Even amongst a team of stellar performers, there probably are one or two employees that you count on more than the others. Maybe it’s because you have similar experiences and so share the same views or your skills complement each other. Whatever the reason, these people are invaluable to you and your organization. When one of them starts slipping and you feel you can’t rely on them anymore, it’s frustrating and can be a risk to your business.

Speaker and consultant Tom Searcy addresses this problem in “When Smart People Get Stupid”  in Inc. magazine. It could be that your go-to person is suffering from a medical, psychological or even chemical problem. Find out first. If none of them are causing the problem, dig deeper. In Searcy’s experience, “…when smart people get stupid, they are either overwhelmed or underwhelmed.”

It can be something outside work that is causing a person to feel overwhelmed. Worry over a serious problem at home can throw off someone’s performance. Also some people can’t say no – especially the high achievers. They take on  too much and get snowed under.

While you can spot the overwhelmed, are you giving enough attention to someone who may be underwhelmed? Searcy says that it took him some time to realize he needed to watch for people who were underwhelmed because they were underutilized. Maybe the job is not challenging enough to the person you count on or they don’t have enough to do so they become distracted and bored.

Searcy offers some suggestions for fixing the problem. Here are a few of them:

  • Be direct. You should talk about past successes and talent, but ask what’s going on that is affecting performance. Get the issue out in the open.
  • Talk through options:Try to accommodate personal issues by changing the workload or schedule. You also may be able to provide a better work/life balance through a teleworking arrangement. Separation may need to be on the table; but it should never used as a threat, only as an outcome of continued under performance.
  • Set a timeframe: You have to get the person back on track. Once you agree to a game plan set a timeframe.

How have you dealt with a valued employee whose underlying problems are affecting performance?