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Tag Archives: performance problem

A problem employee must be dealt with promptly

problem employeeIf you don’t deal with a problem employee swiftly and firmly, you run the risk that a few rotting leaves will ruin the whole salad.  Let me explain.

Bagged salad from the grocery store is simple and convenient, so I often purchase it as an easy way to add more greens to our meals.  But every so often, despite the “Best before” date, I see a few leaves beginning to brown through the cellophane wrap.  When I notice some of the edges browning, I have learned that it is wise to open the bag, remove the offending pieces, and store the remaining greens in an airtight container for the next couple of days.  Experience has taught me that if I leave the bag unopened, the few darkening bits turn the entire contents into one big slimy mess, and then nothing is salvageable.

If you don’t deal with your problem employee …

This everyday situation offers a lesson in how important it is for leaders to manage, without delay, the problem employee on their team.  If you observe any of your employees exhibiting poor performance or inappropriate workplace behaviour, it’s essential that you deal with them promptly and firmly.  Because if you leave these individuals unchecked, they will most certainly spread discord and negativity throughout your team simply by being present.  Even worse, your lack of decisive action with a problem employee will actually be demoralizing for the rest of your team.  The few rotting leaves will quickly turn the entire bag into a horrid place to work. Continue reading

Employee performance = ability X motivation

employee performanceI often address the issue of problem employees on the blog.  In the past, I’ve talked about the difference between performance, behaviour and attitude issues, the importance of articulating the problem, and the single most important question to ask yourself before you ever raise the issue with your employee. It’s always worth stepping back and taking a big picture perspective.   Let’s focus on what makes up employee performance, both good and bad.

Employee performance consists of two components

Employee performance is a function of two things – ability and motivation.

Performance = ability X motivation

Ability is the physical, intellectual or emotional capability of your employee to get the job done. Is your employee even able to do what is required in the job?

Motivation however has to do with desire and commitment. Does the employee WANT to do the job at the level and competence that is required?

Why should you care?

Why does this matter? Because you need to assess both factors when trying to get at the root cause of a performance problem. Someone who is highly motivated but at a reduced level of ability can often achieve above-average performance. Unfortunately the opposite is not always true. But don’t be fooled into thinking that motivation can overcome ANY lack of ability – the two are still necessary requirements for exceptional (or even adequate) employee performance. In my experience, you can operate tolerably at 50% ability, but anything less than 75% motivation will get you nowhere.

So what do you think? What are the minimum required levels of ability and motivation to have an adequately performing employee?

Deal with performance problems sooner rather than later

BrokenWindowA recent conversation with a manager in a client organization about dealing with an employee performance problem reminded me of a Mega Minute I wrote back in October 2004 titled Broken Windows and Leadership.  In it, I referred to the Broken Windows theory put forward by authors James Wilson and George Kelli in 1982 to explain the epidemic element of crime.  The ultimate premise of the Broken Windows theory is that small things matter, often more than the big things.  The hypothesis is that if a window in a building is broken and left unrepaired, people walking by will conclude that no one cares and no one is in charge.  Soon, more windows will be broken.  That leads to more petty crime, then serious crime, and finally urban decay.  The point: if you’ve got broken windows, it’s important to fix them right away, before they turn into bigger problems.

I was reminded of this because this manager and I were talking about the importance of dealing with an employee performance problem promptly.  Continue reading

Got a problem employee? Don’t whitewash

This has been an eventful week in my world of column writing. Yesterday, my newest Profit article titled How to stay focused by managing workflow interruptions was published on, and this morning, my latest piece for The Globe & Mail‘s Leadership Lab hit cyberspace.

Got a problem employee? Don’t whitewash

is (as you might expect from the title) about “whitewash”, a communication blunder that many managers make where they seek to address a problem behaviour by issuing a broad edict to many, instead of being direct and specific with the particular employee who is the concern. Not only does whitewash not achieve the desired outcome with the problem employee, but perhaps more damaging, it is demoralizing to the high-performers on the team. So how do you NOT whitewash? By having a frank and straightforward conversation with the employee in question. But “How?” you ask. Well, my column gives you the answer by laying out the five key steps to structure your dialogue.


Well now I want to hear from you. What do you think? What have been your experiences with “whitewash”? How have you had that difficult conversation with a problem employee? I’m always interested in other perspectives and viewpoint, including contrary opinions. The primary reason I write these columns is to instigate dialogue; the more we talk about the subjects that make and break us as leaders, the more equipped we are deal with these topics. So please, add your point of view to The Globe‘s website, or if you wish, post your Comment here right on the blog, or send me a tweet (@mergespeaks).

