Q: What’s your No. 1 tip for dealing with problem employees gently — so the whole team doesn’t suffer as a result?
A: Focus on Actions
When you need to deal with a problem employee, be prepared to reference the original description of that person’s position or project, and frame the talk around actions. “You need to stop doing this, and start doing this instead” is easier to communicate than blame or lectures. “You’re screwing this up” or “Why can’t you get the numbers you promised?” will just put the employee on the defensive.
A: The First Clean Kill Awakens the Herd
If you have a problem employee at a startup, you should get rid of him or her. A small company has to function as one cohesive team, and even one troublesome employee will slow everything down. A mentor once told me, “The first clean kill awakens the herd.” What this means is that your whole team will actually be relieved if you get rid of the problem that likely has been bothering them as much as you.
A: The Apple Doesn’t Fall Far From the Tree
Deal with the whole tree, not just the bad apple. The best piece of advice I ever heard on this was that you should identify problem employees and observe them for a week. See who they associate with and who they have their “water cooler” talks with. Generally, a bad apple is not isolated but part of a bad group. Deal with the group collectively and address any issues as a whole, and don’t be afraid to fire a few people at once.
A: Show Some Respect
Although they are causing difficulties, take problem employees off to the side and talk with them about the issues. Don’t involve everyone because, as always, they may not realize you’re actually talking about them. Doing so face to face and not embarrassing them in front of others is always the best way to go. Put yourself in their place — wouldn’t you rather have someone approach you one on one?
A: Provide the Right Incentives
I think one must provide incentives to perform better, and lots of positive reinforcement. Problem employees should not be reprimanded publicly, but in private. One should make it clear that good work will be amply rewarded.
Zach Cutler, Cutler Group
A: Transparency Goes a Long Way
Be as honest and transparent as you can. People want to know why — just know that some people don’t work out. If you try to hide that fact, it will backfire and your people won’t trust you anymore.
A: Keep Your Cool
Don’t blow your lid in front of the entire office. Rather, have a side conversation in which you outline the issues and your expectations in a constructive, yet firm, manner. People who are humiliated start to resent you, not work harder for you.
Nicolas Gremion, Foboko.com (foboko.com/)
A: Get Rid of Dead Weight
Fire them. You don’t have time for problems. Your team certainly doesn’t have time for problems. If employees become a burden, that means they’re not a long-term fit. The first moment you realize that, let them go. Carrying dead weight eventually hurts your entire staff and can endanger your relationships with your superstars.
A: Identify the Problem, Explain the Solution
Don’t jump to conclusions. Very often we think we know what the problem is but we don’t, and sometimes the employees don’t know what the root problem is as well. A co-working issue could be the result of a procedural problem. Whatever the case may be, you need to identify the real problem. Once you can identify the issue, you can determine solutions. Figure out a solution that is going to create positive change, and then envision with the employee how the workplace and employee will benefit as a result.
A: Give a Second Chance, Then Fire Fast
Address the situation individually first. Be transparent about the problem, but let your employee know how he can do better, and encourage him. If things don’t get better, then fire fast. The last thing you want is a problem employee in the office.
John Hall, Digital Talent Agents (digitaltalentagents.com/)
A: Provide Clear Consequences
Managers should quickly address any issues one employee might be causing to avoid affecting the whole team. They should also provide consequences to follow through with if the problems continue or escalate. Putting the conversation in writing can also help to avoid future problems and make sure everything is clear. Finally, fire fast and hire slow.