Nightmare employees: The three-step solution
Whether born of weariness, fear, or complacency, failure to confront bad workplace behaviors can irreparably damage your reputation as a leader. We know this truth intuitively, yet so many leaders struggle with employees whose behavior undermines, even sabotages, their most basic goals.
Bad behavior has many forms: Feuding VPs inciting their fiefdoms toward territorialism and sabotage. Revenue generators presuming exemption from policy and procedure. Peers engaging in abrasive, public haranguing of each other. Other employees suppressing their own competence as a peace-keeping tactic.
With little esteem for what they see as the soft stuff, leaders often choose to ignore problems like these behaviors. Such "trivialities," they allege, aren't worth their attention. Left to fester, however, bad behavior patterns left unchecked can lead to project delays, cost overruns and missed deadlines. That's hardly soft stuff! That's millions of dollars in lost productivity and revenue!
The good news is most of us have more control over bad behavior than we may realize -- and we don't have to become tyrants to wield it. Here's a three-step process for gaining that control.
Step One: Use resonant messaging
Successfully redirecting difficult behavior is accomplished one employee at a time. Messages delivered in one-on-one settings must be thoughtfully tailored to resonate with the persona of each individual. For example:
The bossy employee wants control over results without regard for method. Achieve resonance with these folks by distinguishing between the results achieved and those that could have been achieved with greater regard for method. In other words, show that his quick-fix solutions actually limit success. Now he's listening.
Or: The risk-averse employee wants guarantees or assurances regardless of opportunity cost. To achieve resonance here, you must recognize her fears. Your message should include the idea that risk assessments are welcome and will play an ongoing role in your decision making. Now she can hear you.
Or: The overly aggressive employee wants respect. Help him identify positive behaviors that will earn the respect of others -- and help him realize that being too aggressive is not one of them. Challenge the bully to consistently aim for positive results that will boost his image in the eyes of others. Now you're talking his language.
Or: The status-conscious employee wants the attention on her, regardless of who else may have contributed. To resonate here, your messages must always include the WIIFM proposition (what's in it for me). Once her agenda is in the picture, she's motivated.
Step Two: Acknowledge the upsides
True of almost all nightmarish behaviors is that there's going to be a time or place where that very behavior is needed. Aggressiveness may not be desirable at a team meeting, for example, but it sure comes in handy during a tough negotiation. Explicit acknowledgment of this possibility by one's manager can be all that's required for difficult employees to willingly self-edit and soften the rough edges when needed.
Any strength, manifested in the extreme, becomes a weakness and by extension, nightmare behaviors are actually over-deployed strengths. This perspective has profound implications for successfully mitigating difficult workplace behaviors.
The strength underlying bossy, over-controlling behavior is commitment to implementation. The strength underlying risk-averse behavior is a heightened sense of fiduciary responsibility. Underlying the bully's aggressiveness is an emotional toughness needed to take on unpopular assignments. And underlying the status-conscious behavior of the narcissist is an ambassadorial charisma that charms and persuades.
Step Three: When the first two steps don't work
What if you've done all of the above and your nightmare employee is still...well...a nightmare? Four choices.
Suck it up: Conditions sometimes justify or make unavoidable the retention of nightmare employees. If you're managing such a situation, stay focused on the business aspect of the decision, confine the employees to proscribed functions, and remain alert to opportunities to change the situation.
Bring in a coach: Coaches who are highly skilled at confronting nightmare employees can evoke sustained behavioral improvements that serve both macro- and micro-level
Activate peer pressure: Consider implementing a 360-degree feedback process or some other way for the employee to hear multiple people -- i.e. not just you -- testify to their problematic behavior.
Terminate: When termination is the right decision, you'll know it. If you've reached that point, stop procrastinating and get it done. The alternative is to be complicit in perpetuating both the nightmare behavior and its radial impacts. Failure to prune appropriately is interpreted as either apathy or consent, and it creates the tough-to-overcome perception of weak leadership.
Are your employees seeing what you want them to see?
February 16, 2010; 7:45 AM ET |
Save & Share:
Previous: Our fascination with sociopathic bosses | Next: Cross-silo communication: All talk and no action?
Please email us to report offensive comments.
Posted by: EarthCraft | February 18, 2010 10:44 AM
Posted by: Sophie2008 | February 18, 2010 7:03 AM
Posted by: BEEPEE | February 18, 2010 1:16 AM
Posted by: dibee | February 17, 2010 11:03 PM
Posted by: lambcannon | February 17, 2010 8:26 PM
Posted by: screwjob2 | February 17, 2010 8:20 PM
Posted by: EarthCraft | February 17, 2010 7:27 PM
Posted by: daveque | February 17, 2010 6:52 PM
Posted by: waterfrontproperty | February 17, 2010 6:29 PM
Posted by: gannon_dick | February 17, 2010 6:09 PM
Posted by: gannon_dick | February 17, 2010 6:08 PM
Posted by: brng | February 17, 2010 4:55 PM
Posted by: DonRitchie | February 17, 2010 4:34 PM
The comments to this entry are closed.