Topic 10.8: Managing under-performance

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Very occasionally, such as in the case of a team member actively disrupting delivery, you need to remove under-performing individuals from the project.

Most organisations have a process for this within their business-as-usual activities, so is it that different for projects?

Well, yes and no.

Because many project team members are engaged as contractors, you can look to the terms of their contract as to how under-performance can be managed and their services terminated.

Legal advice in this regard may also be useful, depending on the size and nature of the contract.

A man and woman having a conversation
A difficult conversation...

Regardless, though, of whether they are directly employed or contracted, your first step in managing under-performance should be to talk to the team member’s line manager (if they do not report directly to you), and your organisation’s human resource manager or other, independent experts.

This will ensure you follow workplace and statutory processes relating to escalationrepresentation and formal notices.

You will also need to document evidence of non-performance, including records of relevant meetings or conversations you may have had with the individual.

At an appropriate time, you can then have an open conversation with the under-performing team member.

Keeping in mind the principles we introduced in the earlier topic on mediating conflict, you should:

Discuss all the issues and the impacts they are having on the project and other team members

Listen

Mutually identify potential causes to address – don’t just treat the symptoms

Agree to resolution strategies

Set SMART goals to achieve this in the form of a formal performance plan, including interim targets, and

Outline the potential consequences for continued under-performance.

As with all project issues, the sooner you identify and address problems, the easier they are to resolve.

Nonetheless, you may need to have a number of these meetings, with escalating degrees of formality, if change is not realised and the project continues to be jeopardised.

Telephone cable hanging on one's neck

Yet quite often in projects our objective is not to sack a team member; rather, it is to have them reassigned out of the project.

Noting that this is a less severe form of separation, you should therefore always aim for reassignment over dismissal, as this is generally a quicker path and results in the least disruption to your project and the team.

It should be pointed out that all of this assumes that high levels of team member support have proven ineffective. Separating team members from the project should always be a last resort.