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3 Tips On How To Coach A Problem Employee

After living with their dysfunctional behavior for so many years, people become invested in defending their dysfunctions rather than changing them.

Marshall Goldsmith, leadership coach

As the boss, you are in charge.

Your word and direction carry the weight and influence to ensure that what you need done, gets done!

If only the world were that straight forward and neatly packaged. But it isn’t.

Simply being the boss isn’t going to be enough with regard to getting the most from your employees – especially those who consistently present a challenge. Or to quote Marshall Goldsmith, “people become invested in defending their dysfunctions rather than changing them.” Expanding upon these words of wisdom, I believe that you cannot get someone to fix a problem they don’t believe they have!

You can probably recall how, on maybe more than one occasion, you were put in the difficult position of having to deal with a problem employee.

What did you do? How did you handle the situation? Is the employee still with you?

If you could do it all over again what, if anything, would you have done differently?

Regret Or Relief

One thing is certain, if you look back on the experience with regret or, are still trying to get a handle on what happened, it will ultimately have a negative impact in terms of how you will deal with a problem employee in the future.

Ironically, the same may also apply if you were relieved when a problem employee left.

In either of the above instances, there wasn’t a satisfactory resolution, just an ending.

So how do you turn a difficult or underperforming employee into a productive contributor on your team?

problem employee coach v critic

In this month’s eNewsletter, I will provide you with the 3 essential tips on how to become a coach, as opposed to a critic of a problem employee. Before we get to my tips, take the following quiz.

Coach Or Critic Quiz

Answer the following seven “YES” or “NO” questions to determine if you are a coach or a critic:

  1. Did you take the opportunity to learn the employee’s goals and challenges and what steps you could take to help them to achieve them?
  2. Did you wait until the crisis stage to finally deal with the problem employee?
  3. Did the employee acknowledge that there was a problem in their performance?
  4. Did you deal with the problem employee on your own? (i.e. You did not talk about the situation with other members of your team.)
  5. Did you take the opportunity to share tough feedback with the employee and give real-time examples to validate your observations?
  6. Did you sit down and have a courageous conversation of possible repercussions if improvements were not made?
  7. Did you develop a plan of action with realistic timeframes to address the issue(s) with the problem employee?

The Results:

  • If you answered NO to all seven questions, you are a critic.
  • If you answered YES to 3 to 4 of the seven questions, you are a critical coach.
  • If you answered YES to all seven questions, you are a coach.

So, what is the difference between a coach and a critic?

If you are a coach, you are proactively involved with each member of your team in terms of understanding their personal goals and challenges. You are focused on getting the job done not by edict, but by effectively managing both individual as well as collective expectations. Even though you are likely to encounter challenges in coaching some of your employees – everyone does at some point, the mere existence of said challenges are not viewed as a negative, but as a learning experience. In the end, you take a more holistic, long-term view for developing members of your team.

If you are a critic, you are managing your team from a position of authority. You are singularly focused on your objectives.  This means that problems are not likely to be viewed in the context of a bigger picture, but from the standpoint of an immediate disappointment or obstacle to success. You believe that employees should be self-motivated and take full ownership for their performance. If they miss the mark, you are there to tell them they did, as opposed to guiding them to improvement.

What does your score tell you?

How Do You Become A Better Coach?

Now that you know the answer to the question “Are you a coach or a critic,” the following 3 tips will be incredibly useful to you, even if you answered yes to some or all of the questions.

Tip 1: Lay The Foundation For Your Employee’s Success

“Every battle is won before it’s ever fought.” – Sun Tzu

problem employee mentoring

Many bosses do not realize until it is too late, that they have likely played a role in creating a problem employee.

Let’s start off with the premise that every new employee wants to do the best job they can, and be seen as a valuable member of the team.

This is a great starting point.

So why does an employee go off the tracks from hopeful contributor to an unproductive detractor?

Somewhere along the way, their experiences have not aligned with their expectations. This is often due to the fact that outside of their “duties” being outlined in their job description, there is little if any meaningful interaction with you. In short, there has been no relationship building along the way.

Without having a strong and open relationship, how can you be a good coach? And if you can’t be a good coach, how can you be an effective boss?

Here are a few tips that will help you to be the best coach you can be:

  • Clearly outline to new employees the goals or objectives of the collective team, including defining what success means to you and the organization as a whole.
  • Regularly communicate expectations with your team, both individually and collectively.
  • Recognize that managing does not mean looking over an employee’s shoulder to make sure that they are doing the job. Instead, monitor their work and provide guidance when needed.
  • Avoid using coaching as a disciplinary function but rather as an opportunity for development.
  • If an employee is not performing to expectations, first seek to understand before you judge.
  • Use positive reinforcement when you see your employee taking small steps to improve.

