CategoriesCasesProject Team

Case: The Poor Worker

Frank continuously criticized Paula’s performance as a project manager and Frank’s attitude was beginning to affect the performance of some of the other team members. Frank was lowering the morale of the team. It was obvious that Paula had to take some action.

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Paula, the project manager, was reasonably happy the way that work was progressing on the project. The only issue was the work being done by Frank. Paula knew from the start of the project that Frank was a mediocre employee and often regarded as a trouble-maker. The tasks that Frank was expected to perform were not overly complex and the line manager assured Paula during the staffing function that Frank could do the job. The line manager also informed Paula that Frank demonstrated behavioral issues on other projects and sometimes had to be removed from the project. Frank was a chronic complainer and found fault with everything and everybody. But the line manager also assured Paula that Frank’s attitude was changing and that the line manager would get actively involved if any of these issues began to surface on Paula’s project. Reluctantly, Paula agreed to allow Frank to be assigned to her project. Unfortunately, Frank’s work on the project was not being performed according to Paula’s standards. Paula had told Frank on more than one occasion what she expected from him, but Frank persisted in doing his own thing. Paula was now convinced that the situation was getting worse. Frank’s work packages were coming in late and sometimes over budget. Frank continuously criticized Paula’s performance as a project manager and Frank’s attitude was beginning to affect the performance of some of the other team members. Frank was lowering the morale of the team. It was obvious that Paula had to take some action.

What options are available to Paula?

Paula faces a challenging situation with Frank, an underperforming team member. The first step she can consider is opening a line of communication by scheduling a one-on-one meeting with Frank to discuss his performance and behavior. Understanding his perspective might offer clarity and a potential path to resolution. Throughout this process, Paula should meticulously document all interactions, warnings, and performance issues related to Frank. This record-keeping will prove invaluable if she needs to validate her actions or decisions later on.

Given that the line manager had previously vouched for Frank, it would be sensible for Paula to loop him/her into the situation. The manager might have insights, offer support, or even assist in mediation. If it’s deemed necessary, Paula could put Frank on a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP). This formalizes expectations and gives Frank a structured opportunity to enhance his performance. Simultaneously, if there’s a perceived skills gap or lack of role clarity on Frank’s part, Paula might consider offering him additional training or mentorship.

If Frank’s presence and performance are jeopardizing the project’s success, Paula could contemplate requesting his reassignment. Such a move is significant and should be approached with care. To understand the broader impact of Frank’s behavior, Paula might want to hold a meeting with the rest of the team to gather feedback. If interpersonal issues persist, involving a third-party mediator for conflict resolution could be beneficial.

In scenarios where the situation remains unchanged or worsens, Paula might need to escalate the issue to the Human Resources department. They can provide guidance on mediation, counseling, or further disciplinary actions. As a final resort, after exhausting all avenues and in consultation with HR and upper management, Paula may have to recommend Frank’s termination. However, throughout this process, it’s vital for Paula to ensure fairness and transparency, safeguarding the rights of all involved while prioritizing the project’s needs.

If Paula decides to try to handle the situation first by herself rather than approach the line manager, what should Paula do and in what order?

Paula should first schedules a one-on-one meeting with Frank. This face-to-face conversation is crucial, allowing her to voice her concerns, get insights into Frank’s side of things, and repeat her expectations. Recognizing the importance of record-keeping, she meticulously documents every interaction, performance issue, and instance of feedback related to Frank. This thorough documentation will safeguard her against potential disputes down the line.

To ensure Frank is fully aware of what’s expected of him, Paula can provide him with a detailed breakdown of his responsibilities and the performance standards she’s looking for. If the direct discussions don’t yield improvement, she can then introducing a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP) for Frank. This plan would describe the specific areas where Frank needs to step up, while also setting a clear timeframe for a follow-up assessment.

Considering the possibility of a skills or knowledge gap, Paula should think about offering Frank targeted training or mentorship opportunities to bolster his capabilities. To understand the broader dynamics of the team and possibly gather feedback on how Frank’s behavior affects the project and his colleagues, she should consider discreetly checking in with other team members, ensuring she doesn’t single out Frank in the process.

With the aim of fostering better communication and collaboration, Paula should think about employing conflict resolution techniques. This would address any underlying interpersonal issues between Frank, herself, and other team members. After carrying out these steps, Paula needs to take a step back and re-evaluate the situation. If she observes a positive shift in Frank’s performance and attitude, she’ll continue her supportive monitoring approach. However, if things remain stagnant or decline, she knows she might have to reconsider her decision and possibly involve the line manager for further guidance. Throughout this journey, Paula should remain committed to fairness, open communication, and providing ample opportunities for Frank to rise to the occasion.

If all of Paula’s attempts fail to change the worker’s attitude and the line refuses to remove the worker, what options are available to Paula?

Facing persistent challenges with Frank despite numerous interventions, and with the line manager’s refusal to remove him, Paula should consider various strategies to manage the situation. She should think about escalating the issue to higher management or the Human Resources department. Their external viewpoint might offer mediation or suggest fresh interventions that haven’t been explored. Pondering over the project dynamics, Paula could reshuffling some of Frank’s tasks. A change in responsibilities might lead to a better alignment with his skills or attitude.

Recognizing the value of external perspectives in conflict resolution, she could weigh the benefits of bringing in a professional mediator to navigate the interpersonal tensions between Frank and the rest of the team. Additionally, offering Frank third-party training or counseling might be fruitful, helping him see things from a different angle or enhancing his behavioral patterns.

To further strengthen team unity, Paula could organizing team-building activities, fostering a climate of collaboration and mutual respect. Implementing a structured, anonymous feedback system, enabling team members to voice their concerns and offer insights on individual performances and team dynamics should be in place. Key project stakeholders might offer a solution too. If they see Frank’s performance as a potential risk to the project’s success, their involvement might catalyze a resolution.

Throughout this ordeal, Paula needs to be diligent in documenting every interaction and decision about Frank, ensuring she has a comprehensive record of her efforts to address the challenges. She should also recognize the potential need to adjust the project’s timelines, resources, or budgets if Frank’s involvement continues to pose challenges. Amidst all these considerations, Paula shouldn’t forget to reflect on her managerial approach to ensure she’s not unintentionally adding to the problem. Ultimately, her aim remains to ensure the project’s success and maintain the team’s well-being, navigating through this complex situation with determination.

This case, and questions, is take from the book “Project Management Case Studies – Sixth Edition” – 2022, by Harold Kerzner.

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