How to Help an Employee Who Isn’t Learning Fast Enough


Leaders are often frustrated when an employee on their team isn’t learning fast enough. The instructions are crystal clear, and the company needs results now, so why isn’t this employee getting it? In some cases, behavior change simply takes more time and effort than leaders might hope. As an executive coach, I frequently work with executives who have had to take a step back and focus on why certain employees are underperforming. When taking a step back, remember that it’s your responsibility as a leader to help guide your employee’s performance and success. Here are two actions that you can take to help your team member and close the learning gap.

1. Supplement with mentorship.
As a leader, there’s a natural expectation that when you assign a project, it will just get done. But this is easier said than done, especially if you have a newly promoted employee. There may be additional technical skills essential in the day-to-day operations that he or she must learn. You might need to take extra time to advise this person in specific areas, such as creating new role definitions, translating shifts in company strategies, or reorganizing the team. You can end up spending a lot of time guiding your employee.

To supplement your own guidance, another option I recommend is to seek out a mentor for your employee — i.e., a leader who is more experienced in a specific practice area where he or she can guide an employee’s development.

One manager I worked with decided he didn’t have the time to guide his newly promoted team member in all of the technical areas, so he found a mentor outside of the department to help. The mentee got fresh perspective and learning from an outside source while still receiving guidance from his manager, which ultimately helped his qualitative leadership skills. For example, he was able to give better feedback to his team as well as anticipating his manager’s needs.

2. Consistently provide feedback.
Another important way to help your employee learn quickly is by providing consistent, specific, and actionable feedback. In fact, one leader I worked with added an extra meeting each week so that his employee specifically heard exactly how he was still falling short in his leadership areas. This detailed feedback helped reinforce his areas of development.

The following example illustrates a situational-based approach to delivering feedback. Situational feedback focuses only on the specific action or cause, not a personal judgment. This approach can be much more motivational to your employee over the long term.

One of your leaders didn’t bring the team together for budgeting planning that you requested. You might deliver feedback in a manner that addresses the specific situation, such as:

“When your group came to me to deliver the budget today, I could tell not everyone had a say in the numbers. This must be a group effort. Once the budgets have been approved, there can’t be any revisions, so it is imperative that team budget meetings are scheduled. Please go back and get input from every player on the team before I approve the budget.”

If you’re providing regular feedback and much of it is focused on how an employee needs to improve, it risks becoming demoralizing for that employee. So it’s important to remember to share feedback on what is going right as well.

On the other hand, too much feedback can be seen as micromanaging. Micromanaging can be extremely demotivating to your employee because there is a sense that “nothing will ever be good enough.” One method to determine if you are micromanaging is to ask, “Will this feedback significantly help the business and employee, or is it a just nice to have?”

It can be frustrating that someone you have promoted isn’t making the leadership or behavior changes fast enough. However, by following these strategies, you can help your team member in ways that will balance the growth of your team, as well as drive business results.


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