A Method for Dealing with Problem Employees

A Method for Dealing with Problem Employees

How do you deal with employees who are technically proficient but whose behaviors undermine the team and cause conflict throughout the office? Yes, you could fire them. But the other option is to assume the employees simply don’t know how to behave appropriately. The better option is to coach them on the specific behaviors you desire.

Here’s a great example of how one manager laid out her expectations. In this case, John and Jill were both having issues communicating effectively with one another (Jill reports to John). My client developed the following plan for communicating her expectations to the two of them.

  • Express my concerns with how they communicate (or do not communicate) with each other.
  • Identify what my expectations are for both of them with respect to working with each other.
  • Map out, at a high level, the types of assignments Jill will work on over the next six months.

The important thing my client did was to write down her expectations in advance. This enabled her to be very clear in her communication. And it enabled all three of them to have a very organized discussion of each expectation.

These are the written expectations that my client developed and gave them.

John Jill
1. Communicate respectfully and professionally with Jill. This includes voicing concerns when they arise, rather than letting things simmer. 1. Communicate respectfully and professionally with John. This includes making sure your communications do not come across as angry or defiant.
2. If you have a concern with Jill, talk to her. Do not engage in lengthy email conversations. 2. If you have a concern with John, talk to him.  Do not engage in lengthy email conversations.
3. Given that Jill has extensive knowledge and skills, defer to her recommendations as appropriate. This does not mean you must accept all her recommendations, but give her ideas due consideration. If you are unsure whether a recommendation should be adopted, discuss with me. 3. If you disagree with a position or course of action John wants you to take, explain in a respectful way why you disagree.  However, understand that management makes the final call on decisions.
4. Given Jill’s role, employees from our office and other divisions come to Jill directly with questions, and it is appropriate for them to do so. 4. Keep John reasonably informed about what you are working on and who you are working with.
5. If you disagree with something Jill has recommended or done, speak to her in private.  Do not correct or admonish her where others are present (e.g., in a meeting with others, on an email exchange with others). 5. If you disagree with John on an issue or decision, express your position in a non-confrontational manner.

Happily, for my client, both John and Jill appreciated these detailed expectations. Each expressed that it was important that they communicate more effectively. After the meeting, Jill taped the expectations to her computer. A few days later, John did the same. My client noticed a distinct change in their interactions. When she praised them for this change, John said: “Thank you for being a good boss. I didn’t realize what I was doing. I just needed to know.”