I am supposed to manage a person who tries to give many excuses to avoid work. I talked to her several times that she needs to change her behavior and tried to give her a task to improve her understanding and make her capable of taking some tasks and help the project. But all in vain. Please suggest me what would be the better approach to handle such resource.

8 Answers 8


First thing is common understanding. You say that you were talking the problem through with the discussed person and it didn't help. I wonder if she understands the issue the same way you do. Is it possible that she feels you're picking at her? Anyway you should start with making sure that you both understand the problem the same way.

Second thing is understanding why the problem is happening. Unless you know root cause of the issue it is unlikely that you'll find successful solution. Techniques like 5 whys can help you to find the source of the problem. This part should definitely be done by both of you, as there will be many questions you won't be able to answer. Note: you should avoid bias as much as possible. In such situations there is always a risk that we consider specific people useless and just trying to find an excuse to get rid of them. With this mindset you won't come up with anything reasonable so try to avoid it.

Third thing is finding a solution. Once you know what the real problem is (the_reluctant_tester proposes some possible ideas) you both need to find a way to work on it. Again it should be bilaterally agreed what has to be done. If you enforce the solution she doesn't believe in chances are good it just won't work. When setting the plan try to make it measurable and objective so after given time you can say whether you're going according to the plan and whether goals are achieved. Although personally I'm not a big fan of SMART goals you can treat it as a reference what should be taken into consideration when setting goals.

Fourth thing is verifying results. When you have plan and goals set you should monitor whether goals are achieved and changes are applied as planned. There's no value in doing all above unless you really are going to get yourself involved in the long run. With no long-term engagement from your side it is likely that any changes will be soon abandoned and you'll be back to the situation from the very beginning.

Fifth thing is adjusting the plan as you go. No plan is perfect so from time to time you should evaluate it. You should both talk the thing through: what is changing and why, whether it is something you expected or not really, what else can be done, etc.

And the most important thing: I assume here good will of both sides and that it is possible to change the given behavior. However, at any of stages above you can realize that, for whatever reasons, you're going to fail. Then it's your managerial responsibility to take care of the team, which means you may need to get rid of such a low-performer form the team to avoid taking hit on everyone's morale.


When you want to change a way an individual performs, especially when they perform below expectations, you can do the following:

  • Clarify the impact of their poor performance:

    • Establish the actual effect their performance has on the project: does it result in delayed delivery? higher costs because of the need to fix/redo the work? impact on other team members' workload and morale? etc.

    • Share this with your team member: often people are not aware of their own impact and realising it can trigger a behavior change. Give them concrete examples to make it tangible (e.g. "your documentation was not complete so it was difficult for the programmer to finalise the code in time" rather than "you are delaying the project").

  • Establish the reason for their poor performance:

    There are two things to consider:

    • CAN they? This is about ascertaining their ABILITY to perform the work. Look at things like their level of skills to perform the tasks, their level of workload, the level of direction/support they need, etc.

    • WILL they? This is about looking at their MOTIVATION to perform the work. Look at things like their level of interest in the work/project, rewards, working environment, external factors, etc.

  • Identify ways to help them improve their performance:

    • To address a problem related to ABILITY, there are lots of things that can be done depending on the root cause; you could get them more skills training, rebalance their workload, adapt their role & responsibilities, give them more support on a more frequent basis, get someone in the team to buddy/mentor them, etc.

    • If it's a question of MOTIVATION, work actively with them to understand what will help them; more recognition, participation in other tasks, perhaps they have difficult personal circumstances that need to be taken into account, etc.

  • Involve them throughout and make a decision:

    • You can't tell someone to change, but you can tell them you/the project need them to change. The change itself though has to come from them so it's vital you work together on this.

    • Engage them into this process (which is continuous): adopt a coaching-style approach by asking them how they think they perform, what they believe they need to improve, how they think they could do that, what help they need from you.

    • As a PM you need to assess whether you can and will put in the time and effort in helping this person through change. Sometimes project pressure, time constraints and so on can limit how much you can do. And as a PM you sometimes need to make some tough calls.


I assume you are a PM and this is a project. I have suggested this advice on similar questions and have learned that it is unpopular for reasons that I do not understand. Nevertheless, I'll say it again: You are on a project. It is resource constrained. You simply do not have the luxury of time to institute multiple interventions to get a resource--yes, I said resource--to function at expectations. I read you have already instituted several interventions but "all in vain."

Cut bait. Replace her so that you do not have to cope with any more unfavorable variances in the performance of your project.

