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.

Bringing Generations Together in the Workplace

By Forming Mentor Teams and Blending Communication Styles, Managers Can Ensure that all Generational Values are Respected in the Workplace

Managing Different Generations in the Workplace: Part Four

The modern workplace is now home to four generations of employees—Baby Boomers, Gen X, Gen Y and Gen Z. Each has its own unique perspectives and varying experience levels. Although generational differences can affect everything from team building to company morale, managers can leverage these differences to create a cohesive work environment and an effective training experience.

In our previous posts, we discussed Generations X, Y and Z. Now it’s time to look at all four generations and discuss how leadership can bridge communication gaps in the workplace.

Using Generational Differences to Improve Training

Training magazine explains that the core values of each generation can vary widely. Gen Xers and millennials desire an even alignment between work and home life, while Generation Z longs for social opportunities. As a result, older generational employees may view Gen Zers as less loyal to the business. And in turn, the youngest staff members might see their counterparts as workaholic stalwarts who refuse to change.

But playing on these differences in the training setting can increase learner retention and build relationships between the generations. Managers should mix generations during instructor-led training and design the training to include activities that energize each generation like lectures, group activities or online polls. Gen Xers can impart experiential wisdom to their younger constituents, who can reciprocate by sharing their knowledge of the latest technology and cultural trends.

Accommodating for Communication Styles

The generations also handle communication differently from one another. Baby Boomers and Gen Xers tend to prefer direct and immediate contact, such as phone or face-to-face conversations. Conversely, millennials and Gen Zers tend to favor e-mail and text messaging. However, they all want frequent, quality feedback.

To avoid crossed signals, Forbes suggests that managers set clear guidelines for what’s expected from company communications. This way, all age groups are aware of one another’s learning preferences and aim to bridge the gaps. Too much reliance on a single approach might alienate some employees, so a combination of face-to-face meetings and emails is the right medium to communicate across generations.

Ditch the Stereotypes and Mentor Instead

Finally, the three generations of employees are driven by different motivators. Generation X workers have entrepreneurial spirits that are fed by completing projects individually, while both the younger generations enjoy working collaboratively with like-minded, creative people. Millennials and Gen Zers seek more guidance and acknowledgement in comparison to Gen Xers, which can cause misunderstandings, Forbes magazine explains.

As with most things, responsibility lies with all the parties. Leaders need to understand the importance of feedback, but Generations Y and Z have to realize that praise isn’t handed out with ease. The beginning of real communication is understanding what the other person prefers and finding a good middle-ground. Assuming particular intention—like a Baby Boomer accusing a millennial of disrespect because she emails rather than picking up the phone—is a recipe for conflict. And relying on stereotypes—like Baby Boomers are technologically challenged or Gen Yers have no loyalty to the organization—can really get in the way.

One way to aid this kind of understanding is to form mentoring partnerships between employees of the different cohorts. Each generation has something to contribute, and it’s often in one-on-one relationships that this becomes apparent. Managers and trainers can use this technique to enhance learning, deepen understanding and build stronger communication between the generations. Realizing that there is more than one way to see the world, and learning from each other, can lead to employee growth, new ideas and unique solutions to business problems.

4 Engaging Techniques to Improve Team Learning

Create Project Management Training with a Focus on Fun and EngagementNo matter how informative the content of a project management training session is, employees won’t benefit from the content if it’s not engaging. In order to get the most out of your training investment, project managers should use fun, interactive teaching methods. Here are four examples of training techniques that help teams learn better.

  1. Involve Corporate Culture

    Every business has a specific culture among its employees, services and leadership. Training that doesn’t take the organization’s culture into account can come off as boring and out-of-touch. Chief Learning Officer (CLO) magazine recommends that managers engage employees through understanding and adopting the corporate culture as their own.

    "Understanding a company’s cultural strengths, then effectively tapping into the energy and emotional commitment those strengths engender in employees, provides incredible momentum to accelerate transformation," CLO explains. "Learning leaders can instill a sense of employee pride and commitment. Look for ways to connect workers to something larger than a new policy on paper."

    Using culture as a tool is a subtle but powerful leadership technique that can bring people into the conversation. This can mean appealing to pop culture—a marketing firm implementing metaphors or examples from "Mad Men" - or the office culture. Integrating culture into training reinforces a sense of community, but it can also be played for humor. Does the office have a notoriously small kitchen? Is there a row of coveted parking spaces in the lot? Use these as corporate "in-jokes" to reinforce the content of your presentation.

  2. Take Advantage of Simulation Training

    It doesn't matter how important the information being taught is if it’s not put into practice. Simulation training allows you to teach, test and improve your team’s habits for quick decision-making in high-pressure situations without the risks of an actual crisis.

    Customized simulation training solutions engage a team more than standard presentations because they force employees to learn and apply the information in real-time. With multiple team-based training sessions, simulations can give your team experience by testing how they’ll work under accelerated timelines. For example, by turning weeks into minutes within the realm of the simulation, the ticking clock function of simulations allows employees of a pharmaceutical company to balance Food and Drug Administration approval deadlines with website redesign projects ahead of launch within a span of a few hours. This allows employees to have real experience about prioritizing one project over another and managing time and resources.

