These tips will save you time and frustration and net you increased productivity and morale.
When I first started managing people over 20 years ago, I remember thinking: “This will be easy, I get along well with everyone and I’m a reasonable person.”
I was so wrong. Managing others is difficult. Employees will say and do things you never thought you would hear or see. Even good employees can be a challenge at times. But when you have a “problem” employee, the challenges increase exponentially.
Save yourself the grief and tip the balance in your favor. Here are six ways you can lessen the chance of having problem employees.
#1 Schedule regular 1-on-1 meetings. Why are these so important? Besides helping you get regular updates on tasks and projects, there are three other significant benefits:
- Shows the employee they are important. Taking time out of your busy schedule demonstrates directly to your employee they are important.
- Helps creates trust. By meeting regularly you get to know each other better. Trust takes time to build. Regular 1-on-1 meetings are the foundation upon which trust is built.
- Creates a more positive, less stressful environment. Without regular 1-on-1’s, when do you usually ask to talk to an employee? When something is wrong. So, when you ask to talk, they will anticipate something is wrong and be stressed. With regular 1-on-1’s you can put more focus on positive things. Plus, when problems are discussed, they come up in a more natural way since you are already talking about their work at these meetings.
#2 No laundry lists. If your employee has several performance issues, resist the urge to discuss all of them at once. If you discuss them all at once, the employee will think you are either having a bad day or assume you are a negative person. Either way, their focus has shifted away from their performance and toward your perceived negativity. Most people quit listening at this point.
As difficult as it may be, pick only one issue at a time. Handle other issues as separate discussions. Remember, you are in this for the long haul. Managing isn’t a sprint, it’s a marathon.
#3 Get them talking. As a manager, it’s only natural to assert your authority. After all, you are the one in charge. But this can lead to you dominating a discussion.
Dominating turns a discussion into a monologue or a sermon. Make it more interactive. Direct the discussion instead of dominating it. Make it give-and-take. Think 50-50 or 60-40. One of the best ways to do this is to ask questions.
Put some thought into what questions to ask. For example, one of the worst questions you can ask is:
“What do you think about this?”
It is too general and also a leading question. You will likely get a positive response instead of an accurate one. Two better options are:
“What concerns do you have with this idea?” or
“Tell me one concern you have with this idea.”
These types of questions give the employee permission to say what is really on their mind.
#4 Communicate expectations clearly. After you have explained an assignment to an employee, ask them to repeat it back to you in their own words. You may get a strange or puzzled look. I often did. Clarify by saying something like: “I just want to be sure we have a common understanding.”
I remember clearly the first time I asked an employee to repeat an assignment back to me. I had stated four steps for him to complete. He re-stated all four steps, but only one of them was as I had intended. This wasn’t an isolated incident. I saw similar outcomes with other employees.
It is important to note that this wasn’t an indication that I was a poor communicator or they were a poor listener. Instead, it points out that misunderstandings happen all the time. We need to be more vigilant in finding them and correcting them.
If the employee doesn’t re-state all points correctly, then it is up to you to re-explain them. You may want to re-word it slightly. Once again, ask them to re-state, in their own words, what you said. Do this as many times as needed. It may seem tedious, but it’s much better than ending the discussion with differing expectations.
#5 Know the consequences in advance. It is rarely a good plan to use consequences as a “stick” to try to get an employee to behave. However, an employee may challenge you during a performance discussion. It is good to be prepared.
I have had employees say, “If I don’t do what you ask, will you fire me?” You don’t want to hesitate when answering that question. Some employees ask it in a joking manner. My experience has shown that they wrap the question in humor as a safe way to gauge if the issue is serious or not. Even though they play it off as a joke, they truly want to know the seriousness of the issue.
When an employee asks that question, if the answer is “yes,” then you need to be upfront and tell them. Most times, that isn’t the case. Instead, you are much more likely to answer with something like:
“No, but if you don’t you won’t be eligible to bid on other jobs within the company.” or
“No, but if you don’t your salary will be frozen.”
These are just two examples. Your situation may require a completely different consequence.
#6 Think multiple meetings. Many managers treat performance issues like they just have to mention it once and the problem will be solved. Fat chance. Nearly all performance issues will require multiple meetings. So you might as well get yourself in that mindset upfront.
Turning performance issues around is a process. Each meeting serves as a checkpoint, giving you ways to monitor the employee’s progress and provide them with feedback (both positive and negative). Making these ongoing course corrections is critical. They help keep your employees on the right path.
What has worked well for you to prevent employees from becoming problem employees?