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7 Steps to Correcting Bad Egg Employees and Keep Your Wits!

A fortnight ago I was consulting with a small business owner who had more orders than he could reasonably handle.  Let’s call him Mac.  I suggested that he hire an additional set of hands to help with the workload.

“Look Mac, why don’t you pick up an employee or two to help out?”

“No way, brother.  Mama didn’t raise no fool!  Do I look like I just fell off the turnip truck?  A bird in the hand—“

“STOP!  I get it.  What’s the big aversion to hiring someone?”

“Well, if I hire someone, what do I do when they screw up?  I’m just not good at dealing with employees.  They’re nothing but trouble.”

It was then that I realized how much pain the average small businessperson has in dealing with problem employees.  Mac was willing to walk away from additional business and profit based on a fear of dealing with a difficult employee that he didn’t even yet have.  Guess what–this fear still exists today and manifests itself in many forms.  Not withstanding the uncertainties in the current economy, people like Mac don’t hire when they need to.  Other bosses continue providing employment to worthless, unproductive employees because it is just too uncomfortable to call them in the office and lay them out.  If you think it’s tough negotiating a raise, it’s even tougher to reprimand the problem employee.  Your palms may sweat, your heart beats faster—no one likes to be put in the position of disciplinarian and bearer of bad news.  Perhaps you’re a hot shot CEO acting as a stunt double in Dos Equis commercials or are trained in the Human Resources profession with a plaque of a bronzed axe hanging in your office.  If that’s you, there is no need to read this article.  Chuck Norris has your T-shirt on.  My bet is that many of you reading this do have problems dealing with problem employees, so proceed.

There are plenty of reasons to have to communicate dissatisfaction with employees—they’re always late, they spread rumors, they can’t get enough work done to justify what you pay them—whatever.  Here are my tips on how to admonish an employee who is screwing up, whether he’s unproductive, continually making mistakes, or downright mutinous:

Correct Privately, not Publicly

This is one that should be common knowledge among managers but unfortunately, it isn’t.  Just as is the case with offering criticism, always reprove a troubling employee in private to avoid embarrassing him in front of co-workers.  Praise publicly—reprimand privately.  By meeting in your office or another private location, you’re showing that you are concerned with solving the problem and the chances increase that the employee will listen to you and take corrective action.  If someone is scolded in public, he’s more concerned with the image of you as an uncaring jerk than with solving the problem.

Make the Problem Crystal Clear

Be very specific as to the nature of the problem that you have with the employee.  What’s going on that violates company policy, hinders the company’s success, or disrupts other people?  Your verbal statements should be backed up with a written warning that reinforces your position and documents the incident in the employee’s file in case later legal proceedings develop.

Focus on the Behavior

Remember, you want to stem the tide of bad behavior; that’s the problem.  Make it clear that the behavior, such as repeated lateness or poor production, is the problem without typecasting the individual.  There is a big difference in the messages, “Your current level of productivity has to improve” and “You are an unproductive employee.”  The former provides hope for changing the situation, the latter tells her you’ve already made up your mind and it’s over.

Reasons Rock

If they have a big enough “why”, people can change anything.  The “how” to do it, the method, is the easy part.  Sometimes employees don’t realize how what they are doing hurts the organization.  Explain how the current behavior that you want to change harms the company morale or costs the company money.  This may come as a revelation to the employee.  If, however, a problem worker is doing damage intentionally or doesn’t care about the effects of his actions, then you’ve got to start him down the slippery slope to termination.

Provide Solutions

Anytime you manage anybody, statement of the problem is only half of the equation.  You’re doing the employee and your company a disservice if you don’t provide the steps or suggestions on how to remedy the situation.  Now that she knows what not to do, tell her what to do to make it right.  Never assume that the employee will know what behavior is expected.  If that were the case, he wouldn’t be in your office with his head down and tail between his legs in the first place.

Hear the Employee’s Side of It

People like a good conversation but they don’t like being lectured to.  If you really want to change the aberrant behavior of a bad egg in your organization, let that person respond to your warning.  Sure, plenty of times you’ll just get hollow excuses.  Let them offer their reasons and, if you think they’re bogus, say so.  You now understand why this happened, but the actions of the past are still unacceptable and won’t be tolerated.  Giving the accused a chance to offer a defense improves the chances of turning the off-course ship around.

Here are the Consequences

Look, when it comes down to it, you wouldn’t have gone through this painful exercise of reprimanding and disciplining an employee if you were going to allow the bad stuff to continue.  You’ve got to end your meeting with this person by letting him know that he’s on notice and that a continuance of this behavior or poor performance will result in X (X usually means being fired).  You have to leave the impression that you’re serious and will follow through on the consequences proposed, be they termination, a cut in pay, or a transfer to another department.  The consequences that you state verbally must be documented in writing and presented to the employee in the hot seat.

Hey gang, it’s never easy to have to tell somebody that he’s not cutting it, especially if you really believe that he is trying.  You know that you can’t ignore the problem and let unacceptable behavior continue.  It will cost you bottom line and may have a ripple effect on other employees who see it slide by.  The problem is how to get it done.  Use the communication tips outlined in this article and you’ll be able to correct the unpleasant situation and move on to something more appealing, like running your business.


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