Series on Dealing with Difficult People – Handling Employee Challenges

Handling difficult people at work is one of the most challenging tasks that a manager faces from day to day. An organization cannot work well if there is a disturbing element that keeps distracting everyone else from their work. More and more of the manager’s time is spent on people issues rather than productivity if difficult people are not handled efficiently.

Over the course of a management career, you will deal with many employee challenges. One especially difficult challenge faced by Mike Sisco, founder and director of a top IT company in the US, makes an interesting “case study”. The employee in question was abusing others, both teammates and clients, and was not producing at a level expected for the position.

Mike’s approach has always been to deal with issues as they come up and deal with them as fairly and consistently as possible. The bottom line is that each individual on your team is expected to produce positive results and do so in a healthy way. Building a team that is highly responsive to client needs and successful in delivering value to your company requires everyone to make a positive contribution. Here is a brief description of how Mike handled the situation:

1. Mike coached the employee about the problems on two separate occasions and made it clear that he expected improvement. He was very specific and gave him examples of the unacceptable behavior. On the 2nd coaching session, he told him that if it happened again he would be put on a formal improvement plan and that if the issue occurred during the improvement plan time frame, he would be terminated.

2. The issue occurred again so Mike sat down with the employee and delivered a formal “work improvement” discussion. In this discussion, he gave the employee specific critique with examples that reinforced his concerns and handed him a written document stating the problem and specific resolution steps he must take to continue employment. Finally, the employee was notified directly that continued unacceptable performance that led to this discussion would result in dismissal.

3. In two weeks, Mike fired the employee because the performance improvements were not being met and another serious event demanded action.

The formal improvement session included the attendance of the senior Human Resources Manager because Mike wanted to be sure in this case that he covered all the bases since it was his belief the employee would simply “not get it”.

This was exactly the observation the HR Manager gave him after the session when he said, “You addressed all the issues well: what’s wrong, what you need to do to fix the problem, and clear understanding that continued poor performance would not be allowed. Even so, the employee doesn’t understand the problem; but you could not have explained the situation more clearly.”

In most situations, you won’t have to actually get to the point of firing an employee. Over 90% of the, when you address poor performance directly or conduct a “needs improvement” session with a poor performer, the employee does one of two things: he either improves the situation quickly or leaves on his own accord.

One of the most important responsibilities a manager has, is to do the right thing by your employees. That means stepping up to bad situations and taking appropriate action to improve performance of your organization. It is the right thing to do for your company, your clients and your staff.

More importantly, it’s the right thing to do for the poor performing employee. If you have an employee not performing, there are reasons as to why. Your job is to address the issue and to help each of your employees succeed, but there may be exceptions who just won’t make it. If so, your job is to help the employee move on to something that he can be successful in. To avoid this responsibility is unfair to the problem employee more than anyone. If you approach it in a light of “doing the right thing for the problem employee and your company”, it makes the tough work a little easier.