By Vivek Prakash
While high-performing team members are assets for us as project practitioners, we struggle with underperformers. Generally, we have two options with underperformers — get rid of them or help them become better performers. The first option is easy, while the second requires hard work, patience and persistence.
However, the unavailability of skilled employees nowadays can make even thefirst option difficult. So helping the team member improve is often preferable. It’s a challenge, but the rewards are great: We not only convert a underperforming asset into a performing asset but also gain power and respect.
I believe that underperformance is more a perception than a reality, more an expectation mismatch than an incapability. For example, a software company might recruit team members mainly based on technical skills like programming. But all software engineers do not work alike, because their background, behavior, style and beliefs differ.
Imagine giving two different but equally capable team members, A and B, the same task. You believe A is more of a planner, while B is action-oriented. Neither approach is wrong. Employee A will create a meticulous plan before starting, while B will work with a broader plan. A’s action will start later, while B will make a couple of course corrections during the work.
If you are a planning person, you might like A, but if you are an action-oriented person, you prefer B. For urgent work, B is suitable; for quality work, however, A might be better. Based on the type of work, urgency, expected outcome and your own nature, you would pick A or B.
So if a team member is not performing well, the reason may not be his or her incapability. What if your expectations were not correctly explained to the employee? What if the employee has no motivation to complete the task?
To improve someone’s performance, I suggest changing your role from that of a boss to mentor. Why? Because a boss gives further challenges, while a mentor provides support. A boss applies pressure while a mentor tries to find a solution.
People often cannot understand their own underperformance. Providing constructive feedback with a helping hand is the first step. If the employee did not understand expectations well, clarify them. Suggest a reward for improved performance. Money is the lowest award, and you can offer it to anyone. Instead, if possible, create milestones and praise the person for reaching them.
Always try to understand the employee’s natural inclinations. Perhaps the job doesn’t align with his or her natural abilities. Consider another assignment, offer some alternatives and do not ignore the person’s own suggestions.
One more tip: Beware of labeling a person as having a negative attitude. A negative attitude is often created by the environment, an objective mismatch or employee concerns. As soon as the environment improves, objectives align or concerns are addressed, a team member’s attitude will often become positive.
You may have faced a similar challenge in your projects. What was your experience? How did you resolve it?
The new Knowledge Area, stakeholder management, was cheerfully welcomed in A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide)—Fifth Edition.
Figure 1: Lack of stakeholder management leads to poor results. (Trentim, 2013)
Most of us rely on soft skills, communication and leadership to manage stakeholders. But while they’re helpful, interpersonal skills are far from being the sole way to implement stakeholder management. As a matter of fact, there are hard skills in stakeholder management — tools, techniques and methods that should be diligently applied to enhance stakeholder management and improve project success rates.
For example, there are at least 10 different tools for stakeholder identification. Often, project managers rely only on brainstorming to write a stakeholder registry, conforming to the methodology imposed by a project management office (PMO). That’s why I believe we need a paradigm shift.
A project manager’s goal is to add value. Value depends on stakeholder expectations and perception. Consequently, the project manager’s goal is to engage and involve stakeholders in value creation. This is what we call managing for stakeholders.
On the contrary, the term stakeholder management assumes we can manage expectations. This is wrong. We cannot manage people, to paraphrase U.S. author and businessman Stephen Covey. We lead people. We persuade and influence stakeholders.
In 2013, the Project Management Institute published my book, Managing Stakeholders as Clients. It presents a framework with a paradigm shift from traditional stakeholder management by first setting the premise that we can’t manage stakeholders or their expectations — we can only lead, influence and persuade people. To my surprise, I was the recipient of PMI Educational Foundation’s 2014 Kerzner Award* at PMI® Global Congress 2014—North Americafor my results in managing projects and programs. But in particular, the award recognized my creation of this stakeholder management framework and the results of its application.
The main difference between stakeholder management and managing for stakeholders is this: Stakeholder management’s goal is to manage stakeholders’ expectations, enhancing support and reducing negative impacts — a reactive measure. It’s almost as if project managers develop stakeholder management plans to protect themselves from external interference.
Managing for stakeholders means involving and engaging stakeholders in value creation, boosting their support and having them take ownership in a proactive way. Managing for stakeholders embraces change as a learning process.
While stakeholder management is instrumental, employing processes for conformity, managing for stakeholders is results-oriented. In summary, stakeholder management is an attempt to manage stakeholders’ expectations toward the project. On the other hand, managing for stakeholders is clearly oriented to manage the project and its results for the stakeholders, on behalf of their changing needs and expectations.
Now that it’s clear we should start approaching stakeholder management from a different perspective, in my next post I’ll share more tips and details from Managing Stakeholders as Clients. Don’t miss it!
How do you manage for stakeholders?
*The PMI Educational Foundationadministers the prestigious Kerzner Award. The Kerzner Award is sponsored by International Institute for Learning, Inc. (IIL)to recognize a project manager who most emulates the professional dedication and excellence of Dr. Harold Kerzner, PhD, MS, MBA.
|Senior managers rank among the most under-acknowledged people in the workplace. |
Part of it comes down to harried, stressed out, schedule-conscious project managers not being overly concerned with delivering the praise that does pop up in their brains from time to time. And we also wonder if that praise will be taken the wrong way. Will managers think we're just trying to get on their good side?
But once they're encouraged to acknowledge upward, people can't seem to wait to take action. In one virtual course I led, a project manager texted "I'll be right back. I have to go acknowledge my boss!"
Ten minutes later he was back. "I did it!!!" he texted, and you could feel his pride. We all felt proud of him, too, and shared his three-exclamation-mark excitement.
I was pleased to hear a similar story in a different course:
Some time ago, I had told my boss privately, but I had not told anyone publicly (so as not to embarrass him too much) that he was my hero -- that he had saved me from an almost intolerable situation and allowed me to retain my dignity. I'd always felt that he acknowledged me, but was especially honored as a result of the appointment to my current position.
"What he hasn't known, but will now," I told our class, with my boss sitting right there, "is that because of this, I say thank you to him every day that I've worked here, since November 2008, through my password, which is a combination of a 'thank you' to him and his name." - Jyll D. Townes, deputy commissioner for regional affairs, New York State Division of Human Rights
When Jyll told this story, her boss -- and everyone else in the room -- just lit up! It was so refreshing and wonderful to see. He was totally surprised and moved. She took the risk of acknowledging upward in a public setting and reaped the reward.
Don't hold back appreciation because of a person's position or influence. Sometimes those in the highest positions need our acknowledgment the most. Theirs can be a lonely and stressful path. Letting them know they made or make a difference in the workplace and in our lives will go a long way.
Feel free to post an acknowledgment of your manager as a comment to this blog!
I'm linking the procurement and human resources chapters of A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) together for the simple reason that I have absolutely no idea why they're in there in the first place. I have never been in or encountered an organization of any size that lumps human resources and procurement departments under the head of project management.