No matter how great your company culture is, there will inevitably be times when individuals rock the boat with some form of outlandish behaviour.
Whether through a narcissistic “I know better” attitude, a gloomy “What’s the point?” outlook, a defensive “It wasn’t my fault” demeanour, or even outright bullying and unprofessionalism, every business encounters the odd bad apple.
Rather than look the other way or make hasty decisions to offload difficult employees, a far-reaching performance management strategy should outline steps to turn things around and get everybody working together as an organised unit.
With that in mind, here’s our guide to managing the seemingly unmanageable:
If somebody is consistently missing targets, turning up late, being disruptive or underperforming, it’s easy to get angry.
However, while your first instinct may be to scream and shout, it’s far better to listen and learn. Only then will you be in a position to work toward a long-term solution.
If appropriate, informally raise your concerns with other senior team members and gauge their reaction. If something has rattled you about an individual’s behaviour, others will likely have noticed as well, and their insight can help clarify the problem.
Once you’ve taken a step back to gather your thoughts, outline exactly what you want to address and schedule a meeting with the employee in question. Bear in mind the purpose of this exercise should be to help them overcome the situation, so focus on creating an atmosphere of collaboration rather than confrontation.
Explain your side of things and how the problem has implications for you and the wider team, but stress that you want to support them and ask for their thoughts.
It’s easy to dismiss reasons for excuses, but if you’re attentive and carefully consider the feedback, you may unearth underlying issues that are the root cause of the trouble. These may be organisational problems that need refining - unrealistic workloads, illogical processes, knowledge gaps - or personal issues that require outside expertise.
Either way, identifying the tipping point is crucial to moving forward.
Instead of firmly laying down the law, it’s wise to ask the employee how they feel the situation could be improved.
You may have a suitable solution up your sleeve, but psychologists will tell you people are more likely to act on their own initiative, so encourage the troublesome staff member to take ownership and decide how they can right their wrongs.
If they draw a blank or miss an obvious answer, you’ll naturally want to impart your advice and point them in the right direction.
Once agreed on a course of action, you should arrange a follow-up meeting - perhaps in a fortnight’s time - to monitor progress. This will give you an opportunity to check-in and make sure everything’s on track, while also signifying you take the matter extremely seriously and want to see improvements.
Having such goals gives people a clear framework to work with, which is crucial to getting results.
If this is the first lapse in performance, there’s little point in wasting energy on spelling out the consequences of a continued decline. Instead, you should express your every confidence in the misfiring employee getting back to their best.
If, however, this particular problem is the latest in a catalogue of offences, it’s imperative that you state what the consequences will be if there’s no significant uplift in performance or change in behaviour.
Refer to your HR policy and remind the employee of your expectations, their responsibilities and the disciplinary procedures that could be called upon.
Nevertheless, you should still aim to end the conversation on a high, reassuring them that you’re positive about the future and are convinced the solutions you conjure up together will work wonders.
Once the initial meeting is over, keep a record of everything that was discussed. For clarity, it’s also prudent to email the employee, recapping events and reaffirming the goals that have been set.
Documenting issues in this manner not only helps you stay on top of them, it also gives you a body of evidence should problems persist and you have to go down the route of dismissal.
Hopefully, that won’t be necessary, as being proactive about addressing and resolving issues is key to staff retention.
Everyone slips up and makes mistakes from time to time, but true mistakes are those you don’t learn from. It’s easy to upset the applecart when things aren’t going well, but with the right support and guidance, balance can usually be restored.