Even though you may not want to think about it, and even though you may not have to deal with difficult people and their bad behavior when you first start as a manager, you will still need to handle a challenging employee at some point of your tenure.
Since not all employees are easy to manage all the time, and not everyone has their best day when they're at work, you need to learn now how to manage these situations effectively.
These can be situations in which a person can learn more about themselves, and about how they can serve their company better.
Or they can learn they may need to find another company.
Find Out What's Happening
When you first encounter a difficult employee, you need to remember that accurate information will be your best ally in the resolution of a tough situation.
You need to be absolutely certain you have the right information about what has happened, and what may still be happening.
To collect this information, it can help to:
- Talk to the complainant – To begin your research, it will help to talk to the person who is complaining about the employee. This might be a team member, or a manager, or even a customer or client. Find out what they know, what they think, and what they want done about the situation.
- Talk to the manager – Next, talk to the employee's manager to find out what they think and whether they have spotted a trend in behavior. You may also find out whether they have already talked to the person about the issue in the past, what has been done, and whether extenuating circumstances exist.
- Talk to team members – Find out from co-workers what the employee is like, and whether they know about the situation. Learn more about what the employee does on a regular day and if the situation was one that was unique.
- Look in the employee's file – Review the employee's file to see if there is anything on record about their behavior. See if this is the first time this has happened, or if there is a pattern of problems.
The more information you can collect, the more you will be able to see the actual truth in all of the data you find. You will be able to get a clearer picture than if you just talked to the person who was upset, or to the employee.
If you can't find out as much information as you'd like, then wait a little longer before talking to the employee. You want to make sure you're going into a meeting with the employee with the facts.
Talk With the Employee
In the end, you will want to talk to the employee about what you know, and what you think you know, about the situation. Find out from the employee what has happened and how they might explain the situation. See if you can learn as much as you can from them about their viewpoint and their thoughts on the matter.
- Create a comfortable situation. You will want to have this conversation during a time when you and the employee will not be interrupted. Sit in your office or in a conference room where you can both feel able to talk openly, without anyone listening.
- State what you know. Be clear about what you know and why you called the meeting. Talk about the facts, as you know them, and don't ascribe any meaning to them until you hear from the employee about what they think happened.
- Ask for adjustments to what you know. It's a good idea to talk about how the employee might make adjustments to the facts, as you know them. They might understand things differently, or they might need to correct something that is simply not true.
- Avoid using names. Whenever possible during the conversation, try to avoid using the names of the people who gave you the information. All the other person needs to know is that you have the information and that you believe it at the moment.
- Avoid blaming. As you talk to the employee, remember that you are trying to find out what happened and how you can make things better. Try talking about the behavior, versus the person whose behavior it was. This will help to separate the person from the bad thing(s) that happened.
- Suggest alternative behavior. With your company's vision and goals in mind, suggest other behaviors to the employee, explaining why you need them to act in a certain way. You can even ask the employee for solutions they might offer, and adjust them as needed.
- Create a plan for resolution. Together, come up with a plan to resolve the situation, or to change the behavior. When you do this work together, it's less about the manager telling the employee what to do, and more about the manager and the employee figuring out what might work better.
- Name a timeline for change.To keep progress on track, it can help to name a timeline for the changes that are agreed upon. This way, there can be check-ins on progress.
Of course, the plan -- and how it is created -- will change depending on the situation. In some cases, you don't need to do anything more than just have one person tell the other person they are sorry.
In other cases, you might need a more detailed and defined plan. And to create that, you need to spend a little more time together with this employee.
Determining the Plan for Success
When you need to do more than just talk out things with an employee, it can help to create a plan that starts with:
- Define the goals. From the start, the plan should begin with the "why" of this plan. You should both agree upon why you are drawing up this plan together, and what it means for the company.
- Consider possible solutions. It can be helpful to next brainstorm about what should happen, and what change might look like when you've figured out what's in need of change.
- Review the systems. Think about how the person does their work and see if there are system issues that might be contributing to the behaviors you don't want to see.
- Create accountability. Find out how the employee can be accountable for their actions. This might include regular check-ins, or it might be that the employee needs to be supervised daily.
This document should be written up and signed by both parties to ensure it's a part of the official record. The paper can go into the employee's file where other managers will see it in the future.
If the problem seems to be something that is short-term, the document might be destroyed after a certain time period without any repeat offenses, but it's recommended the document stay in the employee's file for at least a year.
The employee then knows this document will be there when being considered for raises and promotions, as well as position changes. Their actions need to have consequences.
And accountability can inspire long-term changes.
Following Up on Changes
Once the plan is written up and the employee has signed it and you have signed it, you need to make sure you're following up on what happened next.
Though you may not feel you need to follow up, it's a good process to follow when you want change to happen permanently. Here are some ways you can easily and effectively follow up.
- Schedule regular meetings. Sitting down to talk with the employee about their progress is a good idea, as is ensuring that you:
- Review the plan regularly with the employee. As a part of the meeting, you can talk about the plan you have drafted, and whether any changes need to be made. This makes it a living, breathing document, which can help to ensure the process is more realistic for the employee.
- Check in with other managers and team members. Find out from other people what they have noticed about the team member's progress, or lack thereof. Let the employee know that you will be checking in with others on their team from time to time.
The more you continue to be a presence during this process, the more the employee will need to come to terms with the decisions they have made.
And during this process, the employee can decide whether they are willing to move forward, or if they want to take another step to leaving the company.