Difficult Employee? Try These 3 Actions

Difficult Employee? Try These 3 Actions image DATE: March 31, 2021

Have a difficult employee driving a wedge between you, other employees, and even customers? These three leadership actions can help turn performance around.

Difficult Employee? Try These 3 Actions

I got a call this week from a frustrated leader who was asking me what to do about an employee who was wreaking havoc throughout the organization. Long story short, the leader is relatively new in their position — less than a year. The manager he supervises is unhappy and makes no bones about it to everyone and anyone. Bad situation, right?

Rarely are any two situations exactly the same when it comes to personnel issues, but the starting actions I recommended will apply in many situations. Today, in case you’re dealing with similar challenges, I’m sharing the action steps with you.

Look in the Mirror

Leaders set the tone for the organization. Take a long, hard look in the mirror. Get real with yourself. Are you setting the example you want to see? Here are a few of questions to help you get started with a solid self-evaluation:

  • Do you want the difficult employee to treat you and others with more respect? Do they see you treating others that way?
  • Do you want the employee to respect you as a leader? Position alone rarely earns respect these days. Instead, your actions do. Have you actually given your employee a reason to respect you other than your formal authority?

It’s important to note that negative experiences far outweigh positive ones. Let’s say that most of the time you feel like you’re doing a great job as a leader. However, there have been a few mistakes along the way (How should you deal with mistakes at work? Check this article out!). Those negative experiences likely stand out in your employee’s mind. You as a leader might have some work to do on yourself before your team will perform the way you hope.

Get to the Bottom of their Priorities

As a leader, you should know what your employees want. When you understand their priorities, you can make the best decision when it comes to communicating, delegating, rewarding, etc. in order to curb bad performance. For example, don’t think more money is the answer to every problem. Money generally won’t cure performance problems, but it may mask them.  What if it’s more time off that people want? Unwarranted raises won’t benefit you or the organization in such a situation.

Sit down and have an open, honest conversation with the difficult employee. Ask them what is most important to them, what they want to achieve within the organization, and what their ideal workplace looks and feels like. Answers to these questions will give you clues into how to best move forward.

Establish Expectations & Accountability

Crystal clear expectations are one of the most underestimated leadership tools. Most often, if people understand the expectation, they’ll rise to meet it. When it comes to a difficult employee, it’s likely that somewhere along the way, expectations and accountability have become misaligned.

Regardless of the size of your organization, I’m a fan of written expectations. When expectations are only communicated verbally, there’s likely someone, somewhere who isn’t on the same page. That only leaves room for a wedge to be placed in between people. Job descriptions are a great place to start. Make sure those are accurate and very detailed. Review them with all employees.

After establishing and reviewing detailed expectations, it’s important that you create accountability. Accountability isn’t hand-holding or controlling people in order to get people to do what you want. Instead, accountability should be a mindset curated throughout the organization so that people keep promises to themselves and others to give and get the best from each other. And when that doesn’t happen? We talk about it, we fix it, we move forward — together.

Leaders Transform Teams

Oftentimes we know what we should do, but we don’t do it. For example, we know we should eat more green vegetables — but most don’t, drink more water –but most don’t, etc.

Regardless of the specific challenges you’re facing, what can you do today that would set you and your team up for better success tomorrow? Your team is only as good as your leadership.


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About The Author:

Alyson Van Hooser, Leadership Keynote Speaker, Trainer on Millennials, Gen Z & Women in Business With the grit that only comes from tough experiences, Alyson has learned a thing or two about personal and professional success. From her management experience with Walmart, as an elected city council member, bank manager — all before the age of 30 — Alyson has wisdom well beyond her years! Her podcast, Stake: The Leadership Podcast, offers a fresh perspective on leadership and helps multiple generations successfully work together! Connect with Alyson on LinkedIn and Instagram.

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