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How to Improve an Underperforming Team Member

In a team full of high achievers, the worker who is struggling is like the black licorice jellybean in a pile of Easter candy. Just because they don’t fit in doesn’t mean they don’t belong. In a post for Project Management Voices, Vivek Prakash writes that retaining an underperformer can be difficult. Bringing them up to speed takes hard work and patience. But trying to replace someone in a tight talent market may be equally painful, so he suggests giving improvement a try first.

A Different Kind of Sweet

For Prakash, underperformance is more of a perception than a reality. Like the black licorice jellybean, we notice only that the color does not seem to represent something sweet. But for certain people, black licorice is the best flavor. It’s still sweet, but it’s a different kind of sweet. Prakash puts it differently:

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 [might]pick A or B.

Based on this analogy, one should always take account of self-perception, motivation, and expectations before branding someone a hopeless underperformer.

Mentoring the Underachiever

When assisting the struggling staff member, it’s best to take on the role of mentor. A boss is someone who puts on the pressure and creates challenges for individuals, whereas a mentor is there for assistance and encouragement. Provide constructive feedback to help them understand their underperformance. Help them come to terms with expectations by explaining them clearly and at length. Rewards such as milestones and praise will go a long way toward improving their motivation and self-worth.

If all else fails, perhaps they would be more productive in a different role. Also, consider that employee negativity may be a result of personal issues, or a negative environment. If these issues can be remedied, the negative attitude will naturally resolve.

Read the original post at: http://www.projectmanagement.com/blog/Voices-on-Project-Management/11330/

About Eric Anderson

Eric Anderson is a staff writer for CAI's Accelerating IT Success. He is an intern at Computer Aid Inc., pursuing his master's degree in communications at Penn State University.

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