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Issue #33 – Tips for Managing Difficult Employees

Have you ever noticed that often one of your highest-flyers in sales or management is also unreasonably difficult to manage? Perhaps you have an employee who has a negative attitude, is stuck in her ways, makes excuses, shows up late, doesn’t play well with others, or misses deadlines.  Despite that, she is breaking sales records or has a huge following, which makes you fearful of addressing concerns or letting go of a potentially bad egg. Here are some concepts and tips to help manage these challenging team members.

Be Willing to Set Expectations by Changing the Paradigm

Often employees that are giving pushback believe they are exceptional in their role because they are impacting the bottom line or provide help with intangibles beyond the scope of their perceived job description. For example, a manager might be treating their team terribly but be getting excellent revenue results because of their aggressive demands. Or, a salesperson might be breaking records, but not tracking their bonuses, or arriving to work late, or utilizing a dated process your team taught originally.  These employees are making the psychological mistake of confusing one metric with a holistic result.

As the business owner or manager, there may be no need to fire or chastise the employee, nor accept the poor overall result.  Instead, schedule a short one-on-one meeting and re-define what success means by setting new expectations. Here is a sample discussion:

“Thanks for meeting with me Susie. I am so excited about your recent results with our clientele. Your gift for building sales is amazing and the patients and team are really getting along great with you. Now that we have gotten to this rung on the ladder and are doing so well, I want to better outline and define what I am looking for in the coming six months.  While achieving the sales goal remains very important, as does growth, I want to create something that is replicable, that can be taught to others. With that in mind I am going to ask you to lead the charge on a few things.

First, as you are the senior leader, as much as I don’t personally care if you are in a few minutes late occasionally, the rest of the team is watching, so part of what I will define as being a great salesperson is arriving on time all the time.  Next, I’d like to ensure all charts are prepared before we leave at night so things are ready for the next day. And last, I’d like to ensure we have detailed notes taken on each patient so each team member can pick up where the other left off. This is a superb concept we are committed to after reading Hug Your Customers and I appreciate you being so on board with this.

I may have some more details as we go, but wanted to see if you can get on board with me on these few things? Great. Thanks in advance and we’ll expect you to be on top of all of what we discussed. I know you will do an outstanding job.”

In this example, we are setting new expectations, redefining what success in sales looks like, and logically explaining why it is not just a final revenue number. Certainly, there are dozens of iterations and permutations of this conversation depending on the person’s role within the practice, shortcomings and strengths, but this provides a picture of paradigm shifting.  Next time your receptionist answers your question about why she was late with “but I stayed a half hour extra two weeks ago,” you can use this concept to help her understand what expectations are and guide her to a new level of success.

Reading is FUNdamental

We, here at YellowTelescope, love books. Our President serves on a local library board of directors here in Miami, we volunteer at the book fair annually, and give books as gifts. We believe that deep down everybody craves some level of personal and professional growth.  While there are a multitude of ways to self-develop, books are a cheap and easy way to do so.  Consider buying a book for everybody in your office to read, even if it is just one chapter per month and one book per year.  We love 5 Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni as a starting place. Another option is to buy each team member a book every holiday season and encourage them to read at their own pace.  For team members who simply cannot find the motivation to pick up a book, offer to buy them the audiobook to listen to in the car as it will be thirty dollars very well spent. When people are reading alone or as a team they will be more motivated, strive to implement the book’s teachings, and feel tied in to the team.  If we wish to grow others, we must first grow ourselves, so ensure you are participating as well.

