Managing people; handling difficult employees

The most common denominator I see in poorly performing organisation is the tolerance of poor performance and poor behaviour.

The impact of tolerating poor performance and poor behaviour goes well beyond the employee in question.

In Jack Welch’s book, “Winning”, he describes the 20:70:10 rule. Twenty percent of employees will be high performers and should be rewarded. Ten percent of employees will be poor performers and should be asked to move on. The remaining seventy percent will be good performers and should be given every encouragement to become high performers.

Tolerating poor performance and poor behaviour blurs the distinction betwee, poor, good and high performance. The subjective norm becomes, “Performance does not matter”. It becomes impossible to move a significant number of people out of good and into high performance. The tranche of poor performers grows beyond ten percent.

Difficult employees who deliver poor performance or have poor behaviour are diverse. We can classify them and the appropriate actions to take.

The new kid on the block

Description: A new employee who does not know what is expected. They do not have the skills or knowledge to execute the job well.
Action: Teach them the standards, demonstrate the skills to them and allow them to practise. Give them feedback to reinforce what they do right and correct what they do wrong.

Moody blues

Description: They are inconsistent from day-to-day; brilliant one day, hopeless the next. They bring their baggage from their personal life to work, mirroring their performance with their mood. They will be late several times a year.
Action: This is a behavioural problem. Explain that our customers are deserving of good service no matter how we are feeling. Explain that they do excellent work some of the time and that they need to be more consistent.

Ask of them what can be done to help them. Try a few different things to help them. Persevere; their good is very good and worth an investment in time to tap it for longer periods of time.

If several tries lead to no avail, either shift them to a non-critical role or suggest they seek a role that allows service quality to swing with their mood, in another organisation.

In my own likeness

Description: Works excellently at tasks they like. Works miserably at tasks they do not like.
Action: This is definitely about behaviour and could be about performance. If they lack the skills to perform well because they perceive they do not like the task and don’t undertake self improvement as a result, then training and coaching may be the answer. If they just do not do well jobs they do not like, the problem is behavioural.

There really are only three choices with this kind of behavioural problem:

  1. Learn to deal with it, if the excellent work more than makes up for the poor work and you cannot reassign the “boring tasks”. Use an audit approach to check on the work that they do not like to make sure customers are not inconvenienced.
  2. Reassign the tasks to someone who enjoys the “boring” tasks and will take pride in executing them well.
  3. If the excellent work does not make up for the poor work, explain that “we” have to do something together to fix the problem. If that does not work after a few tries, explain that “they” have to do something to fix the problem. If that does not work, fix the problem by relieving them of their duties altogether.

That’s good enough

Description: Never completes a task professionally. Always leaves something unfinished. Believes that “close enough is near enough”. They are a chronic late arriver. Not by much, but all the time.
Action: This is about behaviour and performance. The key, however, is behaviour. If they are in a critical role, take them out of the critical role. Explain that from a customer’s (external and internal) point of view, only the most professional people should be delivering services which are critical to them. Ask what it is that you could work on together to help them become more focused.

If there are no roles in which a customer would value them doing, give them two options. Either working together to improve their behaviour, or finding another role in another organisation that does not value customers so highly.

You owe me a living

Description: High absenteeism, negative, critical of change, possessing a high error rate and showing little concern for team members and the business overall. Knows exactly what they are entitled to and makes sure they receive all entitlements.
Action: Give them an opportunity to find their true calling. It is obviously not working for your organisation.

Performance does matter. Delivering consistent, high levels of performance creates high morale, customer satisfaction and repeat business. People deliver performance. It is critical, therefore, to manage people to deliver performance. Dodging the accountability to manage the bottom ten percent of difficult people creates a blur of mediocrity. Mediocrity creates low morale, indifferent customer satisfaction and low repeat business.

It is our duty as managers and supervisors to face our fears of not being liked, and assertively give poor people with a poor performance or poor behaviour record the chance to improve, or leave the organisation.

Otherwise, we should consider ourselves as much of a problem as the difficult employee.

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