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April 2012
Turn Around the Challenging Employee By Rosemary M. Monahan

Acceptable behavior starts from the top. Are you taking immediate corrective actions to demonstrate you are more invested in employee success than failure?

As a retail manager, you can see it coming: the inevitable negative reaction of a seasonal employee to a change in procedure or a reassignment of work. It’s been going on for a while now, and you know you should handle it, but the truth is, you just don’t know how, you don’t want the hassle and it’s easier to just put up with it. But it really isn’t.

Challenging employees — those exhibiting behaviors that get in the way of a productive work environment — make up less than 10 percent of the workforce, but can take up as much as 90 percent of a manager’s time. Most managers are frustrated and/or reluctant to deal with the problem. But managers must handle these employee behaviors immediately to avoid further negative impact to:

• Employee morale

• Employee retention

• Productivity

• Management focus/credibility

• Customer retention

• Bottom line

However, the more critical reason to address these issues immediately is to support and assist employees who are struggling and need help; provide coaching and feedback to develop more successful employees; and maintain management credibility and control. Not to mention that it’s the manager’s job — and the right thing to do!

When a manager avoids taking control in these situations, everyone loses, and the manager inadvertently becomes part of the problem — his/her failure to take action has consequences far beyond just the employee’s difficult behavior.

Seasonal employees who are challenging can do an inordinate amount of damage to a retail organization’s reputation, with negative effects felt almost immediately. If a customer has a bad experience, they won’t be quiet about it, and can hit social media sites like Facebook and Twitter and let the whole world know about the bad experience they had at your garden center! You will avoid this kind of feedback if you take corrective action as soon as you see negative behaviors!

Behavior Profiling

So what are some of these employee behaviors — and how can a manager handle them for win-win outcomes? Here’s a representative sampling of 10 common behaviors that occur in almost any organization, retail or otherwise:

The Gossiper delights in spreading rumors and lies but is often unaware of the consequences.

The Obstructionist refuses to adhere to new policies, organizational changes or different work assignments, doesn’t follow directions and is openly insubordinate.

The Elitist only likes to speak with the boss or the boss’ boss, refuses to do work they consider beneath them, and is often condescending and dismissive in interactions with co-workers.

The Fomentor encourages discontent and dysfunction. Unlike the Gossiper who doesn’t always have a clue, the Fomentor likes to keep everyone in an uproar, often dissing the boss, the organization, co-workers, and even customers! Frequently assigns blame and picks fights.

The MIA can never be found, anywhere. Doesn’t answer calls or return emails in a timely manner, and when questioned always has excuses and claims of being “too busy” or “over worked.”

The Not My Job refuses to support business or team initiatives beyond assigned responsibilities, and are not willing to put themselves out. Generally uncooperative and rarely take initiative.

The Avoider is a master at avoiding work, extra work and getting anything done. Comes in late and leaves early. Milks the system — sick days, vacation days, funeral leave. Failure to pull their weight often results in other employees having to pick up the slack or fall behind on
their deadlines.

The Complainer is extremely negative, criticizes the boss, the company, co-workers and complains about absolutely everything. Never offers suggestions for change and has no interest in being part of the solution.

The Bully dominates conversations, meetings and projects and manipulates people to get what they want. They often use anger and position to intimidate and control.

The Lawsuit Waiting to Happen engages in unwelcome comments or conduct based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability or sexual orientation. This includes harassment, jokes, racial slurs, touching, stereotyping,
ageism, etc.

See anybody you know? And that’s the point. All of these behaviors are observable — by you, by your boss, by your staff and by your customers. The consequences of not addressing these behaviors can ultimately lead to loss of business, loss of valued employees, negative bottom-line impact, damage to the organization’s reputation and job loss — yours!

Can’t We All Just Get Along?

So what’s a manager to do? Here are five tips:

1. Address the problem sooner than later. Negative attitudes have a way of spreading from one employee to another. By addressing the problem sooner rather than later, you avoid further contagion, set expectations for the future and give the offending employee an opportunity to succeed.

2. Investigate, observe, document. Customer and employee complaints should never be taken lightly, but it’s really important that you respond rather than react. First, investigate the complaints. Are the allegations true? Is the offending employee aware of the behavior? What might be causing the behavior? There could be any number of reasons: personality, chronic illness, immaturity, undisclosed problems/stresses on the job, problems/stresses outside of work, lack of experience, lack of education, language barriers, etc. It will be important to explore the rest of the story because there is always the rest of the story! Have you, the manager, or other employees, contributed to the behavior in
any way?

Second, observe the employee. How are they interacting with other employees and customers? What problematic behaviors are you directly observing?

Third, document what you have personally observed: date, time, occurrence — and be specific. Be sure to consult your HR policies and procedures manual if you have one.

3. Take corrective action. Have a solution seeking mindset, and schedule a meeting with the employee. Treat the employee with respect, and discuss what you have observed and express your concern. Ask if there are any concerns the employee may be dealing with. Allow the employee to explain/respond. Here’s where you’ll learn the rest of the story. Describe why the behavior is problematical and emphasize that it needs to change and you are there to help. Most employees will respond favorably if you are professional and keep your emotions under control.

4. Prepare an improvement plan. Ask for suggestions from the employee on how to resolve the problem and discuss. Diffuse any conflict by listening with empathy. Agree to specific steps the employee will take to correct the problem, and ask the employee to write up an improvement plan with specific goals and action steps and timelines to meet those goals.

5. Provide on-going support and coaching. Agree to meet weekly for 30 days to discuss progress. Continue to observe and document behavior and improvement. Be sure to catch the employee doing something right and provide feedback, but be prepared for slippage, too. Behaviors take time to change. Your job is to be a partner and catalyst for positive change.

If this seems like a lot of effort, it is. Sometimes the results aren’t positive, and you wind up having to let the employee go anyway. But you owe it to yourself, to your organization and most of all to your employees to ensure everyone’s success. Acceptable behavior starts with you. Owners, managers and supervisors need to model and coach acceptable behavior and take immediate corrective action to demonstrate to all employees that they are more invested in employee success than failure. When that attitude permeates a retail operation, everyone wins. And that’s more than worth the effort!

Rosemary M. Monahan

Rosemary M. Monahan, CMF is a certified executive coach who helps her clients overcome limiting behaviors and attitudes, both in themselves and in the people they manage, to achieve greater organizational and career success. Contact her at [email protected] ization.com or at 847.471.6751.


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