The best leaders know that dealing with problem employee behavior is just one of those things that comes with the job. However, most people who find themselves in leadership positions don’t receive the training needed to make their discipline efforts effective. Learning on-the-job works, but only if you have great leadership examples to follow.
Here are five “best practices” for dealing with mistakes and problem employee behavior that will not only help you provide feedback effectively, but will help employees better accept your feedback.
1. Confront employee behavior problems clearly, specifically, privately, and face-to-face.
It’s time to stop using the “Overhead Lob Approach,” which is a comment to the entire group made in the hopes that the offenders “get it,” or the “Mass Email Approach” which is the same as the overhead lob, but used by those who are too chicken or lazy to deliver the lob in a meeting. None of these approaches is as effective in changing employee behavior as looking an employee in the eye and telling him or her exactly what needs to change.
2. Encourage employees to resolve issues between themselves, but if they can’t, it’s your job to help.
First, encourage the complaining employee to confront his or her coworker directly. You can help by talking through how the conversation should go and even role-playing the conversation so the employee can practice.
If the employee is unwilling or unable to confront the coworker, try observing the behavior yourself and then confront what you’ve observed. If Stephen complains that Amanda doesn’t come back from lunch on time and he has to pick up her slack, be sure to be around at the end of lunch hour to see for yourself. If Amanda is late, you can address the issue and leave Stephen out of it.
If neither of these approaches work, meet with both employees together. Bringing both employees in to discuss their relationships, schedules, or whatever the issue is helps ensure both sides of the issue are heard. Be prepared to break out your best mediation skills.
And just FYI, it’s NOT okay to confront Amanda by saying, “a little bird told me,” or “it’s been brought to my attention.” This approach will only make the conflict worst in most cases. By trying to maintain Stephen’s anonymity, Amanda’s objective after leaving your office will be bird hunting, not improving her performance and relationships with her coworkers.
3. Address expectations, extenuating circumstances, and consequences of behavior before confronting employees.
You can’t hold employees accountable for expectations you never stated, or didn’t state clearly. If there were extenuating circumstances, such as equipment failure, that kept an employee from doing the job, that must be considered as well. Finally, if there are no consequences for poor performance, then there’s no real incentive, other than personal integrity, for doing things right. For those who have that personal integrity, you won’t have to hold many discipline discussions. For those who don’t, what are you going to say at the end of your discussion after, “If this happens again . . .”? If this happens again, we’re going to have our 25th chat about this. If the first chat didn’t cause the employee to change the behavior, subsequent ones won’t either.
4. Send employees to training so they can learn new skills, not as punishment.
If one of the “extenuating circumstances” above was that the employee didn’t know how to do what was expected, then by all means, send him or her to training. However, training isn’t going to “fix” employee behavior when the employee is perfectly capable, but just doesn’t want to do the right thing. The “Send Them to Training Approach” for fixing a bad attitude or reluctant employee only creates a disgruntled trainee who will not be very open to learning what’s taught in the class.
5. Address discipline issues immediately.
This is probably one of the most important habits. Effective leaders don’t take the “Do Nothing and Hope it Goes Away Approach.” They never wait for a small employee behavior problem to turn into a big one. They address ALL problems the first time they see them.
If Mark is late to work, even if it’s the first time, at least mention it out of concern. “Hi Mark, I’m glad you’re here. I was worried because you were 15 minutes late.” If Mark has a legitimate reason, then great, it likely won’t happen again and he’ll appreciate your concern. If this was the first in what is getting ready to become a series of late days, he’ll likely think again before hitting the snooze three times tomorrow.