Leadership

How to deal with a personnel problem on your project team when you're not the functional manager


Frequently, a person's talents drive him to work in certain areas where he excels. In other cases, the individual talents of a person and the job he performs are not aligned. Sometimes this lack of alignment can be overcome with hard work and motivation. Unfortunately, sometimes the gap can't be closed. This is when you have to deal with the individual as a performance problem.

As a project manager, you don't usually have total management control over your team members. You share responsibility with the team member's functional manager. However, this doesn't mean you're powerless to work with team members who aren't meeting expectations. In fact, developing and managing team members are key responsibilities of a project manager.

So, how do you deal with the team members that are not meeting expectations? Try this approach.

1. Give immediate feedback. Remember that performance feedback should be provided immediately after you observe a problem. This allows it to have maximum impact. 2. Gather your facts. This feedback shouldn't be generic or vague. It also shouldn't be based on what someone else said. The feedback should be based on your observations only. For instance, if the person isn't meeting deadlines, be prepared to point to several examples of missed deadlines. If he's disruptive, relate specific instances where you observed this behavior. 3. Meet in person. Once you have the facts, have a preliminary performance discussion. There are three targeted objectives to this meeting:
  • To make the employee aware of the perceived performance problem. To be fair, he may not realize that there is a problem.
  • To get the employee's feedback and response to your observations.
  • To determine a short-term action plan. This is critical and will be the key to turning the performance around.

This discussion is valuable for both the project manager and the team member. There are a number of reasons why a team member's performance may not be up to expectations. Some, such as personal problems, may be short-lived.  

4. Escalate to the functional manager. It's been my experience that the preliminary, fact-based discussion was enough to turn the situation around, with there being no need for follow-up. However, if the problems continue, your next course of action is to bring the situation to the attention of the team member's functional manager. The functional manager can provide further guidance, and may well have to get involved to try to resolve the problem. For some team members this might mean being removed from the project team, developing a performance plan, or even being fired. These are options available to the functional manager but usually out of the realm of the project manager.

Performance problems on your project team may not be totally within your control, but you have options. You can work with the team member to try to resolve the situation and then escalate the problem if necessary.

16 comments
mikifinaz1
mikifinaz1

The boss gets copies, so when an issue arises he can make the connections, which is his job. Used correctly email will work the trick given the assumption that you don't have an idiot for a boss. I once worked at a company that had been sued for the action of some of its managers. These boneheads tried to get out of hiring and training good managers in a strange and stupid manner. The company gave every employee "sensitivity" training so that they could cover their butts and push the responsibility on their employees as well as the blow back. I told them I wouldn't participate and any issues would go directly to a manager in my case as well as suggesting that they may gain more profits if they fired all these managers since they had effectively removed their jobs (outside of shuffling paper).

dblayton
dblayton

Giving feedback is important but it is important to understand the underlying facts prior to accusing an employee of incompetence or slothfulness. A private discussion is often sufficient to bring the concern to the attention of the employee and to find out any reasons behind it. Giving immediate feedback to "have maximum impact" is not necessarily a good thing and could escalate the problem, especially if it is overtly critical or public. Often, like Bruce Tomlinson in a previous thread, the manager needs to reassess the project outlines to see if fault does not lie with organization.

cd613
cd613

well thought out for being generalized

bruce.tomlinson
bruce.tomlinson

Frequent underlying reasons behind performance issues on projects can be traced to one of the following factors. 1)a lack of clearly defined roles, responsibilities for project team, supporting functional managers and the overall project governance model; 2)no real committment by team members to time phased work breakdown assignments 3) lack of a documented and shared project vision and/or mission 4)inadequate resources in terms of time, funding, personnel, and skills. The personnel issues should be evaluated in light of the aforementioned critical success factors (CSF). Assuming that the CSF are in place, then the actions detailed in the article provide a fundamental approach to address personnel issues. (Remember, COMMON SENSE IS NOT ALWAYS VERY COMMON IN THE WORKPLACE) Bruce L. Tomlinson SAP Program and Supply Chain Improvement Manager

amareshmakal
amareshmakal

Really helpful & informative for new managers.

gmolinar
gmolinar

No wonder 99% the managers are considered dumb if this is where they get their advices. Welcome micromanagement. Geez. All this is known and all is "Common Sense" approach. As for butting in in someone elses work - you should be a real moron to take this advice. Getting the performance by not understanding ahead what is going beforehead and reacting upon it is first rule of "No-no". Good manager is informed first. This is a butt-kissing tehnique.

rudy.berongoy
rudy.berongoy

I can see where you?re coming from with these suggestions, it is imperative that a project manager or any manager for that matter should know his staff well enough to develop a good rapport with them. Seeing problems with staff before they occur is another skill that should be learnt, but this only comes with experience. Your suggestions are sound and will point managers in the right direction.

saurabh.mukadam
saurabh.mukadam

Very good article and facts for a PM..He/She must be facing such problem in project life cycle. This article will definately help to atleast initiate the talks with under performers if not already...

sharyljg
sharyljg

This article stated the problem nicely and gave a very high level view of the obvious solution. Now we need someone to post an article with useful techniques within that meeting. The fact that you need to speak with someone who is not performing well is pretty basic stuff.

ctlenterprises
ctlenterprises

The main problem with most managers today is they do not know the product or the business, they are paper pushers and politicians recruited by equally clueless HR departments. If companies would promote from within and show a little loyalty to employees we wouldn't need layers of managment to tell another person what the other person said, we would instead talk to each other. Now that Project Management is the hot field to get into we can only expect more clueless MBA's wandering around saying I seek first to understand then be understood.

chris_g2
chris_g2

While there may well not be anything new in this article, from my experience it's actually good advice. I don't believe it's micromanagement to get alongside someone who's not performing, find out what ails and, in a spirit of collegiality, work out a way forward. To me, this is being proactive and also respecting the person concerned. I have often found that my first perceptions of what's wrong are quite incorrect, and I have valued getting this clarified in the first person. Reactive would be to go straight to the person's manager and get the person re-assigned or whatever.

meryllogue
meryllogue

...and worse grammar. I can't even understand part of what you wrote. "He who lives in a glass house should be the last to throw stones." You are simply obnoxious in your approach. If you really want to add something of value and be perceived as credible, at least be diplomatic. Remember, these are your OPINIONS, but when you put them out there with such nastiness and force, you make yourself to be the true arbiter of the subject at hand. And the rest of us all know that is simply not possible, especially given your whole approach! :-)

patrick
patrick

A very good book on managing professional is "First Among Equals" by David Maister.

gmolinar
gmolinar

...my grammar is not correct. However, considering that English is not my native langage this remark is quite misplaced. On the fact of me being overly critical - I deal with (micro)managers on a daily basis on both ends so I can relate personally and not just as an passive observer. All the "tips" here are already documented is many books - even in management for dummies probably. The people interested in something usefull should avoid articles like this since it is only copy/paste. No new ideas, no new approaches, not even to mention techniques. This person should not get paid for this article as a proffesional. My point is just that this article, being targeted for people who look for management strategies inside their own company, is completly on the wrong track. This is how it HAS been done twenty years ago. And last but not least is the part you not understanding somewhat of what I wrote. Well, that's life. No one can comprehend every opinion. Mine is that a good manager should act proactively instead of reactively given that one actually manages and not just administering. But that is a whole new topic.

Joan.Kaye
Joan.Kaye

for your book recommendation.

meryllogue
meryllogue

Thanks. Just for the record, I can usually separate bad grammar from ESL. I can also separate (usually) ESL from flame. This post is much more polite sounding than the last. Thank you for clarifying.