lacked computer skills, made me do all the difficult tasks and presented my work as her own, one was promoted because she knew people but had no skills and caused more trouble in the department than helped, one was great at mobbing (she loved seeing unhappy, tired and close to insanity people around her and she feasted on that) and one was very weak and always took decisions based on the feedback from the people that were stronger around and had more authority - I always felt left out, despite my experience and position, always last on the list and the open communication at the beginning turned into lack of interest from my side because I felt I was wasting my time. Someone else's opinion mattered more just because they were more aggressive in speaking their mind and in criticizing.

      So, to sum up, HR is a mediator - my post covers the employee side, but I promise I will think of an article to picture all the problems that managers also have because I know all that too: unreliable employees, employees who care about money only, young people who care about their career too much and decide to leave after a few months when they consider they have learned all they could have, employees who tell you they are sick just because they drank too much with their friends the evening before and decide not to come to work, employees who consider themselves too smart to care about their manager or any procedures... the list can go on. I will come back with a post on that too. I just need to structure my thoughts.

      Thanks again for your comment.
      Take care,

  3. Excellent. So Damn true. You echo my thoughts. I guess I have almost become a regular reader. I was due for a promotion this year - I worked day and night ALL ALONE to create a software framework for the team (I recd an award from the management for this) but was not promoted as my manager felt the other guy (who got promoted and does not deserve it a bit) wanted to marry and he thought a promotion at this stage would boost his family. BullShit. I am looking out for a different job. I have had enough of my manager's idiotic ideas and lack of technical focus.

    1. Sorry to hear you are one more person that confirms what I wrote. I started with my own example - I am one of those the article refers to - and I am sorry to see that more and more people identify themselves with my article. Good luck on your new path. Take care, Geo


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