One partner is not providing high quality input to the proposal: how to deal with it?
In H2020 proposals, where consortia often consist of 10+ partners per proposal, it is likely that partners will work at different paces. That is okay when you, as coordinator, know where to pull and how to approach to get the expected input from everyone. If your partners are committed to the project idea, even if timing is the issue, you will find a way out to get the input needed by being more present and remindful. But what to do when a partner is not providing high quality input to the proposal? Let’s discuss some management tips.
Low-quality input may mean that goals are being met but the quality of work is just not up to par. If your partner is becoming more of a liability than someone who is contributing to the success of the proposal, it may be time to start asking questions, figuring out where things derailed and coming up with a fix for giving a second opportunity before taking tougher measures.
The Education Audiovisual and Culture Executive Agency (EACEA) of the EC advises applicants that “partners who provide low quality input to the drafting of application will not provide high quality input into the project!”. However, if there is time, we believe you could utilize certain management practices that might get the partner on the same ground as the rest of the consortium.
Here we have some tips for you:
Provide meaningful feedback in a constructive manner on a regular basis.
As a manager, being able to provide regular, helpful and most importantly, encouraging feedback, is a fundamental management skill. Explain carefully why something needs to change and how that would improve the overall quality of the proposal. Involve the partner in discussing ideas for potential approaches that might lead to better outcomes.
Are you being clear on the input you want?
As a project coordinator, you should request for precise input and provide clear guidelines and templates so that all partners understand what is expected from them (e.g. points to be addressed, length of the input, etc.). Communicating thoughtfully and inclusively, might correct the course of the collaboration and achieve the expected performance and quality of input.
Be tough but sensitive.
Let’s assume that didn’t work as expected. Then you need to be a bit more rigid but while being sensitive. Contradictory? Not really! If your partner is still not performing as you expected, you cannot use similar measures that you would use with an employee as the type of relationship is different. However, you could still push them a bit and be more direct by setting clear goals and high standards of what is expected.
Address your concerns and be sensitive and flexible to the demands of the situation. Your partner might not like being implied how to do things, but if you do it by leading by example and perhaps offering to work commonly on a task that can be done by both, the development of such common duty will be a relationship building exercise that will potentially allow meetings of the minds, standards and performance. Otherwise, you might want to share with the under-performing partner an example of input provided by a different partner, to better show the quality standard.
A good manager always follows up with partners. Be present and let them know you are there for feedback or guidance if needed. Look for things they are doing well and reinforce it. Make sure your partners can see the value of what they are doing and the impact it has. Recognizing positive input will help the partner understand your expectations and progress towards the set-upon standards.
Knowing the right time to cut ties
Letting someone go from a consortium is never ideal and should be treated as a last resort. But if a partner is not pulling his weight, then it might be time to follow EACEA’s advise and cut ties before actually starting to work together on a 2-year or 3-year project. Holding onto an underachieving partner could result in a poor quality of work, or on an over-workload for you. As a manager and coordinator of the project, you would see yourself in the position of having to work and play two roles for scaling up the quality of the provided input of such partner, on the top of coordinating the project and dealing with your other proposals.
This is a decision that should not be taken lightly--clear communication about the performance problem and an attempt at improvement should always come first. But if you see yourself in this dead-end, then make sure to do it in a transparent, respectful and thoughtful manner. Involve all the other partners in the reasons for your decision and make sure they understand and preferably agree with the course of action. At the end, is all about teamwork and looking for what is best for the whole consortium and the success of your proposal, you are just the one leading the ship.