Confront Bad Employee

If you have to confront a “bad” employee, you may feel anxious. But I have three steps that ease the pain…

It’s Sheri, Grant’s Chief Operations Officer and right hand for all things people and culture here at Cardone. I want to help you with those “tough conversations” with your employees or co-workers. You know, the ones that involve confrontation and corrective action… The ones you put off for as long as possible or just hope that the issue goes away so you never have to address it? 

Let’s just be upfront about it. These conversations are not fun. It can be painful, but it’s necessary, especially when it means confronting and/or cutting off people who drag you and the company down.

Think about it this way:

your business is the vehicle you use to 1) reach your own highest potential, 2) help your employees reach theirs, and 3) help your clients/customers achieve theirs. A lot rides on your ability to run your company at 10X levels. Letting underperformers sabotage your business impacts far more than just “efficiency” and “making money”; it hurts you, your people, and your whole mission.

The same is true in your personal life; if somebody is distracting you from your goals or getting in the way of you reaching your highest potential, you owe it to yourself to distance yourself from that negative influence.

So when you consider that it is your responsibility as a leader of your team, group, company, or your own life to ensure you succeed, it makes the conversation easier. I mean, just think about what you would do if a thief or thug broke into your home and threatened to hurt you, your family, your kids… you would fight with all your might.

I am here to tell you that dealing with a problem staff member or person in your life is at the same urgency and importance level. They are threatening you and your livelihood.

So today I’m giving you a behind-the-scenes look at the methods I’ve developed over decades of corporate experience.

I’ll let you in on my 3 Golden Rules to make tough conversations easier, less emotional, more productive, and helpful for everyone involved. 

They will help you: 

1) Properly diagnose people problems… 

2) Address and correct problematic behavior or performance… 

3) Save employees on the brink of getting fired… 

4) Let go of employees who refuse to be saved.

If you only get one thing out of this letter, let it be this one critical mindset shift: correcting underperformers in your life is kindness. It’s a kindness to you because it removes an obstacle to your fulfillment. It’s kindness to the person you correct because they’re better off fixing the problem than being stuck piling up mistakes. And, it’s kindness to everyone that person comes into contact with because they won’t be misled or torn down. And it’s a kindness to your team and your company and all the people you have the potential to help.

Take it from me… by now I’ve had thousands of these types of conversations. People are much happier when they have structure and correction rather than continue underperformance, which will never make them truly happy.

And with that, let’s dive into my 3 Golden Rules of Tough Conversations:

Golden Rule 1 — Make the conversation as instantaneous as possible

If you need to have a tough conversation, do it ASAP. Because the longer you let the problem fester:

  • The bigger the problem gets
  • The wider it spreads
  • The more damage it causes
  • The worse you feel
  • The heavier the blow when the conversation eventually happens

Let me walk you through a quick example. 

Every morning at 9:05 the whole 10X team gathers for the Morning Meeting. Usually, I can feel the energy in the air, we all show up ready to attack the day. But on rare occasions, I can sense the energy levels dragging a bit. People aren’t as excited. They’re more robotic. They’re just going through the motions.

You might think that’s not a big deal, but here’s what it means — if our team is less excited, they’ll be less motivated to put in their best effort, they won’t be as eager to help each other, our clients will get sub-par service because our people are lagging, which means they might be underserved or dissatisfied with us. We could potentially lose clients because our team slips into low-energy mode. Maybe you’ve seen this in your own business as well.

As soon as I notice the low energy, I have two choices:

1) ignore it and just see what happens or 2) address it immediately so we can get back on track for the rest of the day. 

Since you’re reading this letter, I think you know that option 2 is the only correct answer. 

Continuing the example of the low-energy Morning Meeting, I take immediate action. I stop the meeting. And I get the whole office to do 30 seconds of jumping jacks or high knees. Anything to get the blood flowing and shake out the lethargy. By dealing with the problem right away, I save myself, the company, and our clients from the negative effects that low energy would create throughout the day.

This applies to any tough conversation, whether it’s something as “little” as low energy or something as big as firing a close friend. If you want the best results, you must head off trouble while it’s small and fresh. This guarantees the most painless discussion possible.

Golden Rule 2 — Be specific with your correction and solution when you confront a “bad” employee

No doubt you’ve heard criticisms like…

“I don’t like your attitude.” 

“You offended someone.” 

“You’ve done an awful job.” 

These are all forms of “lazy” criticism. They’re vague and general which means they’re useless and ineffective. If you find yourself in a position to correct or confront an employee, you must be specific about why you’re correcting them and what the solution should be. Because you can’t expect an employee to fix a performance issue if you can’t even tell them what you expect and what you need. Confusing them will only cause deeper frustration and resentment. 

To get clear and specific about the issue, you need to tie the problem you’re addressing to the policy or procedure they’re violating. Don’t “trust your gut” or rely on hearsay from complainers. Go back to clearly expressed company policy. It’s helpful to have the manual or policy book during the meeting so you can show it to the employee as you explain the reason for the meeting.

Making the issue a question of policy does a few very helpful things:

  1. It rules out the possibility of personal attacks. If a troublemaker files a complaint against a co-worker in hopes of getting them fired, you can easily find out based on whether there’s a legitimate policy violation. It’s for this reason Grant always says, “If there’s a problem, show me, don’t tell me.” Trust what you see way more than what you hear.
  1. It takes all of the personal emotion out of it. The conversation isn’t about pent up frustration, a personal slight, or being offended. It’s simply a matter of getting the employee re-aligned with company policy. No more, no less. Emotions might still flare up, but your job is to refrain from any emotional reaction whatsoever. 
  1. It allows you to enter into the conversation with the mindset of: “Maybe they don’t know any better. This meeting is just about giving him/her the right information.” I’ve found many times that the problem was a simple misunderstanding, forgetfulness, or the person never got the right information in the first place. They were doing the best they could with what they had. Before you come out swinging, it’s safest to assume that the problem is a) a miscommunication or b) they didn’t retain the information they received. Both of those are easy fixes.

