Managing Problem Employees

I’ve taken over a project team and there are several problem employees. One spends more time socializing than doing her job. Another is making too many mistakes that slow down other team members. How should I handle these problems as the new leader?

One of a leader’s toughest jobs is dealing with problem employees.   The best course of action is to quickly take action – to identify the trouble and get to the root cause.

Do You Put Off Dealing with Problem Employees?

Many managers struggle with their reluctance to deal with an employee regarding poor performance or inappropriate behavior. Here are some concerns I’ve heard:

  1. “I don’t want to rock the boat, especially when the employee is performing the function even if not up to expectations.”
  2. “Correcting an employee’s performance or behavior might spark a decision to leave. Then where will I be…no one to do the job.”
  3. “I’m not sure how to discuss tough issues with them. I’m concerned they’ll become defensive or even explode.”

As a supervisor or manager, it is your job to make sure work gets done right and in a timely manner. What happens when someone is not meeting the standards or expectations? The problems will continue and will soon affect others. Now you have a bigger headache. Deadlines are missed; Customer satisfaction goes down. Resources are squandered. And you’re working harder and longer. It’s time to STOP procrastinating and START dealing with the problem NOW.

5 Performance Coaching Tips

1. Act promptly.
Deal firmly with poor or marginal performance. If certain behaviors – coming in late or not filling out forms right – appear acceptable, then the person will see no reason to change. The problem continues. Your good performers will have to then pick up the slack. Morale goes down. Now you have a bigger headache.
2. Know the facts.
Identify and document specific behaviors that need to be changed. Decide on the most important issues.
3. Know the target.
Think about the employee and how to give the feedback in a way that it will be understood, accepted, and acted upon. Choose an appropriate time and private place.
4. Know the results you want.
Communicate your expectations or standards and then ask the person how he will meet them. Listen, give input and finally agree on a solution.
5. Avoid the sandwich technique.
That is tucking the negative comment between two positive statements. Your intentions may be good, but it doesn’t work. A better sequence: First the criticism, second the strengths, and third the future or what you want them to be doing differently.

Smart Moves Tip:

The key elements of performance feedback are to focus on the problem, not the person; listen more than talk; have the person, not you, take responsibility for solving the problem. Think of someone you supervise or manage who you need to coach to improve performance. It does not have to be a major issue just something that needs to be changed – coming in late, not following SOP’s, filling out the forms wrong, etc. Let me know how it went.

Also see: Three Steps to Put Out Performance Fires, Employee Coaching: Three Tips to Make it Work, and Coaching vs Criticism: Do You Know the Difference?

Readers, what’s your experience dealing with problem employees? What advice would you give to managers and supervisors who tend to put it off hoping it will get better?

What’s Your Specific Challenge?

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Marcia Zidle
Marcia Zidle
Marcia Zidle, The Smart Moves Coach, is a national known board certified coach and keynote leadership speaker who guides organizations that are planning, or in the midst of, ambitious growth and change. As a career strategist, she works with professionals, managers and executives who want to build • shape • brand • change • vitalize their careers. She’s been selected by LinkedIn’s ProFinder as one of the best coaches for 2016!Her clients range from private owned businesses to mid-market companies to professional service firms to NGO’s. With 25 years of management, business consulting and international experience, she brings an expertise in executive and team leadership; employee engagement and innovation; personal and organization change; career building and development; emotional and social intelligence. Your Future Starts Now With Marcia!

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  1. Often, problem employees are not the problem, but a symptom of an issue. Sometimes it can be the result of a process, objective, or the measures used to determine success. Getting rid of the person, disciplining them, or having them go through training will not resolve that problem. So before talking to the problem person and telling them they are the problem — that is what you are doing, no need to sugar coat it — have a discussion with them first to determine all the factors driving their performance. Then based on that ask the employee what they feel they need to do to meet the objectives you have set out of them.

    Also, make it clear that they are in the “danger zone” and that they should get out of it as quickly as possible.