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Tips to change a problem employee

July 10, 2013

Here are some ways not to deal with a problem employee: Avoid talking about it. Overreact and make the problem worse. Complain. Lecture the individual. So what can you do when you must deal with a difficult employee? For some helpful guidelines, continue reading. 

The typical traditional way the boss has dealt with a “problem employee” has gone something like this:

The boss, after several sleepless nights, resolves, “I’m going to call her [the problem employee] in and ‘write her up.’ ” So the boss confronts the employee with, “I’m going to write you up!” And the confrontation deteriorates from there.

There’s a better way. It’s called a Performance Improvement Meeting, which involves a meeting and conversation with the employee that focuses on improvement, the future, and how to do better.

Five steps for a successful performance improvement interview:

1.  Establish the gap between desired performance and the areas of the employee’s poor performance. Have written standards for the job available to you and to the employee. Write down the facts so you have documented evidence of the employee’s pattern of poor performance.

2.  Explore the reasons for an employee’s poor performance. Don’t jump to conclusions — keep an open mind. Ask open-ended questions, not loaded ones. (Open-ended questions are questions that a person can’t answer with a simple “yes” or “no.” Be patient to listen for answers. Be direct. Discuss the problem behavior.

You might ask questions like these to prompt the employee to reveal helpful information: What’s causing you to arrive at work so late, so often? Your goal in this step is to determine the root cause of the problem behavior.

If you find an employee’s problem is of a temporary personal or domestic nature, you might consider adjusting the standards temporarily. But if you make an exception, tell your other employees.

Example: An otherwise reliable employee has recently become repeatedly tardy to work. Upon questioning her, you learn of her temporary difficulties with child-care arrangements. You decide to allow her a grace period to give her time to work out the problem. You inform others in her work area she’ll be late to work occasionally, but only for another few weeks.

3.  Move to the solution. With the employee, arrive at and agree on a change in behavior or an improvement plan. Get a commitment from the employee.
Agree on a target for change and fix a review date to check progress. Explain the consequences of failure to change or improve behavior.

Be absolutely clear about the consequences if the employee fails to comply with the commitment to change or improve. An example of a statement you might make: “I’m pleased you have agreed to report to work on time, starting tomorrow morning. I want you to clearly know that if your tardiness continues or resumes we will immediately reduce your hourly pay rate by $1 per hour.”

Stick to the facts — control your emotions and don’t allow arguments over details.

4.  Document. Record in writing exactly what was said in the meeting, and by whom it was said. Record the solution, the employee’s commitment and the consequences told the employee.

5.  Follow through. Adhere to and deliver on the commitments you and your company make in the solution step. Also, require the employee to follow through on the commitments he or she makes, and follow through on the consequences if the employee fails to follow through on the commitments.

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