Maybe he was a bad hire to begin with. Maybe you saw a lot of potential, but now he is late or calling in ill. He’s disengaged with you and with customers. It is a tough conversation to have because he IS already trained and who knows if the next one will be worse? And some days he is focused and you still have hope. This is the internal dialog you may have for months before the “turn around conversation” with your problem employee.
Tough conversations with employees come with the job. If you are avoiding a difficult situation, the first place to start is with yourself. What do you want? Do you want to salvage this employee? Or separate from the employee? Separation and the legal requirements leading to termination is a topic for another post. But if you want to turn around your problem employee and get better performance, recognize that you will get it when you stop accepting your employee’s current performance. Silence is acceptance. Which means you must have the tough conversation.
The goal of a turn around conversation is not to anger an employee, shake them up or fire them. It is to have them go in a new direction. A successful turnaround conversation gives an employee a new vantage point to see themselves differently. Not as victims of their boss or workplace, but as capable adults who can choose to be more successful by adopting new behaviors. A great turnaround conversation is a truthful recalibration. it acknowledges the value the employee brings to the workplace. And it should be a liberating dialog that allows both the manager and the employee to reset the course for the future. (Truthfully, there is always a risk that the employee may decide the request is too difficult and choose to leave. A move that is empowering for both parties in its own right.)
Addressing the problem employee: step by step
First, ask yourself if you have properly trained the employee and if they are clear about expectations. Think of the Training Triangle which says that for adults to learn, they have to
- see the new behavior demonstrated,
- be trained in how and why the new behavior is done and
- be held accountable to do it so they internalize the new behavior.
If you know you have done the first two steps well, it is time to move to the third step and hold your employee accountable.
- Prepare by writing down what you expect and your personal direct observations about the employee’s behavior. Focus on behavior NOT intent. There is a wide valley between, “I expect everyone to clean the store at the end of the night. You did not do that on Tuesday and we started Wednesday with dirty counters and floors” and “I know you think it is below you to clean the store.” Anytime you assume you know intent, you are almost always wrong. You can observe WHAT a person does. But you cannot observe WHY a person does it.
- Be clear about what you would have them do differently. “In the future, I expect you to follow the entire closing process including cleaning the store.”
- Talk about accountability and consequences. Be clear about the decision you will make if changes are not made. “If you close the store without the appropriate steps taken to clean it, you will no longer be a closing manager. That means you will be demoted and have a pay cut.”
While the conversation is one-sided, it does set a clear expectation, describes the expected behavior and outlines consequences for not adhering to the request. As the manager/owner, it is your privilege to have one-way communication. It is also your responsibility to be fair about extenuating circumstances and, importantly, recognize good behavior as much as bad. Catch your problem employee doing the right things – and call out every example of it – to gain positive momentum. As Eliza Doolittle said “The difference between a lady and a flower girl is not how she behaves, but how she is treated.” Find a reason to point out when your employees are working well – even the ones that need coaching. That is when you will master the art of turning around the people who work for you.