Yesterday you said tomorrow. What’s today’s excuse for not tackling that difficult employee?
You know the one I am talking about.
You’ve laid awake at night worrying about what to say to them. How to tell them that whatever they are doing is not OK, and they need to behave differently.
You’ve had the conversation a thousand times in your head, and each time you have vowed to yourself that you will deal with it. Tomorrow.
Well, tomorrow’s here. So why haven’t you said anything yet?
I think knowing when and how to deal with difficult employees is probably the skill most managers find the hardest to master.
You watch a team member do something they shouldn’t (or not do something they should) and it’s like you are frozen in time. Your stomach churns as you realise that someone needs to say something.
And that someone is you.
You feel that sinking, churning feeling in your stomach, as the cold beads of sweat form on your forehead.
You swallow, but it’s as if the saliva in your mouth has completely evaporated.
Your mouth opens, but nothing comes out.
You close it again, turn around, and walk away.
Opportunity number one to resolve the issue has now, officially, expired.
“I’ll have a word tomorrow” you tell yourself, and make a note on your To-Do list when you get back to your desk.
Tomorrow comes, and your team member does exactly the same thing that you watched them do (or not do) yesterday. Several times.
And you wonder what you should say. How to say it. What if the words come out wrong? What if you upset the individual? What if they raise a grievance? What if they quit?
“I’ll give it some proper thought tonight, and have a word tomorrow”.
And instead of enjoying time with your family in the evening, you spend it turning over and over the conversation you are definitely going to have tomorrow with your difficult employee.
Opportunity number two – wasted.
It's Tomorrow (Again)
Tomorrow there’s a crisis at work. It’s all hands on deck, you spend the day running around like a headless chicken, doing what you are best at. Solving problems. Doing the day job. Being useful and important.
Today’s To-Do list carries over until tomorrow. Wasn’t really an opportunity today…business needs and all that. So you let yourself off. Again. And the individual continues their behaviour. Again.
All your Tomorrows...
And on it continues, day after day. Your head might be full of what you are going to say and how you are going to say it, but the conversation stays right there. Unspoken. A product of your imagination. Consuming most of your waking hours, and too many of the hours you should be sleeping.
Opportunities to say something or do something come and go. Every single one missed.
And the longer the conversation stays in your head, the longer your difficult employee is continuing to do (or not do) the thing that you need to talk to them about. And soon, they will have been doing it so long, it will have become a habit. And when (if) you ever do have that conversation tomorrow, it will be a much harder conversation to have, because now they will say “But I’ve always done it that way, and you never complained before”.
And you know they have a point, even though you want to scream and shout with frustration because - deep down inside - you know that the only reason they have always done it like that is because you have let them. But you don't admit that to yourself because you still want to believe it's their fault and they should know better. So you put it off a bit longer, because now you have to think about an argument to counter that too.
Eventually the rest of your team will get pretty fed up. They can see what is going on, and they know who should be dealing with it. But they don’t see any evidence that any action is taking place. So they get more and more downhearted. Why should they do the right thing when someone is doing the wrong thing right under their manager’s nose, for months, and the manager has done nothing at all about it?
And if they can’t beat them, they might as well join them. So they’ll start copying the behaviour. Behaviour you were going to have a word about but didn’t. And soon the whole team will be doing it. And if you try to have that conversation now, you’ll have to have it with all of them, and all hell will break loose.
Everyone will get upset. They might all leave. Your business will be finished.
The problem is, you’ve lost control.
You’ll blame your team for being uncooperative, difficult or obstructive, when the truth is, employees aren't born difficult, they don't go out of their way to be difficult (usually) and if a normally average OK employee becomes difficult, it's usually because of something their manager has said or done - or not said or not done.
Employees aren't born difficult - but managers can make them so.
The situation you find yourself in is not caused by them - it was caused by you.
You lost control on day 1 when you let something slide that you should have tackled. You could have got it back if you’d done something on day 2 or 3, but you didn’t do anything. So now the problem has grown into a real issue.
There is a way back – there’s always a way back.
But it’s a lot better if you don’t go there in the first place.
Nip things in the bud. Speak up the first time you see something you don’t like happening in your team. They won’t like it, but they will respect you for it and they’ll know exactly where they stand with you.
Trust me, employees prefer a manager who sets clear standards of performance and behaviour and enforces them consistently. They know what they are dealing with, they know the minimum that is expected of them and they will deliver it if they are capable of doing so.
It’s the quiet ones, the pushovers, the shrinking violets, and the managers that blow in the wind who are the most difficult to work for, because you never know what they are thinking, whether they really mean what they say, or whether they will stand up for what they believe in or cave at the first sign of pressure.
The best time to tell an employee they need to change is today.
Don’t leave it until tomorrow – you said that yesterday!
If you struggle to find the right time, and the right words, to say the right thing to your employees, you would definitely benefit from my accidental manager coaching programme. It's bespoke, tailored just for you, to tackle the challenges and personalities you have in your team. Give me a call to find out more. 07902 903086
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