How to Address the Real Problem with “Problem Employees”

How to Address the Real Problem with “Problem Employees”

Time seems to speed up this time of year. You’re probably trying to kick things into high gear before the holidays, but you might be kicking yourself for hiring someone who can’t get into gear period.

A number of executives and business owners have been frustrated lately by employees who aren’t “doing their jobs.” These clients are concerned about sales professionals who aren’t making calls, managers who meddle, team members who won’t work together.

We talk about how to change that.

The real problem isn’t that companies have “problem employees,” it’s that executives are not acting quickly enough when they first discover something is off.

The most enlightened leaders look at what they can do differently to help the employee improve performance. Some admit they don’t know how to have the conversation they really need to have. They avoid conflict.

If you think of it as a “difficult conversation,” it will be.

Here are some tips on how to have a helpful coaching conversation with an employee at the first sign of trouble.

  • Test awareness. What is the person’s level of awareness of the problem? Help them see the impact of what is happening first instead of “what they are doing wrong.
  • Think “opportunity.” You have a coaching opportunity to help the person improve. Ask if they are open to suggestions. If they are not coachable, you’ve got a more serious problem.
  • Reset expectations. Clarify expectations, goals or milestones. Talk about consequences of failing to meet expectations. Get agreement.
  • Show appreciation. Keep the conversation light. Appreciate their effort.

Now is the time to do whatever it takes to get your team running on all cylinders. Your 2019 goals and strategies won’t matter if your team isn’t solid.

Better to go through a little short-term uneasiness than deal with an unaddressed long-term problem that takes a toll on you and your business.

PS: As you finalize your business goals for next year, keep WorkMatters in mind as a resource. If we have not met, I’d be happy to introduce you to WorkMatters services. Contact me directly.

Stay tuned for exciting new developments!

What do you want to improve?

My 13-year-old son just finished his first cross country season. The coach sent
out a report to the team that showed each child’s improvement in speed since
the beginning of the season.


My son was excited to see that he had improved his
speed overall by 12.02%. He waved the report in the
air. “Mom, this is cool! Can you believe I did that?”
Not bad for three months.

It’s useful to have tangible numbers to show results,
but when it comes to business and personal improvement, the measure of
improvement can be fuzzy.

Don’t let that impede your efforts.

Leaders like you consistently seek to improve themselves. They’re constantly
trying to raise the bar — to increase their learning or strengthen specific

In my work with executives and business owners, they are never at a loss for
“things to improve.” When I ask them about what they’d like to see improve,
they make comments like these:

“We want to improve employee performance.”

“We want to improve customer service.”

“We want to improve customer retention.”

“We want to improve teamwork.”

“I want to be a better leader.”

“I want better balance in my life and work.”

But when I ask what that improvement would look like, there’s often a pause.

I get responses like: “Well, I don’t know exactly.” Or “I’ll just know it when I see it.”

As in any business, there are aspects of the business that you can easily track:
number of calls made, proposals sent, etc. But some of the most important
elements in your business, or in your own growth as a leader, are difficult to
measure. They’re intangible.

For example, if you’re working on building your confidence, you just feel it in
your gut. Naturally there are some observable behaviors that can indicate
your confidence is improving, but it’s something you have an internal sense about.

Coaching engagements can be challenging in the absence of clear, measurable
goals or well defined desired changes. Be as specific as possible when defining
the desired outcomes of the engagement. Accept that intangible benefits are
inherent in the process as well. They can be unpredictable and extremely

Problems occur when organizations place more emphasis on the process
compared to results.  

They sometimes care more about the number of hours or sessions delivered
in a typical engagement rather than focusing on results achieved.

How do you know if you’re making progress toward the improvement
you want? 

One key is to ask yourself what you would need to see, hear or feel.

For example, some executives indicate they’ll…

See people getting along better. People will actually acknowledge each other
in the office.

Hear less complaining. Employees will volunteer solutions.

Feel less stress. As one CEO said, “I’ll sleep better at night.”

Using words like “better,” “more,” or “less,” can still be vague, so dig deeper to
pinpoint exactly what that means to you.

Here are a few questions to help you set meaningful improvement goals:

What’s your minimum level of improvement?

Consider the minimal level of improvement you’d like to see over a specific
period of time. This is helpful when you’ve set a long-term goal for yourself,
and you want to make incremental progress. Give yourself an initial minimal
goals that will give you a sense of accomplishment when you achieve it.

What would represent radical improvement?

Answer this question when you want to make significant change happen –
when you know that the improvement is critical to your personal or business
success. I find clients often sell themselves short on what they can actually
achieve. They also overestimate the time and effort involved.

What if you don’t do anything to improve?

Think about the cost to you or your business. You know you need to improve
“something,” but you can’t focus on it now. Executives are under pressure with
little time to devote to their own improvement. But improvement doesn’t
always require large blocks of time. It’s the mindset that really matters.

Keep improving!

As a leader dedicated to lifelong improvement, you send a positive message
to those you lead. You’re not telling people “it’s never good enough.”

Instead you’re setting new levels of excellence. You’re encouraging and
inspiring others.

Your team will see a leader building on strengths — improving on what’s
already working. You’ll give them permission not to dwell so much on
problems and weaknesses.

Make serious ongoing learning/growth a value that propels you and your
business — a norm that sets you apart from your competitors who are
only motivated to improve when they experience problems.

Talk with your team about three specific improvements they can
make happen over the next few months — especially those they
would be excited to achieve.

I look forward to hearing about your results.