Once you’ve gotten very specific about the problematic behavior and the way it conflicts with company policy, now it’s your job to communicate exactly how you want your employee to fix it.

Give them clear steps to follow (preferably straight from company policy.) 

And lastly document everything about the outcome. Who was involved, the problem addressed, the solution, the action-plan to implement it, and the employee’s agreement to align with it. I almost always send a note to the employee after the conversation as a simple recap and reminder. This helps immensely with confirming understanding and catching misunderstandings early.

Golden Rule 3 — Get all the info before taking action

Let’s assume you get a complaint about an employee. And maybe you’re able to identify a policy violation and a clear course of action to repair the issue. There’s still a huge piece missing from the puzzle. The employee’s side of the story.

It’s not enough to discover what they did, you also need to find out why. You never know what it could be. Maybe something’s going on at home and it’s thrown them off-balance. Maybe they’re being pressured by co-workers to venture outside of company policy. Or, maybe they’re depressed and discouraged about their performance so they aren’t being as strict about the rules.

Before you bring the hammer down on somebody, you need to get their side of the equation. Because maybe they really just need some help and someone to listen to them.

My favorite way to do this is by asking a single question:

“Is there anything you’re running into that’s causing this?”

Believe it or not, I keep tissues in my office because oftentimes when I ask this, people just burst into tears. When you initiate a tough conversation, remember that your people are suffering every day. Problems at home, problems with money, deceased family or friends, the list goes on. 

Keep in mind that you chose this person, staff member, client, contractor, etc. At one time, they were impressive enough that you brought them on. Most likely, they’re not a villain trying to hurt your company. Odds are, something else is going on, you just need to ask and find out.

Your job in this scenario is to listen, acknowledge, and offer to help. Sometimes just giving them the chance to express what’s going on is enough to dissolve the problem.

If you want an easy starting point for initiating this conversation, here’s a script I’ve perfected over the decades that works really well for me. 

“Hey [FIRSTNAME], I wanted to make some time for you because I really appreciate how you’ve helped us with [X] in the [Y] department. I really appreciate the work you’re doing. The one thing I need to talk to you about and get feedback from you on is [EXPLAIN THE SPECIFIC ISSUE HERE]. It seems like it’s not going very smoothly. Is there anything you’re running into?”

Just ask the question in the spirit of helping the company to flourish. Make it come from the heart, from a place of wanting to help. And I can say from experience, sometimes when you ask questions like that you can get shocking answers. Whatever you do, even if it’s shocking, never react emotionally. Always keep your cool with a mindset of, “we’re here to untangle this mess, get everybody on the same page, and implement a solution.”Feel free to modify that script as you need to make it genuine for you, but take note of the important elements: 

  • Show respect (“I wanted to make time for you”)
  • Acknowledge them and their value
  • Show appreciation for their work
  • Indicate that you want their feedback (it’s a two-way discussion)
  • Address the specific issue at hand clearly and concisely
  • Ask an open-ended question about the reason behind the problem
  • Make sure they know the conversation is focused on finding a solution

Now, the script I just gave you works well for getting an employee realigned.

If after multiple efforts you’re not getting anywhere, you’ll need to recognize that not everyone can be rehabilitated.

You have to do what you can: confront what’s going on, correct the activity, correct the process, get the “bad” employee to buy into it…

But there’s a point where you can’t do anything more. Sometimes you just have a bad apple who doesn’t want to change. In that case, you’ll have to let them go.

And if you have the conversations I’ve described, it will be much easier than you’d think. Because by that point, they’ll know what you expect. They’ll know what they need to do. They’ll know you’ve tried to help them. So if they can’t make it work after all of that, it’s simply a logical conclusion: it’s not going to work out. I’ve had the unpleasant responsibility of firing hundreds of people. When it comes to consistent underperformers and bad apples, it usually goes something like this:

“As much as we’ve worked to fix things and make things work, I can see that it’s not working out and unfortunately, the decision has been made to release you. I appreciate everything you’ve done, but we’ll be separating with you today as an employee. I wish you all the best and I know you’ve got great things in you.”

This shouldn’t be emotional. It’s a purely logical decision based on past conversations and consistent inability to meet expectations. Having tough conversations this way still isn’t fun, but it makes everything so much lighter and more effective.

But I’ve done enough writing about this… are you ready to actually put it to work? I challenge you to start getting better at having tough conversations. We all hate them, and we’re all tempted to avoid them. But today, I want you to be different.

I challenge you to identify one difficult conversation you know you need to have that you’ve been putting off. It could be in your personal or professional life. 

  • Put a plan in place to make that conversation happen. (that means set an appointment)
  • Gather the info you need and get all the relevant specifics. 
  • Set a clear objective of what you want to gain from the conversation. 
  • Identify the problem. 
  • Identify a solution. 
  • Create a plan to implement the solution with the other party.
  • Send a summary follow-up email to them after your conversation
  • Make a note in their personnel file, if applicable

Get to it.

If you have any questions, comment, and let me know. I’m happy to help.

— Sheri Hamilton

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