Category Archives: Leadership

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What to do when you have an underperforming employee

If someone in your organization is consistently failing to meet performance requirements, is failing performance assessments, or is otherwise visibly struggling, you don’t always have to let them go. Instead, often, the solution is to take steps to help your employee boost performance. Doing so can mean offering training, moving the individual into a more suitable role, or defining and eliminating a problem or problems which might be impeding performance. Whatever the case, taking the time to help your employee meet performance expectations can be good for the organization – both in terms of saving on recruitment costs and in terms of building a better employee relationship and fostering loyalty. 

If your employer shows interest in helping you to succeed, you’re that much more likely to work hard and to be passionate for them. And that’s important, even when employees aren’t doing their best right now. 

Assess the Problem

People struggle for many reasons. In fact, problems resulting in performance issues might not and often are not the employee’s own fault. Instead, communication issues, team mismatches, role mismatches, or life crisis often underlying performance problems. Taking time to review problems, performance, and communication with the team, the individual themselves, and with their leadership can help you to understand what’s going on. That will, in turn, give you better understanding into what to do about it. Some common issues include: 

  • Mismatched Team – There are interpersonal conflicts in the team, the team is not matched well to allow everyone to succeed (e.g., personality types and work methods don’t match), or team structure doesn’t work for the person. Here, moving them to another team may resolve the issue. However, if they’re used to working with Waterfall and the team is Agile or another similar methodology issue, resolving the problem may require a shift in mindset from the individual themselves. 
  • Culture – Some people don’t fit into specific cultures. That can be difficult to resolve without real motivation from the employee. 
  • Role Mismatch – If roles have been shifted, the individual was hired for a role they don’t quite fit, or technologies have changed, the individual may no longer be a great fit for their role. If they have too much to do, not enough, are bored, or are unqualified for some of their responsibilities, obviously performance will be low. 
  • Leadership – If an entire team is performing badly, the issue almost always lies with leadership. However, poor communication or even interpersonal conflicts with leadership can also result in individual poor performance. Reviewing how an employee communicates with and to leadership can help you to understand if this contributes to performance issues. 
  • Personal Problems – Often, stress from home and family do bleed into the workplace. If someone is having problems at home, it will come back to work. This can be difficult to resolve, although you can assess the issue and offer compromises like working from home a few days a week or help with babysitting, etc. 

Shifting Roles 

If someone is clearly struggling with their role or team, a move might be the right call. Here, you should use a competency assessment to identify core competencies, determine what the employee wants to do, and then move them laterally into a new role. Paying attention to team and leadership fit during this move is essential. Placing someone in a role that maps to core competencies, with people who complement their communication styles, empowers them to do their best work. 

Offering Training 

If your competency assessments show that your employee doesn’t have the skills to meet their role requirements, offering training can help them to improve performance. For example, if a leader isn’t communicating with teams, emotional intelligence training can help. If someone doesn’t know how to use software, offering training can help. Asking people to take part in free training during work hours can greatly improve their ability to perform their job. However, it does require investment. And, many organizations prefer to roll out digital training across the full company to spread investment out- as that’s normally cheaper and more beneficial than offering the same training to one person. 

Provide Actionable Feedback 

If you’re using 360-feedback or another ongoing feedback program, it’s easy to offer actionable feedback to employees. If not, you’ll have to create this manually. Actionable feedback means recording instances of underperformance, asking what’s needed to resolve the issue, and sharing next steps. Here, SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, relevant, and Time-Based) goals are always a good option. If actionable feedback doesn’t work, you can always move forward to a Performance Improvement Plan or PIP. 

Using a PIP 

A performance improvement plan (link here) allows you to highlight performance issues, create next steps for resolution, and set direct consequences for failing to meet those performance improvements. In most cases, a PIP should follow several instances of actionable feedback and warnings and it should never come as a surprise. Here, you highlight the performance problem, detail desired performance improvements, and then talk to the individual about what they need to reach those goals. If they can’t, don’t or otherwise will not meet the performance goals, you have room to move forward by firing them. 

Eventually, if your employee doesn’t change and doesn’t put effort into improving performance, it’s time to let them go.

Firing an employee can be difficult. However, you might not have options. 

Prevention is better than a cure

In most cases, preventing performance problems is significantly better than resolving them after the fact. Doing so normally means using HR assessments when hiring for new roles or when changing existing roles, mapping the results of those assessments to your competency framework, and ensuring that people meet the requirements of their roles. At the same time, it often means building teams based on personality and communication styles, using communication as part of employee culture, and making good, ongoing feedback part of normal work. 

When things go wrong with employee performance, it usually means someone has slipped through the cracks. Whether that means bad role fit, communication problems, personal problems, or other issues, it should always result in an analysis of what went wrong and how you can prevent it from happening in the future. 


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Managing virtual project teams

Companies across the world have gone through (or are considering) a permanent shift to remote work in response to the “new normal” that is a worldwide pandemic. However, remote working isn’t a new concept. You could argue that remote work first began 1.4 million years ago to the hunter-gatherer culture of Africa. The medieval period of England also saw people working from home as dressmakers, butchers, and watchmakers, to name a few.

