Much is written about praising your team when they deliver, which of course you should always do. But how do you respond when they miss those deadlines? Deliver substandard work? Miss their targets by a margin you could drive a camel through?

The first thing to do is to avoid the knee-jerk reaction. It’s okay to express your disappointment in the moment but avoid jumping to conclusions. Take the time to investigate a little further before you turn into Miranda in The Devil Wears Prada.

Here’s the first question to ask – were they adequately briefed? Another question – were the deadlines and targets realistic in the first place?

Assuming you can answer in the affirmative to both those questions, the next thing to find out is what went wrong? Making it clear that you’re apportioning no blame, call upon your line managers or supervisors. Perhaps there were extenuating circumstances you’re not aware of. These could be anything from building works causing excessive noise to understaffing due to a global pandemic.

It’s important to make these interviews non-adversarial. After all, you really do just want to get to the bottom of the problem so that you can support your team to do better in future.

What to do when there’s really no excuse?

Let’s assume you’ve run through the process above and you can’t find an obvious cause for the poor performance of your team. It may be something subtle and hard to detect – a slump in morale, an unpopular line manager, a problem with motivation as teams struggle to adjust to hybrid working.

It may be worth getting the whole team together and having a frank discussion, without recriminations, to find out what happened, and determine how things can be improved. At this point, you can and should express your disappointment. Always do so with the proviso that you’re sure that the right balance of expectation and performance can be achieved.

Allow your team to speak their minds, without it becoming personal. People should not be assigning blame to individuals, but rather pointing out problems with the processes that made it possible for those all-important targets to be missed.

Once you have an idea of what went wrong, you can adjust the parameters of expectation, and put in place additional checks and balances, if necessary. This will ensure your team is accountable for delivering what they willingly signed up to.

If there are bonuses or other incentives tied to performance, you must be strict and not pay these out, where benchmarks have not been met. If you renege, such incentives will be meaningless moving forward.

 Leave them Inspired

The takeaway must not be a feeling of failure and regret. It’s important to raise morale back up. Tell your team how much you value and believe in them. Let them see that you understand that failure provides an opportunity for growth. That it is possible to learn from poor performance and rekindle a desire to succeed and impress.