By Allison Pratt
[dropcaps type=”circle” color=”” background=””]M[/dropcaps]ost employees who are “problem children” are not problems because they can’t do the job or don’t have the technical skills. Most problem people are lacking the softer interpersonal and communication skills. Take for example, Eddie. Eddie manages a staff of about twelve project engineers for a high-tech company. These engineers are senior technical people who are highly-educated, bright and hardworking; and they all have one other thing in common – they dislike working for Eddie. While Eddie is respected on a technical level by all who work with him, his rudeness, insensitivity and lack of interpersonal skills are often discussed openly by his coworkers and staff. “If we could only put him in a room by himself and let him design…” is a common sentiment among his co-workers. Unfortunately, no one has told Eddie about his offending behavior directly…
Greg is a construction supervisor who had outstanding capabilities as a hands-on crew member. He could build or repair any construction problem; plumbing, drywall, carpentry, electrical and more! So, as a direct result of his superior hands-on skills, he was promoted to become the supervisor of a large work crew. Unfortunately, he is not thriving in his new role. Not only is he not a capable supervisor, Eddie doesn’t enjoy the new responsibilities and his staff does not respect or want him as their crew leader. How can he “save face” and stay with the company? Eddie knows he’s failing, but his boss has never brought the issue up with him….
Or let’s look at Susan. Susan is a teller in a busy bank. She works with 4 other tellers, but is so caustic in her dealings with co-workers they avoid her. She never smiles, greets her coworkers with a “Good Morning” or “Good Evening”, is cutting and sarcastic when she does speak with them, and doesn’t have a kind word to say to anyone but her customers. If only she could treat her coworkers with the same respect. Although she is an effective teller, her lack of interaction with the rest of the workgroup is beginning to affect her performance. She is often out of the loop with important issues because no one wants to speak with her if they can avoid it. This will likely escalate, and Susan doesn’t even know about the real problem….
Why We Are Not Effective Dealing with Our Problem Children
- We sweep it under the rug: During these performance concerns, we’ve all thought “It’ll get better on its own”, “Maybe they’ll just leave the company on their own”, “That’s just Susie …” Not only is this not true in most cases, the behavior often escalates when we avoid or look the other way.
- Avoiding confrontation is a natural tendency: Most people want to avoid, not create a confrontational situation. Managers erroneously believe avoiding confrontation is essential to maintaining goodwill and positive relationships.
- We tend to soften the blow or sugar coat to avoid hurting feelings: By not clearly and directly communicating the feedback, the real message often doesn’t come across when we finally do speak with the person. The problem child still doesn’t know what behavior you want them to work on and change.
- The manager of the problem employee may not be adequately prepared: Managers are not born with the necessary management skills. Many managers could benefit from training in coaching and providing feedback to their employees. Their discomfort and lack of skills could be the cause of avoidance.
Why do we want to provide feedback and deal with our problem employees? It’s challenging and sometimes uncomfortable to do, so what exactly can you expect to gain by tackling these tough issues?
Benefits of Dealing Effectively with Our Problem Children
- Most employees would rather know, than not be aware, of their offensive or inappropriate behavior.
- If you don’t tackle the situation directly now, it festers. Not only will it not go away, it will grow. As emotions rise the problem can become exaggerated, making it much more difficult to deal with than it was early on.
- Top performers appreciate corrections and the opportunity to grow. By providing performance feedback there is an opportunity to grow, learn and become an even better employee. People appreciate true, constructive feedback.
We know it’s a good idea to address problem children. We know the individuals and the company often both benefit from improved relationships and productivity. So how do we get there?
Tips for Dealing Effectively with our Problem Children
- Deal with the behavior, not the person. We cannot change who people are, but how they act on the job. Define clearly; what is the specific behavior that needs to be changed? For example, “Bill you are just being lazy” is not effective feedback. Instead say: “Bill, you’ve been late to work 3 times in the past 2 weeks. What’s going on?”
- Train managers and supervisors to identify and address performance problems and create a course of action. Managers should be comfortable with their ability to give feedback, provide coaching and training, and, if necessary, to implement disciplinary action up to and including termination.
- Make sure you approach the situation in an objective, fair manner. All corrections and feedback should be done with respect for the individuals involved.
- Be sure the real cause of the performance issue is identified. Managers tend to blame the employee for their lack of motivation or skill; or believe training is the solution for all problems. When employees are asked what contributes to their lack of performance, they often blame external factors such as unrealistic goals or unclear direction. This gap can be closed and deficiencies in employee performance can be successfully and skillfully addressed. Doing so can improve the productivity and morale of your organization.
- Use of an in-depth work style and personality assessment can be helpful for both staff and new hires. An assessment can identify potential personal interaction issues for a new hire before they join an organization. This tool can also be helpful in providing constructive, objective feedback as well as offer ideas on handling a personal interaction communication issue with current staff. In addition, if the individual is having problems accepting feedback from their supervisor regarding a specific behavioral trait, an assessment can assist in identifying the issue and help the supervisor in dealing with the issue in a constructive manner. For more information on interpersonal communication coaching, please click here.
A goal of all effective business communication is to maintain goodwill and relationships. This includes more than just customer relationships; but relationships among all employees, managers and coworkers. By addressing the behavior of your problem children, in a respectful, direct and constructive manner, you can improve the strength of your entire organization which in turn will increase employee effectiveness and growth to the bottom line! If you do decide to have the discussion with your problem employee, documenting the discussion is always recommended. For a free form to help you document, please mail Allison Pratt at email@example.com.
Allison Pratt owns Pratt & Associates, a Human Resources consulting Company and has been a Human Resources professional with over thirty years of experience in all aspects of human resources management. Her experience is varied and includes corporate, consulting and academic perspectives and has provided a wide-range of clients with strong human resources support. Allison also teaches at the graduate and undergraduate levels for six local colleges and universities. Her specialties: HR Generalist services including areas such as mediation and conflict resolution, pre- and post-termination advice, harassment investigations and training, creating employee handbooks, performance management and supervisory coaching and training. For more information, please contact Allison Pratt at 949-588-8385 and firstname.lastname@example.org.
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