These days, remote work is an important part of our working culture as companies are embracing remote work more than ever. As a team leader or project manager, this shift to remote work can also mean having to manage remote teams. Managing virtual project teams present different challenges to leading a team on-site. As differences in time and place add certain complexities to project work, it’s important that you understand how best to manage a virtual project team.

In this article, we’ll share our best practices for managing a remote project team, so you can lead with confidence as a remote project manager.

Communication is key

Communication is an important component of any successful team. In order to work effectively, team members need to be able to clearly communicate with each other. However, working remotely can put strain on team communication, especially if team members are working in different time zones.

One solution for improving communication for virtual project teams would be to make use of virtual communication tools. Instant messaging programs such as Slack are great for bringing remote team members together, helping them to have quick, fuss-free, two-way communication.

Similarly, you could use video call software to help mirror on-site team meetings by allowing everyone to see and speak to each other during the video meeting. Zoom allows users to record meetings, meaning your team can re-watch the video to recap on key points, or if they were unable to attend the meeting due to being in a different timezone, they can catch up on the meeting at a time that’s suitable for them.

Using digital tools for communication is perfect for creating effective asynchronous and synchronous communication. Misunderstandings can happen in any work environment. With 97% of employees citing lack of alignment within a team as impacting the outcome of a task or project, it’s evident that transparent and open communication is key for the success of a virtual project team. Using these tools to stay in the loop with your team can also help you to swiftly resolve any conflicts and prevent strain on the team.

Define roles and responsibilities

There’s nothing worse than a disorganized team. If you are leading a remote team, you will need to clearly define team member’s roles and responsibilities. When teams have clear functions and responsibilities, they know what is expected of them and work more efficiently.

To determine the roles and responsibilities of your virtual project team, you need to consider what tasks need completing, identify the strengths and weaknesses of each team member and refer to their existing job description. By considering these factors, you can allocate work to your team members based on their strengths, area of expertise and general duties. 

Understanding what each person contributes and is responsible plays an important role in working well together and succeeding as a team. By providing clear roles and responsibilities, you will be able to better support your virtual project team. You can also use virtual project management tools to help clarify responsibilities.

Trello, for example, is a great tool for visually managing team projects and individual team member responsibilities. You could also use project management tools, such as Basecamp, to set up automatic check-ins asking your team to provide daily updates on what they are working on, what’s gone well and what they need support with. This will facilitate the process of task allocation and ensure your team has the tools and support they need to succeed.

Use collaboration tools

As mentioned, virtual project management and collaboration tools are useful for managing team responsibilities. These tools are also beneficial for encouraging your virtual team to work together on projects. A report by Harvard Business Review found that 75% of cross-functional teams were dysfunctional and failed in at least three of five areas: meeting a planned budget, staying on schedule, adhering to specifications, meeting customer expectations, or maintaining alignment with the company’s corporate goals. So, as a virtual project manager, you will want to put systems in place to ensure your team is able to successfully work collaboratively.

Project management apps are a great way to centralize team communications. Project management tools enable everyone on your team to share updates, write messages, and ask questions without having to be in the same room, or time zone.

One of the greatest benefits of having a remote team is that it gives you access to talent from around the world. Yet, this means you also need to consider the different time zones in which your team members live. By moving shared documents and work files online, you can help improve cross-collaboration by ensuring your team all have access to the most up-to-date versions of team resources. This will help to improve the workflow for your remote team whilst minimizing the risk of misunderstanding or error.

Set up a virtual water cooler

Foster a community mindset by ensuring your team has a “virtual water cooler” where they can get together to talk, bond and build relationships as a team. While it’s important to set up formal communication channels to allow your team to communicate about work-related tasks, it’s equally as important that you provide your team with a virtual breakout space. 

Giving your team a space where they can talk about non-work topics, build a shared identity and nurture personal connections will lead to greater team engagement and better performance. Setting up a virtual water cooler can encourage your team to bond, inspire new creative ideas, build connections, and feel as though they belong within the team.

Understand how best to support your project team

Finally, the best way to successfully support your remote project team is to understand them as individuals. Personality tests are beneficial for more than just the hiring process. Using personality assessments as part of your remote team management process can help you better support your project team.

With personality tests you will be able to understand which communication style works best with each member, what their preferred style of working is, the types of people they’ll work best with, and how to ensure they have the best chance at success.

When you know your team members personality type, you will be able to adapt your leadership style to suit their needs.Make sure you schedule regular check-ins with each of your team members so that you can find out how they are doing and whether they need support with anything. 

The most important thing to remember when managing a virtual project team is to keep communication lines open, remain organized and be supportive. As a remote project manager you will face challenges that often aren’t experienced in an office environment but by following these best practices for leading a virtual team, you will be able to successfully lead your project team, no matter where they are based.


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How to Preserve Institutional Knowledge and Prevent Brain Drain

Brain drain is a situation where organizations are faced with older staff leaving and retiring at a faster rate than new employees reach equivalent levels of skill and expertise. This can be a problem in organizations of all sizes.