  3. Leave Room for Improvisation

    While practicing a training exercise or presentation is important for effective execution, Tom Yorton, CEO of Second City Communications, explains in Training magazine that leaving space for improvisation in your presentation can be an excellent tool for engaging a diverse team. Yorton suggests starting light and negative. Discuss ten bad team management ideas that people have experienced. This can be fun and will bring people into the conversation. From here, you can talk about why these didn’t work and bridge the conversation to new ideas that will work. Everyone’s brains will be firing on all cylinders as they improvise fresh ideas.

    By using the same techniques that improv comedians use, Yorton argues that corporate managers can think better on their feet, be more receptive to new concepts and come up with cost-effective solutions that are out-of-the-box. This method engages employees because it’s focused on participation from everyone and thinking about concepts from different angles.

  4. Incorporate Cross-Training or Cross-Teaching

    It’s important for team members to understand their own roles. Set some time aside during your training to allow each member to teach or explain their role and how it affects the other employees. Not only will this improve communication among team members, but increased understanding can help streamline tasks through the project. Rather than burdening the project manager with questions, team members may be able to better communicate issues directly among one another.

    Cross-training or cross-teaching improves interaction among team members in multiple ways. Not only do they get a chance to learn about other positions, but they’re also involved as presenters within the training session.

    Think back on the most memorable lectures, classes or training sessions you’ve experienced. Chances are, they hooked you because they shared certain qualities: entertainment, a feeling of inclusion, hands-on practice or improvisational exercises, to name a few. Take these qualities to heart and make them a part of your own memorable management training.

Leverage Personality Differences in the Workplace

Managing introverted and extraverted employees calls for customized meetings and discussions that cater to each personality typeWithin every organization, employees range in personality types from professionally outgoing to socially reserved. Managing a mix of extraverts and introverts can be a challenge, but encouraging each personality type’s strengths and encouraging both groups to understand these dynamics is key.

Extraverts


By nature, extraverts are energized by being around others and that enthusiasm translates as an outgoing personality. Roughly 75 percent of the US population is extraverted.

Common extravert traits:
  • Directed outward toward people and things
  • Relaxed and confident
  • Gregarious, want to be with others
  • "What you see is what you get"
  • Process outward: Speaks to think ("shoots from the hip")
  • Seek variety and action
  • Often act quickly, sometimes without thinking

Introverts


On the other hand, although introverts can interact with people skillfully, over time their energy will deplete faster than an extravert. They then need "down time" to "recharge their batteries."

Common introvert traits
  • Directed inward toward concepts and ideas
  • Reserved and questioning
  • Seek quiet for concentration
  • Need time alone to recharge and think
  • Have valuable contributions, but may hesitate to speak
  • Process inward: Thinks to speak
  • Likes to think a lot before acting, sometimes without acting!

Understanding different perspectives is critical to effective team building


Extraverts often see themselves as actionable people who work successfully with others but they can be quick to implement tactics that are untested or poorly thought out. Introverted employees often view their extraverted counterparts as noisy and impulsive, actively working to solve a problem, but making many mistakes along the way.

Introverts often perceive their thought processes as more complex, and they often think deeply before sharing their thoughts. More outgoing employees might think their quiet coworkers aren’t spontaneous enough or are slow to respond, leaving them hard to integrate into solution-oriented discussions and team projects.

Because each personality type has a different perspective of the environment, managers should approach meetings with each in separate manners to promote success. Catering to both introvert and extravert tendencies serves to facilitate teamwork, creating better-prepared employees, communications and outcomes.

So how do you manage these two different types of personalities?

Extraverts: Let 'em talk


When meeting with extraverts, managers should allow time for discussion without the necessity of reaching conclusions. Extraverts learn and retain information better when there are active conversations. They tend to "think out loud."

During a team meeting, managers should greet everyone as he or she comes into the room and conduct introductions. Because extraverts typically think faster - although not thoroughly -and tend to have shorter attention spans, it's useful to break up presentations with questions and answer or discussion periods and other exercises. After it's over, leaders should allow time for feedback and conversations with presenters to encourage input.

Additionally, putting extraverts into groups and planning active outings can facilitate their professional development.

Introverts: Let 'em think


Contrary to extraversion, managers should allow introverted employees more time before expecting an answer. Because introverts spend more time reflecting before responding, team leaders may want to hold back before asking for possible solutions. Instead of forcing introverts into groups, leaders could sit one-on-one with them.

To ensure that the opinions of introverts are captured during meetings, managers should provide all participants with an agenda and conduct polls before the meeting, especially regarding important matters. Anyone who hasn't responded in discussions can be prompted for input with lead time to encourage eventual participation. Once the meeting has ended, leaders can summarize the next steps and distribute the materials via email.

A useful tip: Always call on introverts last when soliciting comments during or after a meeting. This gives them additional time to consider other participants' responses and formulate their own with more confidence.

Finally, it's important for managers to realize that people who are outgoing aren't always extraverts, and shyness doesn't necessarily indicate introversion. Most people display a range of these characteristics, although they lean toward one type or the other. The optimal brainstorming teams are comprised of people with diverse skills and perspectives.

It's up to managers to engage each type of team member, regardless of personality, to ensure their optimal contributions are realized.

For more information about how Merit Career Development can help with your teams, please contact us.