What do you do with THAT employee?

“He’s my best sales guy. He makes his numbers quarter after quarter! But everyone dreads it when he comes into the office.” My friend was on the verge of tears – it was clear that he was going to have to do something about his sales guy, if he didn’t want others to quit. But he was worried about his star salesman would react and he was not looking forward to it.

We’ve all faced this issue of what to do with that employee – the trustworthy finance guy, who upsets your team members often over trivial amounts; the brilliant technologist who cheeses everybody off with his superior attitude, or the HR manager, who despite the many years she’s been with you, who’s not pulling her weight any more. The timing is rarely right to confront them and the longer you put it off the worse it’s likely to get. We also worry about how we got here and how best to handle it so we retain them without too high an emotional cost. If you are like me, then you put it off for a better time, which rarely comes.

Hiring people is always one of the top 3 problems I hear managers or founders talk about. Implicit in this of course is that matter of hiring the right people. Yet, even after we’ve hired the right people, as neither organizations nor the people stay constant, we run into all kinds of issues. Gil Amelio, who was an inspiring leader (and CEO) at my first employer National Semiconductor, taught me a very simple framework to both talk about this and to aid action.

Effective v Attitude Matrix

Attitude and Effectiveness Successful organisations look at not just at proven capabilities and experience that would make a prospective employee effective, but also their attitude and fit with your organisational culture. He used the familiar four quadrant framework, with effectiveness along the y-axis and attitude (or cultural fit) along the x-axis as shown in the figure below.

Quadrant 1 – Neither the right attitude nor effective  These are the easiest folks to deal with – they are basically hiring mistakes you’ve made. Ideally you’d not have anyone in this quadrant or if you do, you’d fix your hiring process to minimize recurrence.  Lou Adler, author and CEO of the Adler group in his recent article titled “There Are Only Four Types of People — Are You Hiring The Right Ones?” terms these folks Type 1: Those you should never hire!

Quadrant 2 – Have the right attitude but are not effective Usually this is a sign that these folks are in the wrong job. They may have been effective, even in the same job, but no longer are, because the jobs requirements have evolved or they haven’t. Or you’ve placed them in the wrong role. The ineffective sales guy may bloom in a business development role or inside sales job. The trick is to find them a role that they can be effective in. If your organisation is big enough, you may have one or more such roles – sometimes the right role may not be within your department or even company, in which case its best to help them find the right role, whether inside or outside your company.

Quadrant 3 – Have the right attitude and are effective These are your stars – the people who perform consistently and lead from the front. The trick with these folks is to ensure that they are constantly learning and growing. Folks in Quandrant 3 can fall into Quandrant 2, when your company and your needs grow fast and they don’t grow as fast. These are the folks you want to be hiring and your company and its processes should be geared to finding, attracting, retaining and growing Quadrant 3 folks.

Quadrant 4 – Don’t have the right attitude but are effective This is the hardest group to deal with. The obnoxious sales person my friend had to deal with, the supercilious technologist or rude finance guy we met all fall into this quadrant. Two things make it difficult to effect change with these folks –

  • they are deemed successful and have been rewarded in the past, despite their interpersonal shortcomings.
  • They are often positions deemed critical, that make change not just unpalatable but downright scary. “What’ll happen to my sales, if this guy leaves?” or “Will I find another trusthworthy finance guy?”

Organizations suffer the most, because most of us don’t know how best to handle Quadrant 4 folks. The first step is to recognize not only the existence of these four quadrants but that people can move within the quadrants. This is most commonly seen from Quadrant 2 to Quadrant 3 (more effective) through skilling and occasionally to Quadrant 2 from Quadrant 3 (less effective) when the job needs grow and person doesn’t.

Effective v Attitude Matrix

I’ve found talking about the four quadrants and even mutually agreeing with your team members where they see themselves and where their peers or you see them helps immensely. This way when it is time to have the hard conversation, you both have a framework and vocabulary that can help keep the conversation professional. In my experience, almost always folks in the Quadrant 4 will have to be let go. We’ve had the occasional technical person build out their interpersonal skills and make the move from Quadrant 4 to Quadrant 3.

Let me know how this works for you.

3 Steps to Resolving Team Conflicts

Conflict“It’s like we’ve done absolutely nothing these last five years. Everything we’re doing is wrong.” My friend was really upset. His company had just brought on board a new VP of Business Development and looked like the man was not exactly winning minds and hearts.

“Worse yet, he has the right answer for everything. I’m just sick of the guy – I don’t think I can work with him!” It took a while for my friend to calm down and when he did, I realized that he actually agreed with many of the new VP’s observations. In fact he’d been saying some of the very same things, albeit a whole lot more diplomatically and in smaller groups. Why then, was my friend not happy that he had an ally, a senior one at that, to set right the things that he himself thought needed to be fixed?

Team conflicts usually originate when something is said or done. And often, it’s not about what is said, but how it is said. Depending on the level of trust or lack thereof, this gives rise to questions about why it is being said – in other words, motive or intentThe secret to resolving team conflict is to both understand the what, how and why.

Content (the what) As most of our work is done with others, as team mates or in meetings, the ability to communicate clearly with one another is important. What is communicated need not always be agreeable or even acceptable at times. Some of us (or many times our bosses or god forbid, our spouses) go out of our way to avoid disagreements. That’s not a good thing, as healthy disagreements and alternate points of view result in better decision making. So if you don’t like what some one is saying, first examine whether you are disagreeing with the content of their statements. If you are, then a discussion (dare I say argument) or reflection can ensue. If however, as with my friend above, you don’t disagree with what’s being said then it’s time to look at style. 

Style (the how) We’ve all encountered folks who appear to have no filter between their brain and their mouths. So they blurt out things, at times hurtful, make sweeping generalizations and often label – “I can’t believe how lazy he is – why do you let him get away with it?” A lucky few, may be unaware they do this and may require only pointing out to change their communication styles. Other’s may range from a defensive “You know me, I’m blunt!” to combative “That’s they way I’m” all the way to outright denial, “I don’t do that!” What all these folks don’t realize is that the message is lost, because of the their delivery style.  It is critical to address this. People who won’t modify their communication style will not be effective and may be perceived to have an ulterior motive.

Intent (they why) All of us find it hard to hear less-than-pleasant things, especially about ourselves. This could range from the simply social “You have bad breath” to a more career limiting “You never let the other person complete their thought!” When such feedback comes from someone you trust and whose motivations or intent you don’t question, then you are willing to hear what’s said, even if unpleasant.  On the other hand, when the person is either new to us or we encounter a style that’s jarring and not amenable to change, then we question their intent. Why are they doing this – are they being political? Are they actually saying or meaning something else? At this point effective communication has ceased and you have yourself a team conflict.

Successful leaders and teams learn to separate Intent, Style & Content. Once intent is clear and non-negotiable, style issues can be addressed. Then real progress in terms of discussing contentious issues with the necessary focus on content (or what’s being said) can be made.

Addressing style issues will enhancing your team’s effectiveness and not doing so will cause much mayhem as intent is questioned leading to further conflicts.