  • 3
    This approach doesn't take into account that the PM may be the problem. Perhaps there is just a communication issue... I'm not there so I can't say for sure, but I'd suggest serious introspection before "cutting someone loose".
    – jmort253
    Aug 15, 2011 at 6:09
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    She should definitely take a look at what her contribution is in the breakdown of performance. However, here again, it is a project very likely under significant cost and time constraints. She does not have the luxury of time to work on herself. She has an accountability of a successful delivery within the limits of her constraints. As such, she has to make a move for the success of her project. After, she can focus on her personal growth. A clue that it might her employee is if that employee is the only low performer. Aug 15, 2011 at 10:12

This is going to sound harsh, but in my opinion you've been let down by her previous managers who didn't deal with this - and you don't want to do the same thing.

Update: I should note that I have read some of the other answers and assume you've already discussed with her any basic underlying problems that might be affecting performance as suggested there and concluded that this is simply an attitude/capability problem

In my opinion you need to begin managing her performance very closely, with a view to removing her from your team/company if it does not improve. If you have an HR department, you should consult with them on the procedures for doing this (and there will be legal differences between companies).

  • Failing that, give her a very clear set of specific tasks to complete over a reasonably short period (ideally a week).
  • The tasks should be such that you could expect someone in her position to complete if they were performing to expectations.
  • You should do this for a period of 4 weeks, meeting with her weekly to assess progress and assign new tasks.
  • If she does not complete the tasks satisfactorily over the that period you should give her a formal warning.
  • Repeat the process, and if she still can't meet expectations then you need to get rid of her.

Again this might sound harsh, but you cannot overestimate the destructive power of someone who cannot or will not do their job on the morale of your team.

I also cannot stress strongly enough that you should consult with an HR specialist in your country if you are looking to fire someone for performance issues and ensure you comply with all local legislation, otherwise you could end up in a very costly place. And make sure you document everything


We have a saying where I come from -- you were stitched up like a kipper. Nobody likes dealing with problem employees and the temptation to ignore the problem is high, your colleagues obviously did nothing about it and now you've inherited the problem. Your only solution is to sit down with HR and get her put on a performance improvement program, where the expectations are fully documented. She will either sink or swim at this point.

I have done this twice in the past. The first employee resigned and went elsewhere shortly afterwards and the second did pick up her game and is now doing a more than satisfactory job. Either way, I got the required results. You owe it to your project and your team to nip it in the bud I'm afraid.


Have you looked into & discussed with her,the reasons behind her lack of interest & poor understanding are ?

  • Is it pure incompetence ?

  • Lack of motivation ?

  • personal or health problems ?

  • peer pressure ?

  • project pressure ?

  • your leadership ?

In my view the first step is to find the real reasons behind the situation and then tackling the "where to go from here" part....

  • yes i tried to talk to her directly on this.But she always gives the good picture when you ask her on anything.She says she is interested in dev and she wants to learn but her actions her completely different.And when asked why even though she is interested she is not producing any output r not spending any time i get only silence r totally unrealistic excuse.I also verified with people who managed her previously they also say they same thing about her.
    – Siva
    Aug 11, 2011 at 7:55
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    Thanks for your clarification. All right then, then this seems to be a juncture where you need to take this with HR and as Phil Bennett suggested put her through Performance Improvement. I would not give up on her yet. Put her through a fully transparent and accountable process where she - 1. Understands your concerns & frustration 2. Her lack of output 3. Why she is in the current performance improvement process 4. What would be the consequences of her improving or not improving from there on . Make the process time boxed and at the end you "should" have enough data/evidence to take a call Aug 12, 2011 at 0:14


I talked to her several times... ...But all in vain.

the best solution for everybody is:

Fire her. Fast.


You'll be with a better worker very soon.

She'll finally learn how to be a better worker. Very soon too. Or not. Not your problem.

Faster solution to both of you. Maybe sounds agressive, but some people only learns this way. Sometimes is dumb to waste more time on people who really don't want to keep the good job up. It's not a easy decision, for sure. But procrastination can harm you too.


It can become so aggravating having to repeat things many times (I happen to believe that the need for repetition is totally fine and legitimate but only to a certain extent, of course) and start micromanaging a team member.

You can get into the psychology of the matter, of course. You can ask:

  1. Is there a problem specifically between me and her or is she a problematic worker in general?
  2. What is it really about? Is she generally unhappy with life and so doesn't have the drive to work hard?
  3. Is it actually more about you than her?

As a project manager, you really need to know how to deal with all kinds of workers. Some need closer attention, others need more space. Some mesh well with your personality and others don't at all. But I agree with some of the other people who replied here that at some point you've gotta cut your loses and find someone who can do the work for you without causing you that much aggravation and too many resources.

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