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Sticky solutions to your everyday business challenges

I manage a team of seven for a marketing agency on the east coast.  One of my team members was struggling with performance before the pandemic, and he hasn’t improved since we’ve been working remotely. He came to us with glowing recommendations from his previous employer, and I’m not ready to give up on him. Can you give me any tips on how to manage an underperformer remotely?


Answer: Although you might assume that managing an underperformer in a remote environment would be more challenging, there could be an upside. You may actually be more effective in handling the situation because you have to plan and structure your interactions, rather than catching up in the hallway or waiting for your team member to stop by when you’re in the office. Here are four things you can do to help your remote team member improve his game.


1. Start by looking in the mirror. Take the opportunity to reconsider what you want most from the employee, and why you feel you’re not getting it. Begin with reviewing whether your communications about what’s expected have been clear and consistent from the beginning. Since you, too, have pivoted to working remotely, it’s possible that your directions have been inconsistent and ambiguous.


2. Learn more about him. Even if he’s been on your team for a while, this may be a good time to revisit your team member’s goals and what he cares about. Then, modify your management approach to match his needs. For example, you might learn that he misses working side-by-side with colleagues and would perform better if he was assigned to projects that involved more regular interaction.


3. Invite him to co-create a solution.
Use questions to encourage your team member to self-diagnose and to project into his own future: “How will this experience prepare me for the future?” Encourage him to reach his own conclusions, rather than telling him what you have observed to help trigger the “aha” from self-discovery. This will help you avoid micromanaging, which is a temptation when you’re trying to be extremely clear about expectations.


4. Stay in close contact.
Don’t assume that no news is good news. Schedule regular one-on-one’s to talk about his progress. Come up with a consistent schedule – maybe one full update and two quick touch-bases each week – for the next 90 days to build rapport and get your team member on a stronger footing.


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