Business Perspectives

October 27, 2011

Problem employees: Invest in them or invite them out

Do you have an employee or manager who is talented, experienced and knows their job, but has poor people skills?

Do you have an employee or manager who is talented, experienced and knows their job, but has poor people skills?

Have you unsuccessfully relocated this person to different departments or supervisors in the hopes that the problem will go away?

Have you tried disciplinary or corrective action plans to no avail?

Are you faking your effort to "support" this employee while secretly building your case to get rid of them?

Many organizations find themselves in this situation and allow it to drain them of time, money, morale and valuable human capital.

When we observe this phenomenon in organizations, we usually hear at least one of the following excuses:

"Yes, we know this person is causing trouble, but it would be too hard to replace them."

"We don't have enough solid documentation to do anything about it."

"They have a loyal following who might rebel or leave if we fired them."

Human resources may argue that such situations are private, between employee and supervisor, and must be dealt with discretely. Let's face it: Everyone knows what's going on. They're usually just too afraid to say anything.

Huge amounts of time and energy are being spent justifying the problem, making excuses, rationalizing the behavior and avoiding responsibility to address the problem. This culture of avoidance is costing you considerable money in terms of wasted time putting out fires, dealing with drama, poor morale, turnover and lowered productivity.

There are four keys to investing in an employee:

* Be honest with them about the impact of their behavior. Stop sugar-coating negative feedback. Stop trusting 360-degree evaluations when you know subordinates are afraid to be honest.

* Break up alliances that threaten accountability. Develop a non-negotiable plan for improvement with real consequences — then put your resources to work to train, coach and support their success. Even the most comprehensive development plan will cost a fraction of what you have been losing due to their behavior.

* Make it a community effort. The worst thing for morale is to keep discipline and performance improvement efforts in a silo, privately protected behind the HR doors. Your employee's behavior is hurting the team, the department and the community. So why not inform and include these people in the change efforts?

Without this level of transparency, you can't change the culture of avoidance and fear that allowed it to develop in the first place.

* Support your leaders in the tough conversations and directly confront the poor behavior. Writing new policies or sending blanket e-mails in hopes of fixing the problem is a waste of time for your leaders.

There is a time to invest in an employee, and there is a time to invite them out. If any of the following conditions apply, waste no time in inviting the employee to find another place to work:

* You've invested and behavior doesn't change. Hey, you've given it a try and now you are responsible for following through on your end of the deal. No need to be resentful or justified. Respectfully acknowledge that it didn't work and take the next step.

* You're unwilling or unable to confront cultural dynamics that perpetuate this behavior. If so, do your employee and organization a favor and admit it, send them on their way and move forward with finding someone who already has the people skills you are seeking.

* More often than not, employees who are invited to leave are grateful in the long run for being given the opportunity to examine their own behavior and make a fresh start somewhere else. After all, the reason things didn't change was just as much your responsibility as theirs. And, more often than not, once the dust settles, there is a renewed sense of energy and hope in your organization.

Whatever you do, don't stay on the fence when poor people skills threaten the health of your company. Invest, or invite them out.

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