And please help me get the word out and get the message to as many as possible … pass the link along to your staff and colleagues. I’d love their thoughts as well!

I’m looking forward to hearing from you. Here is a direct link to the article in case you need to cut and paste it elsewhere:

An (even more) important reason to take action with your problem employee

BadAppleA new CareerBuilder survey, released last week, found that more than a quarter of the over 2,100 managers surveyed (from approx. 2,000 U.S.-based companies) have a direct employee that they’d like to see leave the company.  Even more interestingly, many of these managers chose NOT to directly confront and deal with the problem situation, instead choosing to engage in passive-aggressive behaviours, or drop hints, hoping (against all hope) that the offending employee would somehow get the message.

I don’t know what these managers are thinking … perhaps they’re hoping that if they just ignore the problem, it might just miraculously vanish!  Not!!  When you don’t address the situation with a non-performing employee, the problem gets worse, never better!  In fact, I think the greater tragedy is what your lack of action will do to the morale of the rest of your team.  Continue reading

The (only) four reasons for employee non-performance

If you have responsibility for people management, then you know that sometimes employees don’t meet job expectations to the level that is required. What you may not have realized though is that there are only four possible reasons why! In the latest issue of CGA Magazine, I outline the four possible reasons for employee non-performance, and (perhaps more importantly) give you two logical steps to manage the situation more effectively. Continue reading

Lousy Performances, Unacceptable Behavior or Rotten Attitudes? Live audio event on November 3

Unfortunately, at some point or another, every leader will encounter at least one – a problem employee who has a bad attitude and brings substandard performance and disruptive behavior to the workplace.  And if you’ve had even just one, then you know that a single bad apple can not only destroy productivity and team morale, but can also take up an excessive proportion of your time and energy.  And, to add insult to injury, the effort it takes to deal with a problem employee just leaves you less time to get a gazillion other things done, including investing in the motivated members of your team.  It’s time to learn how to take control of this difficult leadership challenge!  If you want to learn, for once and for all, the definitive process and specific techniques to deal with poor performance, unacceptable behavior and terrible workplace attitudes, then you absolutely must join me in this upcoming event.

Click here to register now.

I’m not going to be giving you any sophisticated theories or elevated philosophies in this program; just specific and practical tools and techniques that you can use right away to make positive progress with your problem employees.  You’ll learn:

  • Why it’s critical to differentiate between performance, behavior and attitude problems
  • Specific things to say and do when giving employees feedback – the difference between what works and what doesn’t!
  • Three steps to describing the performance problem – if you can’t verbalize it, then your employee can’t act on it!
  • The (only) four reasons employees don’t do what they’re supposed to do
  • What to do and say when an employee becomes defensive
  • The definitive process to systematically determine the source of the problem, and then decisively deal with the problem employee (laid out in an easy-to-use flowchart)
  • Tips for (relatively) painless documentation
  • The path to termination – the four steps in progressive discipline

Join me on November 3, 2010 at 11 AM MDT. Early bird pricing in effect ONLY until this Wednesday October 27!

Click here to register, or for more information.

What is the most difficult thing about managing problem employees?

Every organization has them – problem employees who have poor attitudes and bring shoddy performance and disruptive behavior to the workplace. Even though they are usually a small percentage of your entire team, if you’ve had even one, then you know that it’s one too many! A single bad apple can not only destroy productivity and team morale, but can also take up an inordinate amount of your time and mental space.

What obstacles do YOU face when it comes to managing employees with lousy performances, unacceptable behaviour or rotten attitudes? Tell me about your most difficult challenge at, and I’ll do my best to answer as many questions as I can during my live Audio Conference coming up on Wednesday November 3.

Problem employee? Is it performance, behaviour, or attitude?

If you’re in a position of formal leadership in your organization, sooner or later, you’re going to be faced with the problem employee.  This is the employee who misses deadlines, presents sub-standard work, is frequently tardy or absent, uses the telephone excessively for personal use, complains constantly, or has a tendency to be a “know-it-all.”  You know – the one that takes up a disproportionate amount of your time at work, and if that isn’t enough, keeps you up at night.

So … how are you going to address this problem issue with your employee?  Continue reading