The Main Thing – Keep Talking About What You Are Talking About

When an employee senses they are in trouble, at risk of losing their job, or worse, many subconsciously or consciously go into survival mode. We preach that employers should “never hire desperate, but hire hungry,” as those in a desperate state may steal or sabotage the business, while someone hungry for success will simply work harder.  If we are not going to hire desperate people as we know what they are capable of, we also have to realize that even poor employees are smart enough to know when their job or income is at risk. As soon as that happens, they drop into a state of desperation (this is outlined nicely in “Maslow’s Hierarchy” which we teach in detail at our YellowTelescope Seminar annually), and their behavior becomes singularly self-serving.  While the person may be a great human being overall, they feel pushed to do anything necessary to climb back up the hierarchy into a place of safety.  It is at this stage where they stop “talking about what you are talking about.” Here is a typical example:

“Susie, first, let me tell you how much we think of you. You’ve done a superb job at the front desk, managing a hectic patient load, answering phones, and keeping organized. We just love having you. Now I did want to address a minor item – would that be ok? Great.  I noticed that for the second time this week you arrived about five minutes late. I am not upset about it, but I wanted to let you know it cannot happen again. The phones ring at 9:00, not 9:05 so we really need to be at our desks by 8:55 to get ready for the day.  Does that make sense?”

“Dr. Smith, my dog was throwing up last night. It was crazy and that is not typical.”

“Susie, first, I am sorry to hear that and I hope Fido is doing better and I’d actually like to talk about that in a minute. At the same time, I want to ensure you are hearing what I am saying. I am not upset, but regardless of the reason, we cannot have you running late as it has happened more than once and you’ll need to find a way to be on time moving forward. Are we cool with that?”

“I am really sorry. You probably hate me. Am I going to lose my job? Do you know what I do for this place? I picked up dry cleaning, stayed a half hour late last week, and even cleaned out that dirty cabinet.  I just want to make sure you realize what I do around here.”

“Susie, look, I think I have been pretty positive here and already outlined that I think you do a great job.  I think very highly of you and I want to take you under my wing and have you grow into a leader here.  I value everything that you are doing.  With that said, I am going to keep talking about what I am talking about to ensure we are on the same page.  Every employee here is very valuable, but nobody is above the rules, and that includes me.  You were late two times this week. That is not acceptable. It is not a big deal and I am not upset. But, moving forward you simply have to leave earlier and be here on time. The job is not to do all that you do, but be late. The job is to do all that you do and be on time. We all love having you here and know you will do amazing things and I know this is a tough conversation, but I think you can agree my point is fair.  Do you understand what I am getting at?”

“Absolutely, Dr. Smith. You are right. I just have to find a way to be here on time. It won’t happen again and if there is some emergency I really should call first.”

“Susie, I really appreciate that. I respect the maturity and owning up to the minor offense. Believe me, I’ve been there as well and can relate.  Water under the bridge. Keep doing what you are doing and you are going to go places here. Do you feel comfortable in terms of what we have discussed? Great. Thanks for your time – I value it. Now, how is Fido feeling?”

In the foregoing exchange, the employee has clearly made a mistake. That mistake is minor and forgivable, but must be addressed.  The doctor remained calm, professional, and complimentary, but also firm. He “kept the main thing the main thing” and “kept talking about what he was talking about until she was talking about what he was talking about.” This is a key concept in management, and there are much tougher versions.  We have had to have difficult conversations with a nurse injector who billed over two million dollars per year, which made the doctor fear that if we addressed the fact that she was being mean to, and was universally despised by, her entire team, that she would leave and put him out of business. Our executive team has had to talk with high-level salespeople whose departure could cost a practice dearly.  With that said, we have found that if we are honest, professional, and firm, most people can listen to reason. The alternative is to keep an employee negatively impacting the practice and essentially have the owner work for the employee. In the long run this is not the prudent choice.

We believe loyalty is a two-way street. No job is so marvelous that an employee would never leave, while no employee is so astonishing that the owner cannot survive if he/she left.  It takes an employee striving for distinction within their role and personal growth coupled with leadership seeking the same in themselves. If you’d like to discuss staffing, staff training, or management, reach out to us at info@yellowtelescope.com or call us at 305-455-0720 to see how we can help your practice grow and don’t forget to subscribe at yellowtelescope.com to receive future complimentary newsletters.