Friday, February 27, 2009

Problem employees - A manager's presepctive

It took me a long time to decide if I wanted to move into management. I've always loved the technical side of the IT industry and I've excelled in many different technical roles. Moving into the Leadership arena was something that I had a huge desire to do, but a large fear of as well. We've all experienced those difficult employees in our career and they can make work life hell. Imagine having to discipline and manage those people? Could I handle it? Would I let my team down? Would I have the skills or the patience? Would I be able to effectively communicate with the higher-ups?

As F. John Reh says in his "Dealing With Difficult Employees" article on (, "All managers will have to deal with difficult employees during their careers. First, there will always be difficult employees. Second, it's your job as the manager to deal with them. If you don't deal the problem, it will only get worse."

Was I up for the challenge? Are you?

Open, blunt feedback

Here I sit today, having been in leadership positions over the last 5+ years and you know what I've learned? The most effective way that I've found to deal with those difficult employees is to have the straight, open, honest and blunt conversations. No one is going to understand the impact of their behavior if you don't tell them and they certainly won't change their behavior if they see that they are getting away with it. I've made mistakes in the past, trying to sugar coat performance and attitude problems and it has never turned out well. Employees don't get the direct feedback they need and the rest of the team suffers as the performance wallows and the attitude continues to stink.

Follow through

What happened when your parents would threaten you with some kind of punishment and then never follow through? Would your behavior get better? Mine sure didn't. I started to learn that my parents, and my mom in particular, were not able to follow through on their discipline and that opened up a whole range of possibilities for me, none of them good! The same will happen at work! If you as a leader do not address bad behavior, you can expect that bad behavior to continue and progressively get worse. To put it simply, you have no option here, you need to follow through. You need to be trustworthy to the team and live up to your word, or people will not follow you. This means executing on performance improvement plans and getting employees back on track.

I'm not saying that we should go out and fire every employee right off the bat or that we shouldn't cut people slack when things get a little rough for them. We as leaders need to be understanding and compassionate, but we also need to look out for the best interests of our entire team and everyone around us. That means having the tough talks, putting people on performance improvement plans if required, and in the worst case scenarios, that means terminating problem employees.

There are may faucets to human behavior and understanding why people do the things they do. These two points are only my observations and have helped me make sure that I have a high performing team that is successful within the organization.


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