In the first instance, look for the cause. We don’t generally recruit known cynics or troublemakers, so if someone is proving to be a difficult employee the first step might be to understand what has happened in their past to cause this behaviour.
Deal with performance not person. A great trick if you can pull it off and not easy in emotional situations, but try to deal with what the person does rather than get tangled up in the sort of person they are. This means that when offering feedback – often a necessary step before the real coaching can begin – limit your observations of what actually happened and the consequences rather than judging things as good, bad or otherwise. People can’t argue with the facts but they can argue against your judgements. Similarly, try to avoid commenting on attitude. Attitude must be the most subjective term used at work. Every one of us believes that our own attitude is useful and appropriate or we would change it, so telling someone they have the wrong attitude is pointless. Describing what they did and the results that ensued will prove much more productive.
When problems arise in the team, deal with them while they’re small. If someone does something that irritates you or upsets the team the time to tackle it is there and then. In fairness, people often don’t realise the effects of their actions and unless we point things out, the unhelpful behaviour takes root. Avoid taking sides and if a member of your team asks you to deal with a problem with another member of staff say that you’ll look into it and get back to them. Don’t agree that “X is a real problem and we need to straighten him out”. This could come back to haunt you later on and besides you’ll gain more respect from everyone by your professional approach.
Deal with things in private. At some stage you and your difficult employee are going to need to have a conversation. This must absolutely be done in private if you’re to have any chance of getting back on an even keel. But consider the wider team. As Mr Spock used to say in Star Trek, “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few and of the one.” When we have difficulties with one member of staff it can be easy for them to soak up all our energy and attention and neglect our other team members.
There’s no point placing the problem person in some half-baked project role or inventing some other non- job to get them out of the way: what message does this send? And finally, be prepared to cut your losses. Robert Holden says that “it’s awful when people quit and go, but it’s worse when they quit and stay!” If somebody really refuses to change their ways despite your best efforts, it may be better for both parties to go their separate ways.
Matt Somers is the UK’s leading trainer of managers as coaches. His training programmes, books, articles and seminars have helped thousands of managers achieve outstanding results through their people. To get your free guide “Coaching Headaches and How to Cure Them” visit www.mattsomers.com