How to Coach an Underperformer

How to Coach an UnderperformerIt can be one of the most uncomfortable situations a project manager faces: You have a team member who simply isn’t delivering. Their work may be late or poor. They skip meetings or don’t file their progress reports in a timely manner. For whatever the reason, their role in the effort hasn’t gelled, and the gap is causing everyone else to scramble.

Most PMs dread such scenarios. After all, it’s never easy to call out someone on their performance. But when the need arises, you have no choice but to address the issues quickly and firmly. If ignored, personnel challenges can spread as other team members shoulder extra work and become distracted from their own priorities. Ultimately, the project’s quality, schedule and budget can be threatened.

The conversation is made all the more awkward by the unique relationship PMs usually have with their team – a position that’s more about dotted lines than formal reporting structures. When the underperformer isn’t a direct report, the PM must take the approach of an interested and invested colleague, a fellow team member whose focus is on solutions rather than blame.

Talk to the Person. Your first order of business is to meet with the person and examine the issues you face. Express your concerns, but make clear that you’re beginning a conversation and looking for a solution, not issuing edicts. Be sure to get an acknowledgement of the problem and an agreement that it has to be resolved.

Be Clear. Explain the ramifications of the person’s lagging performance. For example, by missing his own deadlines, he’s holding up the work of his teammates. Or, because she’s skimping on quality control, her colleagues have to put in extra time to identify and fix problems on top of meeting their own responsibilities. Be honest about what you’re seeing, and specific in your observations.

Understand the Problem. The issues may be symptoms of a larger problem. Your team member may be facing challenges at home, with his boss, or something else. Whatever the underlying cause, it’s important to understand the forces that are at work here. After all, you can’t address a matter until you know its dynamics.

Have Ideas. Good project managers always have solutions in mind. That’s as true when it comes to working with people as it is when facing logistical or technical hurdles. As you come to understand the problem, develop approaches for addressing it. It might be the person has too many competing priorities and needs clarity. There could be a personality conflict with another team member. Whatever the issue, proactively work with the person to develop an approach that will get their efforts back on track.

Put in the Time. Coaching people takes time – sometimes a lot of it. Chances are, a single conversation isn’t going to do the trick. Set up regular one-on-ones with the person so you can track her progress and follow up on previous discussions. Develop metrics so you have an agreed-upon mechanism to measure her performance until the situation is resolved.

Remember, this process should be interactive. Encourage the team member to develop his own ideas, and listen to them carefully. Sometimes, all a person needs is an opportunity to talk things through in order to get refocused.

For more information about how Merit Career Development can hone your leadership and management skills, please contact Jim Wynne at jwynne@meritcd.com.

3 Tips for Creating a Successful Communication Plan

3 Tips for Creating a Successful Communication PlanA communication plan is an essential tool for project managers to plan for resources, establish deadlines and reduce the likelihood of costly surprises. Project managers can use communication plans to create goals, set expectations, allow room for criticism and enable a dialogue for all stakeholders.

Although communication plans are important, not all project management training focuses enough on the critical skill of creating a reliable plan. Improve your effective communication skills and follow these three tips next time you develop a plan for a major project.

1. Identify All Stakeholders and Their Influence Levels

When you establish a communication plan, the first step is to assemble your stakeholder team and assess what members’ roles will be and how they can be most effective. Because stakeholder teams are made up of people from various departments or even separate companies, there are numerous barriers to communication. An effective plan removes these barriers, establishing clear lines for discussion among project members.

In order to make more effective use of time and resources, analyze the influence level of each stakeholder and plan accordingly. For example, a meeting without a decision maker present may end up wasting resources and the time of those who attend. Conversely, meetings should not be set for high-level stakeholders when only minor details are discussed and their presence is unnecessary.

2. Select an Appropriate Method of Communication for All Stakeholders

A common cause of miscommunication is the multiple channels used in today’s workplace. Business communication can take place via email, over the phone, through texts or on video chats. When you create your plan, set a clear mode of communication so that no records are lost and key stakeholders aren’t left out of conversations. Video chats are often the best for keeping remote stakeholders engaged with the rest of the team, but email can help by providing a clear record. Help your team decide on the modes that work best for them.

3. Establish the Frequency and Level of Detail

A communication plan should plainly and unequivocally lay out the times and dates that members are expected to meet, talk or present data. Meetings held too often may lead to reduced attendance, while meetings held too infrequently may create gaps in communication and loss of productivity.

The level of detail required for each should be established beforehand, so that everyone is on the same page and prepared, leading to less wasted time. Regis College also points out that communication plans that improve productivity also contribute to lower resource costs because work is more efficient.