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Karin And David’s Leadership Articles

Encourage your team even when their best effort isn’t enough.

You know your team is working hard, but the results are just not there. You want to be encouraging, and empathetic. Start here to encourage your team while building a recovery plan.

6 Ways to Encourage Your Team When Results Are Disappointing

It’s easy to lead when your team is on fire with fantastic results. You’re happy. Your boss is happy. Your team is happy. But even the best leaders face tricky circumstances when, despite great plans, long hours, and hard work, the results aren’t there.

Today we share six ways to encourage your team while you work on your recovery strategy.

1. Acknowledge the Stress

If you’ve got people who really care, failure means big-time stress. Sometimes what your team needs first is a bit of empathy.

Karin remembers one black Friday when she was leading a large retail sales team. She’d been up since 4:00 AM and was driving to as many of her hundred-plus stores as possible to ensure everyone was implementing the plan. They needed a huge day to make their numbers for the quarter. As the hourly text messages came in from their automated reporting system, she could see that despite all the planning and execution they weren’t even close to hitting their forecast.

When the Regional President’s number popped up on her phone (he also was getting the automated texts), she was prepared for an angry rant. Instead, he said,

Karin, pull over the car. I need to talk with you.  I know how stressed you are right now. The results are disappointing. But we had a great plan, and I’m out in the stores too and people are doing the right things. After today is over, we’ll figure out if there’s anything we can do differently next time. But for now, stay safe.  And bring only positive energy into those stores.”

It’s like this reminder from Stell Efti, “Stress just means you give a ____(insert F-bomb here).” If your people do, acknowledge that passion.

See Also: Psychological Safety or More Courage- What Your Team Needs Now

2. Take Accountability

When results are disappointing, it’s tempting to look for someone else to blame.

  • “We would sell more if the product line were different.”
  • “Our attrition would be better if our competitor wasn’t paying more.”
  • “My quality results would be higher if I wasn’t assigned to the late shift.”
  • “The employees would be more engaged if this wasn’t a union environment.”

Finger-pointing just wastes emotional energy. Own what you can, and focus on what you can control in the situation.

When Karin’s sales team complained that they needed a different product mix, her favorite response was, “sell the bananas on the truck.” If you have bananas, find the people who need bananas, and meet their needs. Drive to where the banana eaters live. Stop wishing you had mangos. Align your team around what IS in their control, and ask “How can we?” questions.

play the game don't game the score

3. Stay Focused on the Game, Not the Score

When your results are disappointing, it’s tempting to make the conversation about the numbers. But talking about numbers doesn’t change them, behaviors do.

Help your team reflect on the wins. What behaviors ARE working? What best practices move the needle? How can you adapt those best practices to work in other contexts?

Work to identify the critical few behaviors that will have the biggest impact—and have those behaviors at the center of every conversation.

4. Own the U.G.L.Y.

One of our favorite techniques for getting underneath disappointing results is our Own the U.G.L.Y. exercise. Ask 4 simple questions.Own the Ugly

U-What are we underestimating?

G-What’s got to go?

L-Where are we losing?

Y-Where are we missing the yes?

5. Celebrate Progress to Encourage Your Team

When you’re so far away from your goal, it can feel silly to celebrate anything, but that may be exactly what your team needs to regain their mojo. Setting milestone goals and incremental wins can inspire renewed confidence and encourage your team to keep going.

6. Keep Perspective

Resilience research shows that people are more likely to recover from a setback if they understand that this problem is just one aspect of their life, not “pervasive.” Meaning, just because you didn’t make your goal doesn’t mean your whole life is a wreck. Help your team keep perspective on what matters most in their lives.

Your turn.

What would you add? What’s your best advice for encouraging your team when results are disappointing?

Want more human-centered leaders in the workplace? Share this today!

Want more human-centered leaders in the workplace? Share this today!


  1. Steph Gladfelter

    Thank you Karin! Such incredible reminders on how we can keep our teams motivated. And love the fact that – Stress just means you give a &*$! So true.

    • Karin Hurt

      Thanks, Steph! Yeah, I have to remind myself of that when the stress runs high 😉

  2. Mark Carruthers. - @MarkC_Avgi

    Great article!
    Although your first point about acknowledging the stress in those on your team is a great point, what the call from the Regional President (RP) conveyed was not simply the message, but that the RP was aware of what was happening & had stepped up to be active & involved in working through a difficult time. They were not just sitting back watching what “their team” was doing but talking about what “our team” was doing & what “our team” was going to do.

    This RP acknowledged not only the stress of the situation but that, as a team, they had to reassess & make some changes to what they were doing, in hopes of better results.

    This RP was including themselves in being accountable for the shortcomings of what they were doing & acknowledged they had to find a way to do better.

    This RP seemed to realize that they may be behind on the score, but was looking at the good things they were doing, the progress they were making & the progress they wanted/needed to make together, as “our team” which is part of your “UGLY” & acknowledging the progress they were making.

    And the RP came across calm & focussed, keeping perspective of the realities, identifying & working with the things that they could control, and was encouraging, without any outward sign of judgement or negativity.

    What the RP said was not just about acknowledging stress, but so much more! And the timing of the RP’s message was impeccable!

    As a team leader, results have to be acknowledged & be “our team’s” results. The leader cannot be extraneous to the team or the results.

    • Karin Hurt

      Wow, Mark. YES, YES, YES! Thanks so much for expanding the conversation in such a meaningful way.

  3. Mark Carruthers

    You are very welcome, Karin!


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Karin Hurt and David Dye

Karin Hurt and David Dye help human-centered leaders find clarity in uncertainty, drive innovation, and achieve breakthrough results. As CEO and President of Let’s Grow Leaders, they are known for practical tools and leadership development programs that stick. Karin and David are the award-winning authors of five books including, Courageous Cultures: How to Build Teams of Micro-Innovators, Problem Solvers, and Customer Advocates and Powerful Phrases for Dealing with Workplace Conflict. A former Verizon Wireless executive, Karin was named to Inc. Magazine’s list of great leadership speakers. David Dye is a former executive and elected official. Karin and David are committed to their philanthropic initiative, Winning Wells – building clean water wells for the people of Cambodia.

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7 Practical Ways to be a Bit More Daring

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