A frequent concern among project management team leaders is how best to manage strong performers. How can their potential be maximized? Where can their strengths take them? Is it possible to get their talents to rub off on others?
The flip side to this concern is managing those team members whose performance isn’t quite up to par. It’s an issue that’s less common, thankfully, but it’s much more pressing when it does occur. Poor performers have the potential to spark significant havoc within even the highest-functioning Project Teams and to create a measurable drag on progress.
It’s important to understand how much damage a poor performer can inflict, and what that damage typically looks like. Being able to quickly spot and address lackluster performance is crucial to keeping the rest of the group on track.
The leadership team must remember that early intervention is key. At the first sign of sagging performance, the employee involved (or employees, if it appears the problem may include more than one individual) should be contacted. Immediately work to identify any downstream effects, such as impacts to timing or resource allocations, that may be caused by reduced performance. Devise a strategy to bring progress back on track as quickly as possible, either by resolving the existing performance issue or by adjusting how the rest of the team supports the current project plan. This will not only help in the short term by providing poor performers with a path back to a normal working level, it will also ensure the Project Team isn’t hampered in the long run by trying to fix a problem that’s already snowballed.
Initial discussions with anyone whose efforts aren’t up to par should focus on determining the facts. Has performance really dropped? Something as innocuous as a change in how metrics are gathered or measured can give the appearance of waning performance, even if that isn’t what’s actually happening. Are the employee’s efforts being stymied by new processes within the organization? Is the team member simply dealing with the ripple effects of another person’s drooping performance? Are external factors causing internal performance to fall? Have a candid conversation so everyone is aware of the causes. This will also help to determine if there are effects that haven’t yet been spotted.
It’s vital to protect other team members from being affected by the issues. Poor performers can be toxic to the rest of the project office. They have the potential to sap morale, derail progress in other areas, even disrupt the sense of team the Project Team has worked so hard to achieve. While personnel issues should remain absolutely private, it may be prudent to bring the team together to work through any effects that are impacting overall progress. This will help speed the recovery process if the problem has trickled into other areas. Another strategy to consider is an increase in team-building activities designed to reinforce the good working relationships and mutual respect the team has already built.
Sticking to conventional approaches may leave the individual without a truly effective solution, so be creative when looking for ways to fix the problem. Poor performance can have its roots in any number of factors (and often a combination of several factors), many of which have little to do with the employee’s desire to do well. Training may be one option if the individual is being asked to take on tasks outside their area of expertise. Mentoring can also be helpful if a good understanding of the organization’s culture and philosophy—and being better able to navigate its processes and political nuances—is part of what’s missing.