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How to Manage a Difficult Employee

career leadership management Sep 08, 2021
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(Part 1 of 3 of my Leadership Series)

“Difficult employees” can take many forms: the employee who is frequently late to work and delinquent in her assignments; the team member who regularly makes inappropriate comments and has offended several people on the team; and then there is the employee who works so hard but their performance always seems to be well below average.

Managing an employee like these can be challenging, but with the right tools you’ll be prepared to handle any situation that comes your way. 

When working with a difficult employee it is always best to be direct and upfront in a timely manner. This is where most leaders slip up. They’re so worried about what to say and how to say it that the message is usually not delivered clearly if it is even delivered at all. 

When addressing the issue clearly identify the facts of the situation and convey the impact they are having. For example:

  • “I have noticed that you have turned in the last three projects late. This has made it challenging for the rest of the team who are dependent on your work to complete their assignments.”
  • “In the team meeting today you made a comment about [XYZ]. I noticed that it made many members of the team feel uncomfortable, especially Ryan, who seemed to be targeted by your words.”
  • “I appreciate you working so hard on your assignments. However, I have noticed that many details are frequently left out or are incorrect. This has caused some confusion and frustration with our customers.”

Once you have addressed the problem, make sure you allow the employee to share their perspective of the situation. My favorite go-to questions are: “Can you help me understand what is going on?” or “What is your perspective?” It’s important to understand where the employee is coming from in order to best come up with an action plan that works for everyone.

After you and the employee have been able to have a conversation where there is mutual understanding on both sides, create an action plan with the employee to correct the problem behavior. 

At times this performance plan may need to be formal and documented with Human Resources, but most often it is a plan just between you and the employee. Include the employee in as much of this process as possible. If they have felt a part of the process, they are more likely to follow-through and be successful. 

Lastly, write the plan down and make sure that both you and the employee have access to the plan. Don’t forget to follow-up frequently and to offer assistance if needed.

Occasionally, it may be necessary to part ways with the employee if they are unable to correct their behavior, and that is ok. Ultimately, you want the employee, your team, and the company to be successful. Sometimes the best thing for all parties is to go their separate ways; however, in my experience, most employees want to do a good job. They may just need a bit more guidance and support to be successful in their role. Great leaders have the biggest impact on making great employees.

(As seen on Present Future Foundation.)

Originally Published 4/6/21

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