While especially relevant to fast-scaling startups who often outpace their own ability to onboard effectively, brain drain impacts even massive companies with tens of thousands of employees.

Preventing knowledge loss often means creating preventive strategies, effectively onboarding people, and hiring to incorporate new expertise while retaining existing knowledge.

These tactics will help you preserve institutional knowledge across your organization, so that the workforce remains productive, valuable, and capable of delivering on strategy and vision.

Implement Succession Planning

Succession planning is one of the most valuable strategies to prevent brain drain, because it ensures you always know who will take the place of existing skilled or valuable persons. This often means developing a matrix to highlight your most value-added or key employees, using competency frameworks and job profiling to determine why they add value and how to replace them, and then generating succession planning based on predictions of their likelihood of leaving the role within x amount of time.

This strategy approaches brain drain from the idea that it will happen, you have to plan for it, and you have to have people ready with the right knowledge, skills, and behaviors, to prevent drops in performance when key people do leave.

Create Mentoring Programs

Lack of proper onboarding is very common in new and old companies alike. Here, new people are often hired on, very quickly introduced to their roles, and then left to be productive under a manager or Scrum leader with no real follow-up or intensive mentoring.

When more experienced individuals do leave roles, these new people are left with very little idea of how or why things are done the way they are, no idea of backlogs, and no real way to add value without changing processes, reverting items, or making a lot of mistakes.

Introducing mentoring programs as part of onboarding helps subvert this issue by ensuring existing employees always pass their knowledge, documentation, and organizational insight on to new people. While most people don’t want to make time in their role for mentoring, it is an important part of a role. The faster you’re hiring, the more time experienced people should be making for mentoring.

Focus on Employee Retention

While replacement strategies are important, employee turnover is still one of the most crucial contributors to skill loss. If you slow down how quickly employees leave, you slow down brain drain, giving your other strategies more time to take effect.

Here, you should focus on employee satisfaction, employee empowerment, fitting individuals to their roles and teams, and creating an environment people want to work in. While you’ll always have individuals who don’t fit, employee retention will make it easier to reduce losses in other places throughout the organization.

Brain drain will slow productivity, decrease profit, and force the organization to change direction or focus as individuals with crucial knowledge leave an organization. Adopt strategies to share knowledge throughout the organization to prevent losing key employees as quickly, and have a plan in place to replace key individuals when they’re ready to move on.


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Top HR Books to Read This Year

Whether you’re working to improve yourself and your approach to HR, looking for ideas to implement into HR practices in your organization, or want to learn more about your industry, reading is an excellent way to do it.

Human Resources is an incredibly popular subject, with thousands of books published year on using data and analytics to manage people, on best practices for people and team management or setup, on emotional intelligence and leadership development, and even on technical tasks such as payroll, process management, and so on. Choosing a few to read can be daunting.

These top HR books to read this year will get you started with a selection that offers balance, a broad range of ideas, and information behind some of the most popular ideas in HR today.

The Leadership Pipeline

Ram Charan’s Leadership Pipeline was published in 2000 and has since become a classic in leadership management and development. The book outlines a framework for developing leaders internally, giving HR the tools to recognize and develop leaders for different levels of organizational leadership. Rather than taking a hierarchical approach, authors Charan and Drotter discuss the need for shifting responsibilities, changing approaches to work, and a diverse range of experience for leaders and how each of those requirements change as an individual moves to the next step in the leadership pipeline.

Stephen Drotter’s “The Performance Pipeline” is nearly as famous, although it doesn’t have the impact or the following of the original book. Drotter’s book shifts attention away from requirements to lead and towards performance management for leaders, which is equally as valuable.

The Power of People

The Power of People was published in 2017 by Jonathan Ferrar, Sheri Feinzig, and Nigel Guenole. The book approaches human resources from the angle of workforce analytics, taking examples from recent and long-term successes in the field. With case studies, The Power of People has a strong focus on giving good examples while introducing readers to the field, and introducing best-practices to help individuals improve the performance of their own workforce analytics.

The Power of People also heavily leans into a business-first approach, outlining strategy as first-and-foremost as a tool with which to achieve business goals. Most importantly, the book offers enough in terms of basic framework to help new HR analytics managers to get started, while providing enough tools, examples, best practices, and mistakes to watch out for to offer value to those experienced in the role.

Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More than IQ

Emotional Intelligence was first published in 1995 by Daniel Goleman, but the book has not lost its relevance. Instead, it’s become one of the hottest topics of the year, with even top companies like Google and Microsoft working to integrate it into their everyday business practices and leadership. While Emotional Intelligence doesn’t go into detail about how EQ specifically impacts leaders or the workplace, follow-up books do. This seminal work instead explains the foundations of EQ, factors that impact it, and how EQ greatly impacts the way that people are able to form relationships, communicate, and work together.

Each of these three books will offer insight into people, workplaces, and leadership, which can greatly impact how and why you make HR decisions. Most importantly, they influence a great deal of modern HR thought and decision-making.


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