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How To Turn Your “Lazy” Employees Into Top Performers

A group of team members fully engaged in their work.

I was referred to as “lazy” growing up because my grades in school were not great. In reality I wasn’t a bit lazy, I was just uninterested in school topics. All my energy and motivation was around “how to be faster at running, swimming or riding my bike”, which got me to excel in sports and kept me busy, physically and mentally.

Eventually, I understood that in order to compete in what I loved to do, which was track and field, my grades needed to improve. That naturally linked what I was really interested in to what was going to get me there: good grades. So, I studied and all the excuses I had used before were out the window. I fully I understood what I needed to do to get what I really wanted.

As a leader, I can now see that I was unfairly miss-labelled (back then I actually believed it was accurate, so I behaved like it!), and I don't remember anyone trying to help me make positive connections. They were all fear-based. I actually had to fail hard in order to get the lesson, and I did get it. When I made the connection, my grades that put me on top of the class, not because I was interested in being a top student, but because being a good student would allow me to get what I wanted: Compete in sports.

So, with this, I want to challenge the concept of laziness in organizations and our teams.

As Leaders, I believe that if we open ourselves up to completely remove the “they are just being lazy” label from our team members and replace it with one of the very possible scenarios below, we can influence positive change in our businesses, results and people’s growth.

Instead of them being lazy, what if...

1.- They haven’t made the connection between what they really want (personal/professional goals) and how their tasks (job or project) will take them there.


2.- They haven’t identified what they really want (goals, purpose) because they are too afraid to fail or can’t see the possibility of succeeding.

Another possibility is that they might be depressed and lost the will and motivation to do anything. If you feel this is case, please refer them to a specialist as soon as possible.

Top Performers in your team

What are your Top Performers motivated about? I would bet that you know how to answer this question very well and that you can easily connect why they want to deliver great performance at their jobs and how that will fulfill that individual’s goals.

Your responsibility as the leader of the team is to remove any labels you may have already put on the rest of the individuals, see their potential to deliver great work and guide them throughout the way.

Maximizing Their Potential

First, let's cover the ones that have a goal that they are excited about but are not delivering high performance results at their jobs and might not have linked yet their job’s performance to their goals or purpose.

Help them make connections by asking questions like:

-How can raising your performance at work get you closer to your desire to…?

-What connections can you make between your job/this project to your goal of…?

Leadership Tip: Give it some thought and make the connection yourself as well, so if your team member goes blank, you can share some suggestions for them to reflect on. Try to catch areas they feel insecure about and work with them to raise their self-confidence and trust in their capabilities to succeed.

Second, for the ones that don’t know what they want (but might know very well what they don’t want, like get fired, or in trouble with you), it’s important to do more digging. Some of them might be doing the bare-minimum to keep you somehow happy or be out of your radar and not lose their jobs. Do you know what their motivation is? If you don’t, then, the chances are that haven’t even connected themselves to it yet.

The question is, can you really help this group of people improve?

Absolutely! With this group, it is important that you see the potential first and show that vision to them. They might not be trying hard enough because they don’t believe (yet) that they can succeed and be better performers. They may be terrified of failure, and might not even want to try something different to avoid the embarrassment of doing it wrong or get poor results. Your goal as their leader is to show them that there are many other, more positive, outcomes.

Questions like:

-What keeps you from performing at better at your job?

-What do you think you could do differently to improve the quality of your results?

-What about this project you don’t feel connected to?

-What job would make you really excited to have?

Leadership Tip:

This group will require more self-evaluation, lots of encouragement and shifting mentality. They have probably failed before and are not even allowing themselves to dream or think of better possibilities. You, as their leader, have the power to produce, with them, change that moves them forward.

The important thing is to identify what matters to them around personal life and career and connect it to their job responsibilities. Once you become great at helping people expand their vision and connect it to their jobs and projects, then, you’ll be transforming average performers into high-performing individuals.


-We often tend to be quick at labeling people and moving on, just accepting what it is. Removing these labels will offer you the chance to transform team members into better-performing individuals.

-Understand your people and where they are regarding their motivation. Start seeing them under a different light and instead of saying: “they don’t work hard enough”, figure out what would drive them to work as hard as needed to reach top performance, and helping them make the links that move them.

-Applying this will put you at an advantage as a leader. You’ll understand your people better and create connections that will benefit your people’s careers and your own growth.

How do you feel about the concept of laziness? Have you been called lazy before? Was that a fair statement? Tell me in the comments below!

Mariana Jaeger is a Leadership Development and Performance Success expert and has successfully trained, mentored and coached hundreds of people in her career. To learn more about Mariana, click here

Mariana Jaeger


Austin, Texas based, serving clients globally.

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