7 Simple Steps to Get Underperformers Back On Track

Building a high performance team requires full participation and engagement by all members. As a successful project manager, it is critical to utilize the best from each and every one of your team members. Underperforming team members will hinder productivity and can put project deliverables at risk.

The project manager job is a management role that is responsible for successfully delivering a project as planned. Likewise, team members are also responsible for delivering the assigned work, at the expected standard. If a team member does not meet the performance standards, as manager of the project, you must address the risk that person brings to the project.

By utilizing the following communication and management strategies, you can evaluate the problem and try to help low-performing team members get back on track. Here are 7 simple questions that can be asked to evaluate a performance problem.

  1. The What - Does your team member know what they have to do? Have you clearly documented the roles and responsibilities for this individual? Are the objectives specific and measurable? Have you been clear in both verbal and written communication?
    Try asking: “What do you think the core mission for your job is?” or “What are your key deliverables for this role?
  2. The How - Does your team member know the performance level expected of them? Have you been deliberate in explaining and modeling the expected level of performance? Do you provide ongoing feedback, noting both the areas of excellence and those that need improvement?
    Try asking: “What do you feel your key strengths are?” or “Are there any areas you feel you need more training or guidance?
  3. Look Back - Has your team member performed that task correctly before? If the answer is yes, it means that questions 1 and 2 have affirmative answers, too. An affirmative answer to this question may show that a recent situation may be causing the performance issue.
    Try asking: “It appears that something has changed with your work. Can you tell me what you think is different?
  4. Outside Issues - Is there something happening in your team members' personal or professional life that may affect his/her performance?
    Try asking: “Is there something going on at home or outside of work that is consuming more attention than usual?
  5. Recent Changes - Have there been recent changes in your team members' job requirement? In this case, it may be necessary to provide some additional training, or perhaps the changes have negatively impacted their attitude.
    Try asking: “How are you feeling about the changes to your role?” and “What are the best parts and worst parts of the change?
  6. Right employee, wrong role - Is the under-performance simply a case of misalignment? Meaning is the employee an asset to your team but in the wrong role? Is there a different role on the team that might be a better fit? Can you change the scope of their role?
    Try asking: “What parts of your job are you enjoying?
  7. Lack of Skills - Does your team member have the right training and resources to enable them to perform at the expected level? Try and look at the situation from their vantage point.
    Try asking: “Do you have everything you need to complete your tasks?” or “What would you need to be able to do your best work?

Remember to follow-up with notes or documentation after any conversation with team members about low performance. Be specific in your follow-ups and focus on hard data, making sure to avoid any emotions, assumptions or opinions. You may also want to suggest a plan to improve the performance issues. Your plan should be measurable and time bound.

Use these strategies to address any performance risks quickly before they can impact the team or the overall success of the project.

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