In all the seminars and workshops training I conduct for Managers and Leadership Teams, I find that a majority of them struggle with managing difficult employees. And, regardless of their experience level, or age (Boomers, Gen X or Gen Y), I see two common ways many of them handle challenging employees: poorly or not at all…neither of which are effective!
But in a leadership role where you’re responsible for managing others, how you manage a difficult employee is critical. Why? Because undoubtedly you are forced to spend a disproportionate amount of resources, time, and energy on them, and this can cause frustrations and tempers to arise, productivity to decrease, morale to go down, retention of good talent to plummet, and your other team members (and possibly, customers) to become disgruntled.
What Can You Do? A Simple 5-Step Process:
1. Do Not Ignore the Problem
A small problem has the potential to turn big, so pay attention to red flags when you first see them. If you notice that an employee is exhibiting bad behavior, it’s time to take immediate action. The longer you wait, the worse it will get! Sticking your head in the sand will normally not make the issue magically disappear…and you’ll be faced with employees, and possibly your boss, wondering why you’re not taking charge of the situation.
2. Identify the Cause
Understanding the real motivation for their behavior unlocks your power to take the right steps to address the underlying cause. You have to find out WHY they are being difficult. Do they dislike their job? Are they having personal problems outside of work? Are they having issues with a co-worker you may not be aware of, such as a bully who is making them miserable? You cannot begin to determine solutions and a course of action if you don’t know “why” their poor behavior is occurring.
3. Provide a Comfortable Environment
Talk to your employee in a comfortable, non-threatening, environment that can enable them to disclose the reason for their behavior. Don’t forget to tell them that you’re there to help them, make their work life better, and help them be successful. Remember, your main goal behind this process is to uncover valuable information, so your communication should not be confrontational. Prepare your feedback ahead of time, ask questions, let the conversation flow, stay engaged, and listen closely. And once you’ve gathered the insights from your employee, you can then begin to determine a plan to resolve the issue(s).
4. Develop a Solution
When handling difficult employees, it is important for Managers to identify the problem and suggest a solution; not demonize them. Your goal should be to develop a plan which not only reflects your agenda, but also incorporates their perspective. If you need time to come up with a plan after you have your “fact gathering session” with them, take it. However, if you feel comfortable and prepared to discuss solutions right away, do so. Either way, make their input part of the plan to work together so that you get their (enthusiastic) buy-in. Just because you think your plan of action for them is great, doesn’t mean it can actually work. The objectives and goals that you establish have to be ones they can accomplish, and ones that they are very clear on.
5. Monitor and Provide On-going Effective Feedback
Once your plan has been mutually agreed upon, actively monitor their progress and provide them with regular, specific, effective feedback. Many Managers express their grievances and expect the employee to drastically change their behavior without any on-going guidance. That type of management style FAILS most of the time. Just like dieting, people tend to be way more successful when they have on-going guidance, feedback, encouragement, and support.
As a Manager, if you do not take the appropriate steps to handling difficult employees, you are doing a huge disservice to yourself, your career, your company, as well as to your other employees who are working hard towards the success of the department and organization. You need to improve the retention of your top employees; not frustrate them to the point of leaving.
Can all difficult employees be “turned around”? Of course not! But by helping them determine why they are having issues at work can also help you both determine if this job, or company, simply isn’t the right fit for them. If that IS the case, typically there’s nothing you can do to shift their behavior. They need to move on to a job where they’ll be happier…and that’s a win/win outcome for both of you!
One of the main points I heavily emphasize in my Personal Branding workshops for employees and Managers, regardless of what generation they’re from or level they’re at in their career, is this: It isn’t possible to become a great leader without being an effective communicator. In fact, effective communication is a key component of success in the professional world, whether it is at the organizational, intra-group, inter-group, or interpersonal level.
And when I say “leader”, I’m referring to ANY level you’re at or role you’re in now. Millennials (aka: Gen Y), Gen X, and Boomers need to be in a “leadership mindset” at work and conduct themselves accordingly!
The best quality of an effective leader is the strategic way they communicate with other employees, translating key business goals into terms that help the latter identify ‘what’s in it for me, thus motivating them to align their actions toward the success of their organization. It’s part of a leader’s job responsibility to communicate effectively what the employees want and need to know.
Effective communication also includes a greater sense of contextual and situational awareness…which many people aren’t good at, and is why I believe companies need to provide more training on communication! That said, let’s look at some tips…
Communication Secrets of Effective Leaders
Great communicators believe in two-way communication. They understand that simply broadcasting their message won’t have the same effect as engaging in a meaningful conversation. They are good listeners while being astute in observations, possessing the ability to adapt their responses to the environment and situation without missing a beat.
Effective communicators are adept at transferring ideas and spreading their vision. Their words inspire action and align expectations, focusing more on contributing than receiving. This may seem counter-intuitive, but it pays off in the longer run. In fact, a leader that focuses more on leave-behind than the take-aways is more likely to learn deeper than they ever would by concentrating only on their agenda.
One of the best qualities of an effective leader is that they communicate with clarity, focusing on being simple and concise. Who would appreciate or understand your point of view if you remain complicated and confusing? After all, who has time to spare for trying to understand your complex language? Great leaders understand the value of clarity and brevity and know how to hit the point and cut to the chase. In order to be an effective leader, it is crucial to learn the importance of weeding out the superfluous in order to make yourself heard.
