Transforming Happy Underachievers into Happy Achievers

One of the difficulties in turning around an underperforming department is that the team members often are not aware of how poorly they are performing.

They fall into the “happy underachiever” category because they are often pleased with their performance.

We are all aware of groups that fall into that category, such as football teams who are quite happy to finish mid-table, neither over-threatened with relegation nor really challenging for success.

Whenever I raise the topic of happy underachievers, people tell me that it’s not strictly true, there isn’t really anything such as a happy underachiever, and no one would be happy with underachievement.

And in fact, they are right, because if people are unhappy with their underachievement then they would do something about it, which would then start them on the journey to becoming achievers and possibly overachievers.

So this really does mean that underachievers are not really conscious of their situation.

Which means, if your job is to turn them around, the first thing you need to do is highlight their underachievement.

This is a tough job because often the teams refuse to accept they are underperforming/achieving, which means you need to show them, you need to hold up a mirror to them so that they can clearly see their performance.

It is practically impossible to not have the team drop from happy underachiever to unhappy underachiever, and to be honest we need that to happen. As it’s the unhappiness that will be part of the drive to lead us to achievement.

As leaders, we need to have a great deal of tact and diplomacy in how we do this, in order to have the best impact.

We need to talk about how we can do better, and motivate towards a new goal, rather than focusing on how badly we are doing.

This is where the use of reward, and especially recognition come in. We need to encourage improvements, get people feeling good about what they are doing and move them towards happiness.

As they say, happy people are productive people, and also productive people are happy people, when we can create this situation it becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy which drives us onwards and upwards.

As leaders, our goal is to convert happy underachievers into happy achievers.

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