Dealing with Difficult Employees
Can you fire someone because of a bad attitude or inappropriate behavior? Yes!
Effective Methods for Dealing with Problematic Employee’s…
We’ve all had them… the employee that consistently delivers marginal performance… engages in gossip and talks negatively about management… exhibits inappropriate behaviors and lacks respect for co-workers… and then there’s the one’s with the over-inflated ego and think that the world revolves around them…
As manager’s, we’ve all had them – those employee’s that monopolize conversations, ask inappropriate questions, broadcast negative information, harass and bully others to get their way while putting forth just enough of an effort that (you think) prevents terminating them. In a given month, these “problem children” will easily consume 80% of your time while your top performers receive less than 20% of your time.
While it requires consistency – if not tenacity, the strength to deliver some difficult messages and the fine-tuning of the company paradigm as it pertains to accountability, it is possible to exhume those cancerous tumors within your organization and send a message to the rest of the organization that you’ll not put up with behavior and conduct that doesn’t support your team, your customer’s and the greater good of the company.
Over the years, many of the clients I’ve worked with have asked for my input and recommendation for dealing with these types of individuals. One exercise that many of my clients have found to be of value to them is to conduct a forced ranking. This exercise was developed by Jack Welch (the former CEO of GE) and it involves creating a bell curve of your entire staff and labeling each employee as an A, B or C performer.
Once completed, you’ll have determined who your top 20% “A” players are, as well as who your “B” or “steady eddy’s” are (that middle 60%) and which employee’s make up that bottom 20%, or “C” players rating. Whether you conduct this exercise once or, as Jack Welch did, annually, you’ll then need to determine what you plan to do with the results.
On an annual basis, Jack Welch would fire anyone labeled a “C” player; however, in today’s competitive labor market, most of the clients I’ve worked with over the years have been reluctant to take such a hard stance and have instead chosen to marginalize their “C” players by prohibiting them from moving to another department or different role (all too often, problem children are “moved around” the company rather than shown the door).
While my personal opinion is that all “C” players should be on probation and put on a performance improvement plan, at the very least they should never be given any sort of raise (not even a COLA) or allowed to participate in any employee related program such as mentoring, career development and any employee committees.
Additional rationale and proven methods to consider when dealing with difficult employees:
- If your company doesn’t have it already, draft a Code of Conduct that addresses conduct and behavior in the workplace that further fosters your company’s values, mission and vision.
- Remain cognizant of the fact that your problem child’s behavior could be so distracting that your top performers might be applying for other jobs.
- Liability! While most companies hang on to these bottom feeders because they’re afraid of being sued if they fire them, on the flip side, if the conduct is so disturbing that it interferes with the work environment, you could be looking at a complaint (or even a lawsuit) for creating a “hostile work environment.”
- Change the paradigm! Stop giving your problem children more time then you do to your “A” player’s. Not only does this have the potential to create resentment by your “A” player’s, it actually rewards your poor performers by receiving more of your time. Flip that equation and hold your “C” performers accountable leaving little to no “wiggle” room for interpretation; the time you give to your “A” player’s will reap you more benefits and greater productivity then you’ll EVER get from your “C’s”.
- Focus on work behaviors! This keeps the conversation centered on the individual’s actions—not his/her worth; describing unacceptable behaviors gives the employee a concrete picture of what needs to change.
- Tell the person what you’re not saying; this keeps the conversation on track. For example, tell him/her, “I’m not saying your work isn’t valuable. I’m not saying you’re not a nice person. I am saying that you must change specific behaviors—behaviors I will go over with you.”
- Explain that change is mandatory! Difficult people can be clever with words—good at wriggling off the hook. It’s your job to say, “I understand your objections and your viewpoint. But I must redirect this conversation back to your behaviors. I am naming those that are unacceptable, and I require you to change them.” In addition, tell the employee why his/her behaviors are unsettling, disruptive and even illegal; Be Specific!
- Try to get an agreement in place. Don’t order someone to change; instead, ask the employee if he/she understands how to change. If not, try role-playing with them.
- Recognize that most difficult people are not objective about themselves. They may not understand better ways to communicate or better ways to critique someone’s job performance. They will need very specific guidance and input.
- Leverage your company’s EAP (Employee Assistance Program); explain how this employee benefit is completely confidential and is offered to help employees be successful.
- Try to catch this person doing something right. Scout for opportunities to say, “I’ve heard some good things about your new changes and work style.”
- Emphasize your expectations. Tell your employees, “I expect you to help and support each other. Let me know if someone’s specific behaviors prevent you from doing a good job.” Further, ask employees, “What is getting on your nerves? Do you feel emotionally supported within this work environment? Why or why not?” Sit down with employees to review how each feels about co-worker support.
- Monitor a difficult person’s changes. Don’t assume that she will cool down obnoxious behavior after a reprimand. Keep your ear to the ground.
Mike Russell is a seasoned professional with three decades of experience in the fields of HR and OD. In addition to having a career trajectory of HR Generalist to a VP within ten years, Mike also has a long and successful background as a Consultant/Business Partner to CEO’s, Presidents and Executive Directors in both the private and non-profit communities across a wide spectrum of industries.
As the sole-proprietor and owner of Organizational Development Solutions (ODS), Mike partners with business leaders committed to insulating their organization(s) from potential liability, increasing organizational effectiveness and adding shareholder value.