5 Strategies for Managing Unmanageable Employees
As an entrepreneur, you’ll encounter your share of employees. During the hiring process, you’ll do your best to select candidates with solid experience, a great attitude and references that support their abilities to perform in a work environment. Unfortunately, even the best candidates can have quirks that make them difficult to work with in day-to-day operations.
Not that these quirks and other difficulties are necessarily worth firing a candidate over: You might have a fantastic programmer, for example, who always gets his work done on time and doesn’t mind getting paid less than his contemporaries, but who is sometimes difficult and flat-out refuses certain requests to cooperate. Nor is absolute submission a prerequisite for a healthy working relationship; in fact, some resistance is actually good and can help you understand differences in perspectives.
But unmanageable employees are something else again: They make it difficult for you to keep your team productive while retaining your image as leader and the integrity of your original mission. If you find yourself in such a situation, try one of these five strategies:
1. Set firm, written expectations.
Be clear in the early stages of your relationship that there are some things that aren’t negotiable. Setting expectations in advance of any issues ensures there is no surprise or confusion when those expectations are enforced.
For example, upon making a new hire, you can make sure your employee knows that working from home is okay, but only after giving an immediate supervisor 24 hours’ notice. If an employee rejects this policy by declaring work-from-home days the morning of a workday, remind him/her that this firm policy was made clear up front. Generally, a warning is a prudent first course of action, but if violations are repeated, termination may be necessary.
2. Prioritize your requests.
This is the professional version of “picking your battles.” If you know your employee is going to resist at least some of your requests or directions, be clear about which ones are necessary and which ones are open to discussion.
For example, if you call for a meeting with a difficult employee with the intention to ensure that: 1) he meets an upcoming deadline, 2) reverses his punctuality problem and 3) attends more meetings, the deadline issue is undoubtedly the most pressing. You can offer leniency in the less important areas, telling the employee he can skip the next meeting and have some flexibility in his arrival time, as long as he doesn’t miss the deadline. This strategy shows that you’re willing to compromise on minor issues, but your overall vision must take absolute priority.
3. Find alternatives.
Some items in your business are simply black and white: For example, if you meet an upcoming deadline, your client will be happy; and if you miss it, your client will leave. Therefore, meeting the deadline is necessary. The way you achieve these ends, however, is more in the gray area. So, you may ask your employees to come in early each day one week to ensure that this deadline gets met.
However, your unmanageable employees may resist. Instead of forcing the "non-morning" people to comply, remind them that the deadline is firm, and ask them for an alternative solution to ensure it gets met.
4. Document improvement plans.
If your employee challenges every request or is otherwise impossible to manage in any meaningful way, document her known issues and together create an improvement plan. For example, you can work with the employee on a 90-day plan, with four main necessary improvements to her behavior and performance. Once those 90 days are up, meet again and go over the improvement points. If she has improved, your problems are solved. If she has not improved, you have clear grounds for termination.
5. Use peer pressure.
If the rest of your team members are perfectly manageable and easy to work with, use them as examples to help your problem employee assimilate. For example, if three of your best employees comply with a new policy, and you see a spike in performance, reward them publicly with a free lunch or something similar. Eventually, your difficult employee will learn that complying with management yields positive results, and he or she will naturally come closer to the cultural standards your company has set.
Some employees are simply easier to manage than others, and some hard-to-manage employees are worth the extra effort. If you choose to keep a more challenging employee on your team for the long haul, you may need a shift in perspective and a little extra patience to make things work.
If you’re still having trouble after employing these mitigation strategies, it’s probably time to find someone new.
Related: 10 People Who Will Destroy Your Business
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