Managing difficult employees

Managing difficult employees 10.11.2017 - We all know colleagues and team members who are simply just not cut out for teamwork. It is usually the case that things rarely run smoothly when they are part of the team. Even though some people possess a high level of specialist expertise and are even willing to cooperate, they just do not have the ability to work together with other people in a goal orientated way. The role of the project manager is to integrate these difficult colleagues into the team and to profit from their capabilities even if this is not the easiest of tasks. When working as a leader in project management, it is important to be able to lead certain types of people towards achieving tasks who (usually unintentionally) inhibit and derail the team’s progress. This challenge often demands a great deal of energy, however, there are thankfully a range of techniques that can be employed to help you manage difficult colleagues. 

Strengthening social skills in order to capitalise on competencies

It is all too often the case that improvement measures, such as the reorganisation of the filing system, the introduction of a new software programme or database, or an update in the IT system can lead to misunderstandings between different members of staff who are supposed to use these systems on a day-to-day basis. The member of staff who is dealing with the update has spent a lot of time thinking about the process, has analysed alternatives, found the best system, identified its benefits and made all possible efforts to ensure things run smoothly. He only has the best intentions at heart. Nonetheless, many colleagues are unhappy because they cannot carry out their duties in the usual ways. One or another person may perhaps not be able to access important commands or features. This is a classic example of the type of colleague who obstructs the team despite the fact that he is willing to be helpful and is technically competent. It is the role of the project manager to pour oil over troubled water and to make sure that processes operate as quickly as possible. Project management also means managing teams internally. Some colleagues are lazy and try to avoid taking on tasks or try to pass them onto someone else. Other colleagues adopt a confrontational attitude and like to cause disruption. These types of people are usually unmotivated or frustrated. The project manager can only really tackle these issues if he finds out why this colleague is frustrated and does not want to work in a constructive way. 

Reacting in a rational way as a project manager

Project management involves always keeping the success of the project in mind and making the very best use of the capabilities of all the members of the team. The lone ranger in the team may produce good work, however, this type of person sometimes bypasses the team. The project manager needs to intervene at this point because he wants to avoid demotivating this individual yet also ensure that the rest of the team do not become annoyed. In project management, it is important to encourage excellent performance, which involves even allowing ‘difficult’ employees to work at their own particular level. Negative comments are often made within the team in times of conflict which can cause the atmosphere to deteriorate and increase feelings of resentment. Members of staff start to become very critical of each other. This is exactly the kind of thing that the project manager needs to prevent. Good project managers should naturally ensure that they listen to any concerns and complaints raised by members of their teams and try to address them. However, in project management it is also necessary to try to support colleagues who are convinced that they are producing great work, but are actually oblivious to the fact that they are obstructing the team. Being critical is counterproductive in this case.

How is it possible to present criticisms raised by the team to the person in question so that they are accepted without being perceived as personal criticism? It is of primary importance to encourage the member of staff to continue using his or her initiative and to be motivated to do the best work possible. Giving some form of praise is a good way to start the conversation. However, during the second step the problems should be tackled in a targeted way. It is important to talk through each point of criticism individually and it is particularly important to ensure that this is carried out completely objectively. 

Integrating lazy employees into the team

Lazy colleagues can still be pleasant and sociable individuals, however, they often find opportunities to swing the lead.
It is particularly annoying if a colleague knows precisely how important a task is and that there is no reason in terms of technical issues or timeframes why the task cannot be completed well and on time, yet errors still occur or deadlines are missed due to a lack of morale. Once again the  project manageris required to show high quality leadership skills. Every conversation goes round in circles and the colleague responds again by saying that everything is fine and that an error has simply occurred. A torrent of excuses and promises then follows. In this situation the manager needs to set clear boundaries even when the member of staff is still very open and friendly. Setting boundaries means threatening consequences and then also seeing them through. A warning is certainly a serious step to take, however, some people are only really spurred into action if they somehow perceive how serious the situation is. Perhaps after the tenth motivational conversation, a written warning is the only way to command this person’s attention.

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