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Dealing With Problem Employees—or Maybe Just Problems

We’d like to introduce Kim Levings, a management and leadership coach. What does this have to do with law? Most legal problems are personal—or personnel—problems gone to seed. Read Kim’s advice on how to deal with the weeds in your firm.

Dealing with “EGR” on Your Team

Pastors and church leaders use the term “EGR” (extra grace required) as a euphemistic reference to a difficult employee. I believe there really is no such thing as a difficult employee. There are only people who sometimes have difficulties. Once you recognize that, you will come from an empathetic and objective stance.

In the ministry environment, one of the key issues for leaders is that in extending grace, are you allowing the problem to continue? Holding people accountable is important to their development, and upholds your honest relationships. Not holding people accountable is actually not scriptural.

Handing EGRs is tough, but it can be done with grace, humility and clarity.

It is a reality for a leader. Nobody is perfect. People will drop the ball. They miss deadlines, or they fail to complete tasks. Maybe you have a habitual complainer. Or what about the negative Nancy/Nick who always brings down team morale?

The Golden Rule to Apply in Any of These Situations Is: Deal with It!

Procrastinating or avoiding the issue will only make it worse.

But before you jump in to “deal with it,” make sure you have already established a relationship of trust with your team. This means that they already know how you handle missed expectations or broken promises. They know what you think is important.

Re-establish boundaries and a level of trust by establishing your expectations and clearly sharing how you plan to manage situations where performance or behavior is out of line.

Once you have an established trust foundation, meet with the person who has the issue (the “EGR”). Keep in mind that if it’s a performance issue (what they do), you will handle it differently from a behavior issue (how they do it).

Handling performance simply involves discussing the gaps between what’s needed, and what they are actually delivering.

  • Don’t just assume they won’t do the job. Be open to listening to the real reasons. Sometimes, there is something you are doing or not doing that directly impacts their ability to deliver results. Lack of resources, clunky systems, or unrealistic expectations are just a few examples. We also often measure people by factors over which they have no control.
  • Once you both agree on the issue, resolve to take action and set a follow up date. Keep notes and make sure you give them a copy. This is not a formal disciplinary action, but keeping notes prevents any misunderstandings.
  • Remember: Keep the individual and the issue separate. Don’t attack them or make it personal. Performance problems may take a while to correct, but keep focused on it until the gap is closed, or you make the tough decision to let the person go. Having proof that you have given them every opportunity to resolve an issue is an essential ingredient to avoid any legal ramifications if it ends in termination.

Handling a behavior problem is often more difficult. Behavior does tend to be personal, because it relates to how they work with others, which creates interpersonal problems. Again, the best way to handle it is directly.

  • Focus on the impact of the behavior and make sure you have good, objective examples; never hearsay or opinion-based. If you’re going to talk to a person about something, you should have observed it, or be prepared to bring in team members who have observed it and brought it to your attention.
  • Give them the benefit of the doubt. They may not realize the impact of their behavior. The path to correction on this is often shorter than a performance correction. They just need to stop doing it.
  • Tell them the consequences of not resolving the issue, and make sure to follow through.

So instead of living with your “EGRs,” it’s time to help them fix their difficulties. Be the leader they want to work for.

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About the Author

Kim Levings is a seasoned professional in the field of leadership development and performance management within organizations. Using a unique, patented technology to identify and resolve performance gaps, Kim can take organizations to a new level of productivity and profitability. Recognized as a “performance maximizer,” Kim provides executive performance coaching, organization wide performance alignment, as well as management training and systems implementation. She is also the author of What Employees Want: The 5 T’s of Effective People Management and delivers free webinars and affordable online training to managers. Find out more at 5TLeadership.com.

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