We’ve all witnessed the havoc created by problem employees. Ironically, the biggest mistake managers make when managing problem employees is avoiding the problem. They stay away from the employee and place added burdens on other employees whom they trust, which leads to a host of other issues. Don’t wait - act!
If you really understand the employee and their personality at a deeper level, you will improve your ability to communicate and coach them through their issues. However, if you've tried and don't see the improvement or changes you want, don't hesitate to "help your employee out of your company". The longer you wait to take action, the greater the negative impact on your business.
6 steps to relieving the pain of problem employees
- Talk to the employee
They may not realise that their performance or behaviour is unacceptable.
- Describe the issues objectively
Use facts and examples to describe both what they are doing and why it isn't acceptable, then guide them to where you want to see them perform.
- Focus on specific positive outcomes
Paint a picture of what behaviour you want them to start exhibiting (i.e. "I need you to start doing this because ...").
- Set clear expectations
Establishing expectations about behaviour and performance within a reasonable timeline is critical to correct the issues. Depending on the person, job, and deliverables, you may want to give a week or two or even a few months.
- Lay out next steps
What must they do, what will you do, when and how will you reconnect?
- Write down everything
Once you start dealing with a weak employee, firing them may become the only option. Make sure you prepare for that possibility by keeping a record of all issues and interactions. It can save you considerable time and money later.
Preparing for difficult conversations
During times of budget challenges and uncertainty, supervisors might be experiencing an increase in the number of difficult conversations with their staff. These talks could include delivering bad news about an employee's job, informing staff about work restructuring, or discussing other complicated and stressful work situations.
- Preparing for the conversation
Before going into the conversation, ask yourself several key questions. Consult with Human Resources, peers, and other appropriate resources to be sure you're comfortable with the answers.
Key questions include:
- What is my purpose for having the conversation?
- What do I hope to accomplish?
- What is the ideal outcome? What are other possible outcomes?
- What assumptions am I making about the other person's reaction to the conversation?
- What "hot buttons" exist - for me and for the other person?
- How is my attitude toward the conversation contributing to the intended outcome?
Practice the conversation. You can mentally rehearse it in your mind or practice it aloud with your supervisor, Employee Assistance Program, or Human Resources.
- Holding the conversation
A successful outcome will depend on two things: what you say and how you say it. How you approach the conversation and how you behave will greatly influence what you say and how it is perceived.
- Acknowledge any emotional energy that might be fueled by the conversation. The emotional content is as important as the facts.
- Keep aligned with the purpose of your conversation. Don't be distracted by unrelated topics.
- Suggestions for opening the conversation include:
- "I'd like to talk to you about. . ."
- "I want to better understand your point of view. Can we talk more about. . ."
- "I'd like to talk about _______. I think we may have different ideas on how to ______."
- Working toward a successful outcome
- Approach the conversation with an attitude of inquiry and discovery. Set aside assumptions and try to learn as much as possible about the other person's point of view. Let employees complete what they have to say without interruption.
- Acknowledge that you've heard what the other person is trying to say. The best way to do this is to repeat their argument or concerns back to them. You don't have to agree.
Saying "It sounds like this issue is very important to you" is empathetic and clarifying but doesn't imply that you agree with their concerns or course of action.
- Advocate for your position without diminishing theirs. State your position concisely and clarify points they may not have understood.
- End with problem-solving. Find mutual areas where you can agree on solutions and identify what steps need to be taken. If there is no common ground, return to inquiry.
Managing high performers with difficult personalities
Managing high performers with difficult personalities is one of the greatest managerial challenges that leaders face. It crosses over every industry and function. Whether it is the rainmaker with the golden Rolodex, the genius software engineer, or the prickly neurosurgeon, sometimes we can't live with these people - but we also can't live without them. So what can leaders do to bring out the best in these difficult people, while minimising the negative impact they have on their co-workers and the organisational climate?
10 tips to managing difficult high performers:
- Have a one-on-one conversation with the employee in private
- Consult with other managers and your boss
- Provide the employee with outside training
- Make yourself available to the employee for additional training
- Be sure to outline clear guidelines of conduct for the employee
- Have a discussion about the issues at a meeting with the employees involved
- Schedule a formal employee review, even if one is not due
- Request the employee to submit reports about how they are seeking to change their behaviour
- Put the employee on probation for an appropriate amount of time
- For more serious problems, terminate the employee immediately, explain cause and provide pay for any hours worked
If the person's behaviour goes too far and they remain employed, it could seriously damage staff morale. Do not be too hesitant to let these people go just because they are high performers. This one person could badly affect the remaining "well-behaved" employees. These employees are the backbone of your company!