Recently, project management expert Tom Mochal wrote about problems one project manager (PM) was having with "Jim," a combination analyst/team leader who was keeping functional knowledge to himself, speaking negatively about the company, and demanding to work from home.
Mochal advised that the PM try to alleviate the problems by using project management procedures and "people-management techniques," including talking to Jim about his missed deadlines and forcing him to cross-train other team members so knowledge would not be lost if Jim decided to leave the company.
Ultimately, Mochal suggested that the PM could call in the human resources department for additional help. "If you do call in HR, deal with the problem objectively and unemotionally, and follow their guidance exactly," Mochal wrote.
While there was a mix of responses in the discussion of the PM's problems, most TechRepublic members blamed Jim's PM. In general, members disagreed with Mochal’s assessment and suggested their own solutions. Here's a roundup of comments from both sides of the fence.
TechRepublic member Steve said that management's ignorance in handling the situation has allowed it to become a much larger problem. Having been a "Jim" in his own organization, Steve said he cured his own frustrations by opening a dialog with management. He suggested that the PM open a dialog with Jim and explain to him how his secretive behavior is hurting both the project and his career.
"Explain that his position isn't endangered, except by his own actions," Steve said. "Emphasis must be made that management wants to keep him onboard and is willing to work with him rather than have him work for them.”
Tom Hafemann, a network services engineer at IQTech in Waupun, WI, is a self-described "highly technical guy." He said he believes Jim's secretive behavior is simply a function of his manager's ignorance and that many managers concoct stories about such secretiveness to cover their own technical and managerial incompetence.
"When my manager gets involved, the project that has a two-week deadline now becomes a five- or six-week project," Hafemann said. "I have to take the time to explain, educate, and justify everything."
We're not robots; we're human beings
"Management consistently expects technical project people to work, act, and think just like computers or robots," said TechRepublic member David Langlois, a CICS specialist with Elliott Professional Services.
Langlois suggested three ways the PM could deal with Jim without bringing in a "higher authority":
- Invite him out to lunch or for drinks after work to talk about the problem.
- Let Jim tell you his side of the story.
- Offer solutions that require work on Jim's part as well as your own.
"If Jim feels like you are laying everything at his feet, then you can pretty much kiss his commitment goodbye," Langlois said.
Marty Mowdy, a systems engineer with Digital Monkey Information Services, agreed that the human approach would be the cure and said that too many managers think people are "autonomous subsystems that can be programmed to do a job."
"Most likely, he's been stressed out by long hours and is faced with what he sees as impending layoffs by a company who probably doesn't give a damn about him as a person," Mowdy said. "Since he gets too little feedback from the boss, he vents his frustration by talking bad about the company, and he tries to make his job more secure by keeping information to himself."
Mowdy suggested that the PM try to reassure Jim with regular praise when Jim performs well. On the other hand, if the PM's only goal is to gather evidence to fire Jim, he suggests taking Mochal's advice but warns that it will cause Jim's attitude to spread to others in the organization.
Don't blame the management
TechRepublic members in managerial positions wrote back in their own defense. Gil Ben-Dov, senior IT manager at Cisco Systems, commented that Jim's demands to work at home signified that he didn't have the team's goals at heart. "No one can become an island and be a team player concurrently…," Ben-Dov said.
For most employees, Ben-Dov argued, telecommuting is a reward for "consistent behavior that exceeds expectations" and should be reserved for those who have demonstrated that they can perform well without regular supervision or contact.
Having a conversation with Jim about his performance and how it hasn't met the conditions required for telecommuting might help the PM understand the root of Jim's behavior, Ben-Dov said.
Jim should have been proactive
TechRepublic member kol wrote that some employees believe they have a right not to meet goals because they are not being professionally satisfied. He said Jim should have "proactively voiced his valid concerns to the PM."
"Work is fun when everyone works hard," kol said. "One bad apple can ruin a great team. If Jim has become a bad apple, the PM should take immediate action."
Kol also made four suggestions for how the PM should deal with Jim:
- “Ask Jim if he has any personal problems that may be affecting his work (spouse, illness, children, etc.). If [Jim says yes], ask how you can help him. Take serious issues to HR.”
- “Meet separately with other team members to see if Jim's behavior is affecting them. If so, seek their advice. They probably know him better. If they believe Jim's actions are acceptable, reexamine your expectations. PMs sometimes overreact.”
- “Wait a week; then evaluate Jim's progress. If it's still unacceptable, transfer some of his responsibilities to other team members. They'll understand why because you've already spoken with them.”
- “Be decisive. Other team members will respect you as a leader if you take action to resolve conflicts affecting them.”
Stop whining and get to work
TechRepublic member Fedvarian said the problem comes down to a simple question: "If you hire someone and pay them your money, do you expect them to live up to their end of the bargain?"
Fedvarian said the answer is yes, and if Jim collects his check, then he should perform the work he was and is paid to do.
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