Focus on Inter-Personal Relationships
Great leaders reject the classic business theory that suggests them to stay at an arm’s length. They have a firm belief that only those prefer to stay away from others who want to remain in the dark. No great leader wishes to receive highly sanitized versions of the reality. They believe in developing meaningful relationships with employees in order to know what’s actually on their minds. A deeper understanding of each other is necessary for organizational success, and a good leader understands this well. Don’t let your ego be the roadblock to your relationship with other employees in the organization. Be candid and empathetic toward others to turn doubt into trust and earn greater respect.
Preparedness and Contingency Planning
The best leaders are always prepared for any kind of situation. They have a contingency plan in mind for any message that seems to evoke anger or criticism. In order to be a successful leader, it is important to learn how to justify your message with reason, business logic, and knowledge in order to make a lasting impact on the listeners. Remember, communication isn’t about you, your beliefs, your opinions, or your circumstances. In fact, it’s more about understanding others concerns, and fulfilling their needs. This will help you show your empathetic side and add value to their world.
In closing, DON”T be the type of leader that you wouldn’t want to work for. And you can prevent that by working on HOW you communicate with people, both verbally and visually!
I, along with other experts, have written a lot about Millennials (aka: Gen Y) “as employees” to help employers better understand what makes this unique generation tick. And for any of you that are interested in info along those lines, you can get detailed tips on how to recruit, manage, motivate and retain Millennial employees in my first book, Millennials Incorporated, on Amazon.
But the focus of this post is to shed some light on who Millennials are “as consumers”. Did you know that by 2017 the Millennial Generation will have more spending power than any other generation? So if you own a company with products or services that appeal to Millennials, or if you’re responsible for the marketing, branding and sales efforts at your company, keep reading.
There’s a great White Paper that was created by BazaarVoice, a leading network that connects brands and retailers to the authentic voices of people where they shop. It’s loaded with terrific data you need to be aware of and answers questions such as:
1. How do Millennials “buy”?
2. How and where do they like to get their info when researching a product or service to purchase?
3. How different are they as consumers from Boomers?
4. How do they like to engage with brands?
5. What appeals to them as consumers…and what turns them off?
If you’re interested in knowing the answers to these questions, along with many other important insights, I strongly recommend downloading their free White Paper, “Talking to Strangers: Millennials Trust People over Brands”.
Dubbed the “health epidemic of the 21st century” by the World Health Organization, stress at work is increasingly being seen as a costly issue, thus stress management is becoming one of the most important challenges for employers across the globe. And employees, from all generations, are struggling due to stress. In the U.S. alone, 3 out of 4 workers describe their work as stressful!
A few of the key factors that cause stress for employees include: Firings, cost-cutting, business readjustments, working in an uncomfortable environment, unclear supervision, trouble with the boss, changes in financial status, altered responsibilities, variations in work hours, changed work conditions and office procedures, and transitioning to a different line of work.
However, work-family conflicts are increasingly common, especially with the growing issue of Baby Boomers being “caught in the middle” as The Sandwich Generation. They are now not only caring for their own Gen Y (aka: Millennial) children but also having to be caregivers for their elderly Veteran Generation parents…all while having to maintain a full-time job in the workforce!
The financial, emotional, and physical stress of this dilemma on the Boomers is staggering, and it’s going to continue to grow in severity. So employers are going to have to manage and support it…quickly.
Smart companies are addressing stress in the workplace because it makes good business sense; employee stress-related issues are costing employers around the globe a fortune. Here’s just a few fast facts (out of many on this topic) to illustrate this:
Based on those stats, it is crucial for employers to take earnest steps to deal with the problem and help employees cope with occupational stress.
Organizations looking to compete in a volatile marketplace are proactively making efforts to address the issue seriously. Examples include:
By focusing on individual stress management and organizational change, businesses can produce more productive, healthier, happier, and motivated employees. But employers have to make it a priority and foster a corporate culture that truly embraces health and wellness in their workplace…not just “say” they do!
I don’t think anybody doubts the importance of communication in the workplace. In fact, it’s not farfetched to say that effective communication is the cornerstone of your success at work, whether you are a seasoned Manager or a younger Millennial (aka: Generation Y) aspiring to be one. And it’s becoming even more challenging with four generations at work, that are very different!
Difficult employees can make each work day tough; repeatedly making efforts to bring down your team’s morale, creating unnecessary stress, and affecting productivity. However, I’ve conducted enough training workshops and seminars for Management Teams, as well as have provided private Leadership Coaching for many Managers, so I can say first hand that MOST Managers are NOT good at communication with their employees…so it’s NOT always the employees’ fault that there’s problems within the team.
A good starting point is to accept that you, as a Manager, can’t always change others, but you can certainly improve yourself. Remember, you are in a professional environment, so maintaining dignity and decorum is of utmost importance, and is key to creating an effective and respected Personal Brand at work. You should strive to create an environment where effective, open, communication with your employees is welcome.
The essence of effective communication lies in paying full attention to what others say while also making yourself heard. Communication is a two-way dialogue process that is about:
All in all, effective communication is about creating a culture where creative ideas flourish; giving both sides an equal opportunity to confidently and conveniently convey their messages so as to build trust and respect. Plus, in an open environment where everybody can express themselves clearly, without fear, negative emotions can’t flourish or survive (for very long).
Remember: being overly negative can destroy employees’ desire to assist, further fueling their negative feelings…which can then lead to their quitting…and you possibly getting fired due to reduced retention of top talent.
Your job as a Leader is to increase confidence in your team, not beat them down. However, sadly, I see Managers who adhere to the “managing through negativity” mentality…and then wonder why they have problems with their team. Really???!!!
Don’t be one of them! Your company and your employees will thank you…and, trust me, your career will skyrocket!