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Managing and Motivating Challenging Employees

Managing and Motivating Challenging Employees

By Sandra Wiley

Anyone who has managed a team has most likely stumbled across a challenging employee. Identifying the challenging behavior is easy; finding ways to change the behavior and motivate the team member so they exhibit superstar qualities is the true challenge.

Why are they so difficult?  Why do they continue the unpleasant behavior, even when they are told that it needs to change?  Because it is working for them! This is behavior that has worked for them before, and allows them to get what they want.

To get the performance YOU want from the person, you must change the cycle that they have developed.

When a leader in your business coddles, ignores or spends many hours trying to change the behavior of a challenging employee, what are they telling their star employees? The actions that are being taken – or not taken – are sending the message that more care will be given to underachievers than your best employees.  Morale, productivity, retention, self-esteem and profitability will all decrease, and your business will certainly suffer.

The bottom line is that almost every business leader knows that the result of not dealing with an underperforming employee is not good for them. However, they also do not know how to change the cycle that has been allowed to happen. Identifying an assertive process that can be implemented is imperative for positive progress.

The following 8 questions will give the leader a performance correction roadmap for improving a challenging employee’s behavior, and help build confidence before the conversation takes place. As you think through each question, it is important that you write your responses and practice saying them out loud, possibly to a peer who can give you feedback.  The key is to be fully prepared as you begin the process of changing the cycle of bad behavior.

Step 1: What is the real issue?
While this may sound simple, the deeper you look at the real problem you will often find that the problem is not as straightforward as it seems. As you write out the problem, think about how it is affecting the business, coworkers, partners, clients and ultimately the ability for the employee to grow in their position at the company. Take the time to identify all issues that need to be discussed.

Step 2: What is the goal of the conversation you will have?
As you talk with your employee, is the goal to change the overall behavior, engage in a conversation with the employee to gather more information, or is it to give the employee a warning that if the behavior does not change he/she will be dismissed? Identifying your overall goal will help you structure your comments appropriately.

Step 3: When and where will have the conversation?
Adding the appointment to the calendar will draw the line in the sand that will show the employee and yourself that you are making a commitment to have the conversation.  Make sure you schedule an adequate amount of time and schedule it in a space where you will both be comfortable.  A conference room where you can sit next to the employee is a positive step. Your office sometimes feels like you are not trying to have a two-way conversation, it feels like you are “telling” them and not “engaging” with them.

Step 4: Who is your support team in this conversation?
Having a tough conversation like this is not a one-person project. Supervisors, mentors, human resources and administration can potentially all be on your team as you gather information, seek professional help and practice what you will be saying. Keeping the conversation confidential is your ultimate goal, but ensuring you have all of the information that you need to ensure a legal and ethical outcome is also necessary.

Step 5: What are the facts?
As you seek help from your support team, gather all of the facts you need, as well as specific examples from your support team. The most powerful knowledge you have are examples that will help the employee see how their behavior is working against them.

Step 6: What steps must the employee achieve to reach the desired outcome? 
Write out the steps – in your opinion – that the employee must take to change their behavior. This is not the final plan, but it will be the conversation starter for your meeting. Once you have opened the conversation with the employee and you talk about steps they can take to improve, then seek their assistance in editing the steps with their suggestions for improvement.  Adding ideas from the employee will always make the outcome more successful because they will be invested in the plan.

Step 7: What tools can you provide to help the employee achieve the desired outcome?
With the plan in place, identify some tools that might help the employee stay on track and motivated. This can be task lists, performance plans, weekly meetings, mentoring, coaching, peer group meetings or – in extreme cases – an outside professional counselor.  These tools will help the employee and you stay accountable to the plan that you developed.

Step 8: When is the follow-up meeting?
Never leave the meeting without scheduling a specific, written follow-up meeting.

You are now armed with the information you need to deal with those challenging employees in your business today.  Their overall situation comes down to two possible outcomes that you, as the leader, can help them achieve:

  1. agree to a roadmap to success where they stay with the company as an active and productive team member or
  2. allow them to find new opportunities outside the company.

It all begins with the leader’s commitment to having a strategic conversation.

Sandra WileySandra Wiley is president of Boomer Consulting, Inc.