Hays UK jobs and employment blog


How to break the poor-performance cycle

By Michael Jones, Head of Internal Recruitment, Training, L&D, Hays UK&I

Are you going through a difficult time at work and feel like you are not performing to your usual high standards? Maybe you had a great first few months in your new position and now your momentum has dipped? If you feel you are stuck in a cycle of underperforming, then use this simple and easy tool to get your career back on course.

What is ‘GROW’?

GROW is an acronym and a very well-known coaching technique created in the 80s by business coaches Graham Alexander, Alan Fine and Sir John Whitmore. It’s a great tool to help you get out of your underperformance rut and get back on track. GROW stands for:

  • Goal – What are the goals that you set out to achieve?
  • Reality – Why aren’t you achieving them?
  • Options – What are your options for changing this reality?
  • Way Forward– How are you going to make this change?

So how should you apply GROW to your underperformance rut?


If something happened on a car journey causing you to become lost or delayed, you would pull over, check your directions and re-establish where you were going in the first place. Well the same applies to your career journey, and the challenges that you may face along the way.

Sometimes all it takes is some quiet reflection alone with no distractions, a pen and piece of paper, and asking yourself the below questions:

  • What are my most recent goals that I set myself?
  • Are these goals still the same? If not, how have they changed?
  • How is my performance measured?
  • What’s important to me?
  • What’s important to my boss?

Of course, sometimes at work we can find ourselves so overwhelmingly busy that we can’t see the wood for the trees, and revisiting (and even remembering!) our most recent goals can feel like an impossible task. In these instances, ask for some guidance or direction from a boss or career mentor.


Next, you’re going to need to analyse your current situation to try and understand why you aren’t reaching your goals. How did you get here and what’s the underlying cause? It’s really important to be honest with yourself here, so that you can identify the reality of the situation, and try to pinpoint why exactly your performance is suffering. Ask yourself:

  • When did I last reach my goals, and what did I do differently to what I am doing now?
  • Which obstacles do I find myself facing on a regular basis, are these personal or professional?
  • What is the cause of these obstacles?
  • How do they hinder me from meeting my goals?
  • How do I react to them? What is my current approach to problem-solving?

In the case of underperformance it can be really easy to blame other people or external factors. Lots of people that are struggling to reach their potential say it’s not their fault because “nobody showed me”, “I haven’t been trained how to do that” or “it’s the market’s fault”.Understandably you can’t control some of the hindrances which get in your way, but you can take a less-defeatist approach to overcoming them, which brings me onto my next point.


Now you’re clear on your destination, and the roadblocks that are getting in the way, it’s time to set a new route for yourself and get back on the road towards success. This involves looking at every challenge you are facing and how you can rise to each one. Ask yourself the questions:

  • What are the options for overcoming each obstacle?
  • Who can support me in overcoming these obstacles?
  • What’s my back up plan?
  • Who do I know who is reaching their goals, and what can I learn from them?

You may come to the conclusion that you need to attend training or receive some coaching in an effort to turn things around. For instance, perhaps, as per the above example, you are struggling to hit your sales targets because the market is bad, and so clients are being more aggressive in asking for discounts. Whilst you can’t control this, you can take steps to improve your negotiation skills. In this instance getting some coaching or attending some training could help.

Way forward

By examining the current reality and exploring the options, you will now have a good idea of how to achieve your goals and get out of your underperformance rut. Now, the final and most important step is to commit to specific actions you’ll take in order to move forward towards your goal. For this to work, these actions must be SMART.

  • S – Specific. Ensure each goal is specific and clear in your mind
  • M – Measurable. Now that you have a better idea of your goal, how will you measure your progress with these goals?
  • A – Attainable. Plan how you will attain these goals, and be prepared to put in work
  • R – Relevant. Put your goals into the context of your wider career plan, giving you the impetus to complete them
  • T – Time-scaled. Lastly, goals need a beginning, middle and end point. When are you going to start when are you expecting to have achieved your goal?

As part of setting SMART goals you should also make a date to review your progress. This keeps you accountable and focused but also allows you to change your approach if the original plan isn’t working.

Remember that this underperformance rut doesn’t have to throw your career journey completely off course. By working through the GROW model, you will find yourself able to re-route, get back on track, and ever closer to reaching your end destination. Best of luck!

If you are looking for support with your employment needs please contact your local office.

About this author

Michael Jones is the Head of Internal Recruitment and Training for Hays UK&I. He’s worked for the company for 10 years and started his recruitment career at Hays in Australia, joining as a trainee with no previous experience.

After four years as a successful Accountancy and Finance recruiter, and winning ‘Best Performing Associate of the Year’, he joined the Training team and transferred to Hays UK&I in 2013. Michael manages a team of sales and systems trainers, supports the National Internal Recruitment team and, over the last six years, he has personally trained thousands of trainee recruiters.


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