How do you handle that difficult team member who isn't performing? At what point do you say enough is enough?The employee who gives pushback every time you correct them, the complaints about that person not pulling their weight, mistakes combined with that "I don't really care" attitude. It can feel like you're banging your head against a brick wall. Employees like this take a lot of time and energy to manage. When their name's mentioned, it triggers you into reaction mode, bracing for the next problem that could be coming your way.
If you've been in business for a while, you'll likely have had someone like this at some point. Paritos law would say that if you have ten employees, there is at least one who is exceptional and one who is difficult to manage. I've seen this many times with thousands of business owners I've coached.
These are some of the strategies that have worked best with my clients that could also work for you. But keep in mind I am coming from a business coach perspective. So check with your HR specialist about some of the legal aspects not covered here.
The Litmus test
Remember, in science class, you learned how to use litmus paper to tell if a liquid is acid, neutral or alkaline. When litmus paper is dipped into liquid, it will change colour. You check the colour against the chart to determine if it is acid, neutral or alkaline. Red is acidic, Green is neutral, and Purple is alkaline.
Let's apply the litmus test to your team member to see what effect they're having.
How is the behaviour of this person affecting the rest of the team? Is the team feeling frustrated and discouraged, demotivated, or is bullying involved? Is the overall performance of the team being affected?
Is this person's performance affecting how long jobs take, or is it causing too many mistakes at extra cost? Is their behaviour spilling over and affecting your clients or professionalism as a business?
Are you constantly putting out fires caused by this team member, or every time you hear their name, it triggers anxiety around what could go wrong next?
I worked with a husband/wife couple in an engineering business with a team of ten. They had an employee who was their most knowledgeable team member. But his attitude was terrible. It was so bad that the wife admitted to me one day that she didn't even like going into the office in case she might see him.
But they both felt powerless. They were worried about losing him with all the work they had on and didn't think they could replace him. This guy knew it, which made things even worse.
After a few weeks of working together, I encouraged them to regain control. So they started calling the shots again. He was given the opportunity to change his attitude or move on. He decided to move on.
It only took a couple of months to find a suitable replacement while the rest of the team stepped up to another gear. They had their business back and enjoyed coming to work again; also, the rest of the team was much happier.
Mirror mirror on the wall
If you have a problem with a team member, it's important to look in the mirror. Good coaches know that the business is a reflection of the business owner. Your strengths and weaknesses reflect in your business. The more you work on yourself, the better your business will perform.
Did things go wrong at the hiring stage, or has this developed over time? Only by looking back can we see what happened. Learning from any mistakes you might have made is crucial so you don't have to repeat them.
Do you have a good hiring process that considers attitude, not just skills? Have you set the proper structure in place, including written checklists, best practices and training, so your team members have the opportunity to succeed?
Are you giving each team member regular feedback? Do they know if they are winning or losing?
When we help clients put these systems in place, the culture improves, and the team takes on more responsibility as the standards are much more transparent.
Do you know everyone on your team well, like the names of their partner/children and what's most important to them outside work?
Business owners and managers who show their team that they care create a better team culture. And their employees are more likely to step up when needed. Also, their best employees usually stay longer.
When you first employed that individual, there must have been some traits and skills you liked. If they were a good performer initially, what changed? Did you recognise the early red flags?
Maybe something major is happening at home, their marriage might be in trouble, or a family member is dealing with a health crisis. They could be clashing with another team member, or it could be the wrong job for them.
Determining what your team members can and can't do early on is important. Don't assume, especially in the 90-day trial period.
A drainage client recently discovered some big mistakes on jobs from his foreman that cost tens of thousands of dollars to fix. When questioning him and his team, this confirmed suspicions that he was not leading the team well, and they were getting increasingly frustrated with the lack of direction. After further training, it became clear that this guy was not foreman material. He was in the wrong role. They are now looking at other options for him. If this were done earlier, it would have saved a lot of frustration, time and money.
Where to start?
One tool we use with clients that works well is our review process. It's a great way to talk about the elephant in the room without the awkwardness.
A building client had a foreman who wasn't leading the team well, and he was pushing back on any constructive feedback. My client didn't like confrontation, so he let these things slide for too long. Once we implemented the review process, the line was very clear on what was unacceptable. The foreman stayed for a short couple of months and then left. They discovered some significant mistakes which cost them a few weeks to fix, but at least they could get back on track.
Determining what your team members can and can't do early on is important.
It's your move
If you have a difficult team member, they will cost you much more than their salary. There are two choices: carry on as you are and hope things get better, which is unlikely, or you can start being proactive and dealing with the issues.
If you challenge them now, they have a chance to become better. Alternatively, if they are in the wrong place, you are not doing them or yourself any favours by leaving them there. Whatever happens next is up to you, but being proactive always gives you better options.