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A team approach to resolving a "problem" employee by Jack Craven (Appeared in Forbes.com 10/26/16)

Jack Craven
|
December 8, 2016

*A team approach to resolving a "problem" employee by Jack Craven as featured in Forbes.com on Oct. 26, 2016

It’s common for me to get calls from companies explaining they have a problem employee. Can I come in and coach them? And by "coach," they mean “fix” that problem person.

It makes sense to think that if the one employee’s behavior were to magically change, the company's problem would also disappear. This logic implies blame toward that one person and unconsciously absolves the other members of the team from responsibility for the current situation.

Instead, leaders must look at the current situation from a place of curiosity. "What can we as a team learn from this?" Then have each person on the team think of what his or her responsibility is for the results.

To put this framework into action, think of an issue with a colleague that you have not addressed. Rather than pointing fingers at the person as being the source of the problem, now is the opportunity for you and the team to work it out. Here's how to get started:

Identify Your Fears And Judgments

First, what are the stories in your head that you have relied on to justify avoiding the conversation? Write them down. Your stories often involve fear and/or judgments. The fear might be tied to how the other person might react. You may have judgments toward yourself for having to be the bad guy. Can you acknowledge and overcome your fears and judgments and move forward?

Leaders tend to minimize the cost of avoiding these conversations and over-value the benefit of not addressing the issue directly. Unresolved issues take up more team time, energy, productivity and performance than most realize. Think of what you and your team could accomplish if this recycled issue were solved.

Set A Meeting

Before you schedule the meeting with the individual, get crystal clear about what you want to know, resolve and express. When scheduling the meeting, ask the other person if now is a good time to have the conversation. If not, ask when is a good time. Avoid scheduling meetings when either of you are highly reactive or triggered. When either one of you is triggered, there is a tendency to get defensive and not be open.

When you meet, be direct, and open about the purpose of this meeting. Avoid burying the lead. This risks having the other person wondering where the conversation is headed versus listening to you. Try statements like: “I’m here to talk about your performance," or, "I'm here to discuss improving team communication and collaboration.”

Next, clearly articulate your ask. “I want you and your team to communicate more effectively and meet the department's goals."

Ask them what their responsibility in finding a solution looks like in this issue. For example, it might be, "My responsibility in this issue is to encourage my team to give me feedback on how well I am supporting them and giving them the resources to succeed."

Allow the other person to respond with their points of view. Your role is to be open and curious. Acknowledge and validate their thoughts and feelings. Keep their responses on point. If the person begins talking outside of the topics you want to cover, gently return the conversation to the key points. "I hear that you have concerns about the budget, why don't we have a separate conversation on that later this week?"

Reiterate Your Main Points And Discuss Next Steps

Get 100% commitment on what they will do by when. It should be specific and measurable. You, as a leader, can then articulate your responsibility. For example, "I will provide you with these resources to support you to succeed."

Schedule a follow-up meeting, with specific agreed-upon goals. Discuss positive or negative consequences based on their results. Follow through on whatever you say that you were going to do.

Do not end your meeting until all of your key points have been discussed. If the person is not handling the meeting well, and is getting defensive, leaders tend to avoid raising all of their important points. This is a mistake. All points should all be addressed at once in that meeting.

You can then have the same meeting for each person on your team tied to the issue, in order to form a clearer picture of how it's all related.

By handling "problem" employees this way, your team will see that you took action on the issue, followed through and held every team member accountable. This will set an example of the new way to handle team issues — directly, with each person looking at their role and responsibility.

Jack Craven
Jack Craven is an executive coach to business leaders, and the teams and companies they lead.

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