As the old-fashioned saying goes, one bad apple can spoil the whole bunch,” says Melanie Rego, founder and president of Elevator Communications in Toronto. This is just as true for employees as fruit. A difficult coworker can ruin an office for an entire team.
So how do you manage your team to minimize conflict—and when is firing the only solution? Rego and Brigitte Bourque, executive coach at PauzÃ© Coaching in Montreal, share their advice.
Hire for culture
“Over the years, we’ve observed that conflict arises when the team isn’t in harmony,” notes Rego. While it’s tempting to focus on skill sets when bringing on employees—and common to be in a hurry to fill empty positions—ultimately, performance often hinges on whether the whole team is getting along. “Understanding the mix between personalities, skill sets and levels is critical,” she adds.
Enlist an expert
Rego is also a strong believer in bringing on a human resources consultant—if you don’t have an HR specialist on staff—to set you up on the right track when it comes to policies. “These professionals are experts in handling proper procedures,” she says, which is critical when problems arise.
“When you have negative feedback to give someone, don’t wait,” says Bourque. “Do it in real time, as soon as you have observed the behaviour that you don’t want to accept.”
The reason for this is twofold. First, giving feedback in the moment (though, ideally, in private) is more effective. Actions that you thought we unacceptable might be forgettable to the employee, and harder to quantify later on. Second, you’re establishing a basis of consistency in expectations, rather than giving an employee the impression that certain actions are tolerated when in fact they’re not.
Be clear about consequences
“You have to have an action plan with the person, because you have to be very clear about consequences,” notes Bourque. “What are my expectations in the next week, next month, next three months?”
Articulate clear objectives regarding how you would like to see problematic behaviour improve or eliminated, but also be prepared to help. “You have to be ready to help the person achieve these objectives, because the situation is always a two-way street,” Bourque says.
Know when to pull the plug
Part of setting up procedures and expectations is making sure everyone has a clear understanding of when an employee could be terminated. But if performance and behaviour aren’t improving, Bourque says, it’s often a better decision both for the employee and the company to end the relationship quickly rather than letting it drag on.
“You don’t want to invest more energy into a bad situation,” she says. “It kills motivation on both sides to be in a situation where you think that there’s something you can do, when in fact there isn’t.”
Learn from each employee
Rego points out that building a team is a challenging endeavour and one you get better at over time. And after 14 years of business, she thinks she’s finally cracked the code—and that things can only improve. “It’s been a work in progress,” she says, “but hiring the right people’ that complement one another’s skills and connect with each other because of like-minded values has put us in a place where we have the best team we’ve ever had.”
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How do you deal with problem employees? Share your strategies and experiences using the comments section below.