Thursday, September 17, 2009

A Modern Dilemma

Imagine, if you will, a totally hypothetical company. Perhaps this is a science company called Smith Labs, for example. In this company, scientists work in small teams do research projects. Each team is made up of equals, or people who are considered to be on the same professional level. Each manager runs several different teams, but he or she does not actually work on any team.

Now imagine that one team has a member who is consistently an underperformer. This person is talented and bright, but does not contribute even half of what they should to each project. The nature of the work, and the required division of labor mean that the under performer can never clearly be caught out for their lack of participation.

When members of the team press the under performer about the lack of participation, this individual makes vague noises about "depression" issues. Now a split emerges between the other members of the team. Should they press management about this continuing problem person, or should they respect the difficulties of living with depression and put up with the problem for good?


Anonymous said...

Depression is the operative word in your scenario.

If the individual has (or could be) medically diagnosed as depressed, your HR will probably have guidance.

HR will only provide this guidance to the management chain of the individual.

Thus the accountability and responsibility for the performance problem falls on the manager.

I would clearly document instances where the individual failed to meet expectations AND document the impact to the business/organization. For example, you might say:

1) On September 15th, W.O.B. agreed to write the report for the team's project by October 10th. This was his contribution to the project with Alice, Bob, and myself splitting the project work.
2) On October 8th, when we solicited a status update, W.O.B. indicated that he had not started on the report and that he would not meet the deadline of October 10th.
3) As a result, after discussing the pros/cons of pushing out the October 10th deliverable to our customer, the four of us agreed to work the nights of October 8th and October 9th.
4) W.O.B. was not present and did not contribute to the report during the days of October 8th and October 9th. Alice, Bob, and myself wrote the report outside office hours. In conclusion, W.O.B. did not accomplish the task he had promised us to do which left us with the only option of doing it ourselves.

State only the facts: what was agreed to and what were the results.
Do not pass judgement on W.O.B., only W.O.B.'s manager should do that.

Give a heads-up to your own manager and CC him/her on the official email.

At your discretion, CC W.O.B. on the email. If W.O.B. complains to you in person, tell W.O.B. that all you did was report the facts as you observed them and that you draw no conclusions as to W.O.B.'s personal situation from them.

Hope this helps.

Anonymous said...

Inform the manager that one is concerned for the well-being of a co-worker who suffers from depression, and would like guidance on how the team should accommodate that person's disability.

Frame the issue in terms of concern for the well-being of a colleague. The person is not underperforming; he just needs appropriate accommodations when determining work assignments.