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Got a difficult employee?
February 04, 2014

Have a difficult employee?

Do you consider one of your direct reports to be a so-called “difficult employee”?

If so, do you blame your employee in question - and do you ask yourself whether you should tolerate this person’s performance - or let her go?

If you find yourself in this dilemma and you are asking yourself these types of questions ... the good news is that you are not alone - most managers ask themselves the very same questions when they find themselves in such situation.

The bad news is that you are playing the role of the victim - like the rest of the managers.

The moment you start blaming your employees for their poor performance, you start placing the responsibility of their performance on themselves - rather than on yourself as their respective manager.

You are responsible for the Unit (or Department or Organization) you lead - and if you don’t want to play the victim, you must also assume the responsibility of the performance of your direct reports.

So - what should you do?

There are many different ways to deal with a low performer - so let me share with you an effective way to do so …

To begin with, you must become aware that your dilemma - whether you should continue to tolerate this person or fire her - is a false dilemma.

The real question is to ask you, “what should I do and/or what should I stop doing - so that this person improves her performance”?

The answer to this question is two-fold:

First …

Sit down with this person and give her constructive feedback.

Please note – constructive feedback is not negative feedback.

Negative feedback is scolding - it doesn’t necessarily increase desirable behavior, it doesn’t necessarily decrease undesirable behavior, and it has the potential to damage your boss-employee relationship.

Negative feedback is destructive feedback.

On the contrary - Constructive Feedback increases desirable behavior and decreases undesirable behavior.

For constructive feedback to be effective – follow these easy nine guidelines: 1) Be calm – don’t do it when angry.
2) Do it in private – never do it in public.
3) Do it immediately – preferably within the next 24 hours of incident.
4) Be specific by focusing on behavior – don’t mention the word “attitude.”
5) Explain the impact on you, the team and the organization.
6) Ask for input, explanation and/or ideas to change.
7) Strive for improvement – not for perfection (sometimes performance improvement is a process, not a one-time event).
8) List agreed outcomes.
9) Give positive feedback as soon as you see new desirable behavior.

Second …

IF after two or three constructive feedback sessions you don’t see behavior improvement - then and only then - you might want to consider what some companies title as, “progressive discipline.”

Progressive discipline is a process - and it simply means the following …

When an employee doesn’t perform up to standards - you also involve your Human Resources Department into your performance conversations with your “difficult” employee.

Some of the elements of your progressive discipline might include …

1) First: Mention to your direct report that there are two possible scenarios: She improves her performance - or she doesn't improvement her performance

2) Second: Mention the specific consequences for each one of these two scenarios

For example: What happens if there is performance improvement AND what happens if there is NO performance improvement

3) Third: Write down this conversation’s agreements and have your employee, HR and yourself sign up such agreements

Your company’s “progressive discipline” might include two, three or four of these conversations.

The end of this very last conversation leads of course to the employee's termination.

Consult your local HR Department for more information – never try to do this process without your HR Department's guidance and support.

Progressive discipline is NOT a threat to the employee - but rather progressive discipline is a clear path that leads either to performance improvement or to termination.

It is up to the employee to decide which path she prefers to take.


The performance of your direct reports is YOUR responsibility. It is your choice whether you want to work or not with employees who are low performers.

Use constructive feedback to immediately correct undesirable behavior (I repeat: immediately).

Use progressive discipline as your VERY last resort.

And finally - when you provide ongoing feedback AND you do follow up on the consequences, you send a crystal clear message to the rest of your organization about your performance expectations.

Please click here to see the entire "Leader Newsletter" Archive.

Questions? Feedback? Reply to this Newsletter and tell me what you would like future issues to be about.

Feel free to re-send this "Leader Newsletter" to your colleagues.

Most recent 12 "Leader Newsletter" issues:

Are you alert by choice - or stressed by default?
Do you want to get rid of stress?
Can’t you improve your team’s performance?
Misunderstandings cost you money
Your Goals on Steroids
Do you "control" your public-speaking nervousness?
Friendship with your Direct Reports
Do you have a bad boss?
Vulnerability is a leadership skill
Governance vs. Management
Are you humble?
Your own Integrity

See you next month!
Jose Luis Romero - Publisher
February 4, 2013. Copyright: All rights reserved
I publish "Leader Newsletter" on the first Tuesday of every month
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