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“Difficult Conversations” and “Dealing With Problem Employees”


“Difficult Conversations” and “Dealing With Problem Employees” are frequently identified as distasteful parts of the Supervisor’s job. (Go figure??)


So how about a different take on the two subjects? And in doing so, please allow me a bit of understatement and irreverence in my observations. Let’s begin:


  • Difficult conversations are “difficult” because they are often the first time performance and behaviors have been addressed. Suggested solution: Address it/them when initially observed. (The potential emotional level might be much lower.) IKR and,


  • Don’t allow employees to become “Problem Employees”. Identify the “business issue” that the employee’s behavior represents (e.g. the impact of their behaviors on individual, and possibly departmental productivity). Address it early and consistently.


Both the problems and the proposed solutions involve “communication”. During the orientation phase of a new hire coming onboard, have discussions about your expectations and your standards. Let them know, in a welcoming tone (Look it up. It means no snarling or growling.) that you will be mindful of when they are doing a good job and “Positively Reinforce” their continued growth and performance. But also let them know you will be talking with them when correction is necessary or improvement in order for them to be successful in their job. Explain that both types of conversation are being done out of respect. And, selfishly for you in your role as a Supervisor, it goes to eliminating “surprises” so often a part of those difficult conversations.


Now, what about that employee group you may have inherited or a group you have worked with over time; but who is not performing up to standard? How do you change course and hold people accountable? Well, my suggestion is..DRIVE A STACK IN THE GROUND. Start now having performance, and workplace behavior conversations where needed. If this hasn’t been your prior habit, you might want to include a “partner” (possibly your direct supervisor or human resources partner) in on your plan of action and explain the “business issue” that is prompting your action.


As a final reminder, out of respect, your top performers need to know you value their contribution. Similarly, to not address “underperformance” and “problem employee behaviors” is a sign of disrespect to your good-performing employees. And, to not address underperformance is “disrespectful” to the underperforming employee because you are not holding them accountable to perform to their capacity and capability. Your challenge is to surround “good performers with other good performers”.

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