Tip 2:  Take Positive Corrective Action

“Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” – Stephen Covey

problem employee back on track

In the previous tip, I had made reference to the importance of regular communication.

Being able to take positive corrective action with an employee who is struggling or has lost their way, requires a different technique.

Merely talking at an employee who has gone off track, is not a guarantee that they will embrace your message.

Here are a few tips to make certain that you’re talking with, instead of at, your employee:

  • Be certain that you fully understand the situation from all perspectives – including the employee’s.
  • When an employee makes a mistake, guide as opposed to chastising them. Help them to understand where they made a mistake and that you are there to get them back on track.
  • Make the employee a partner in terms of coming up with a mutually agreed upon action plan or solution. This includes seeking their feedback relative to why they think that they went off course.
  • Reinforce how important they are to the success of the team.
  • Follow-up with the employee on a regular basis to make certain that all is going according to plan.
  • Reinforce confidence in your employee. Something that is far greater than your actual words is your attitude.

Tip 3: Recognize When It’s Hopeless

“Defeat may serve as well as victory to shake the soul and let the glory out.” – Edwin Markham

Social Exclusion

You are probably familiar with the old saying about leading a horse to water, but not being able to make it drink.

Sometimes, and despite your best efforts, you will be unable to turn things around with a particular employee. Keeping an employee who is no longer reachable will do a great deal of harm to team morale.

How you respond in situations such as these will have far reaching consequences for all concerned – including the employees that remain.

After all, it is in our most challenging circumstances, that our true character reveals itself, not only to others but to ourselves.

The way in which you handle the departure of a problem employee will leave its imprint on your team long after said employee is gone.

As a result, here are a number of important tips:

  • Regardless of how the employee responds, never, ever lose your cool. Be courteous but firm, and always be professional. This is not only important for the employees that are still with you, but also for your own self-respect and peace of mind.
  • Provide the employee with a clearly structured breakdown of why it is best for he/she to part ways.
  • Never stop coaching! If the employee is open to it, share with them productive advice on possible areas of improvement in their next position.
  • Finally, schedule a meeting with your team to ask them if they have any questions or comments regarding the departed employee. Far too often, we want to quickly move past a difficult or unpleasant situation. However, you need to recognize the fact that others on your team could have been affected by what happened. Talking about it in a non-judgemental manner will help to clear the air and reaffirm the team’s shared mission.

Moving Forward

“If everyone is moving forward together, then success takes care of itself.” – Henry Ford

One final piece of advice . . . don’t dwell on the past. Find opportunities to celebrate your team’s performance. Last, adopt the mindset of a servant leader, dedicated to enriching the lives of your employees and creating a caring culture.

problem employee onward-and-upward2

Warmest wishes,



3 Tips On How To Go Against The Grain Without Rubbing People The Wrong Way

The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one  persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress  depends on the unreasonable man. – George Bernard Shaw

I have always loved Shaw’s quote for its paradoxical undertone.

Based on a general consensus, a willingness to adapt to the world suggests that a reasonable person goes with the flow, and is someone who is usually seen as being a “team” player. A reliable individual is someone who doesn’t rock the boat, but effectively assesses the world in which they work, and comfortably falls into place as a symmetrical piece of an accepted picture.

Okay, and by a quick show of hands, how many of you reading this think that it is important to fit in? In my experience the majority of you would fall into this cooperative category. And why not . . . adaptability and reasonableness are considered to be virtues.

Conversely, those of you who buck the trend, or go against the flow, are probably viewed as being unreasonable.  Adjectives such as uncooperative or hard to work with can quickly come to mind.

In the above context, I am not just talking about being different from everyone else. What I am referring to is a notable call out in either voice or deed, that challenges people to go in a different direction than the accepted norm.

The implications of the above perspective clearly suggests that adaptability means a forfeiture of an innovative and bold spirit. If in fact this is the case, then being reasonable would be a negative, as opposed to a positive trait.

Herein lies the Shaw paradox to which I had earlier referred.

So tell me . . . do you want to be seen as reasonable or unreasonable?

In today’s post, I will provide you with three simple tips on how you can go against the grain of popular thinking, without rubbing people the wrong way.

However, before I provide you with these three essential pointers, I want to point out that adaptability is in reality a door that swings both ways. Specifically, you can be adaptable whether you are being reasonable or unreasonable. The key is therefore in your approach.

Tip 1 – Overcoming The “But We Have Always Done It This Way” Syndrome

With the exception of those rare instances in which a crisis creates an acute and general willingness to consider a different way of doing things, when proposing something new you are likely to encounter the “we’ve always done it this way, why change now” hurdle.


In his book Buy-In, John Kotter cites this as the number one reason why ideas – good ideas – are usually shot down. Specifically, the assertion that “we’ve never done this in the past and things have always worked out OK.”

So how should you respond?

To start, remind everyone of what they already know . . . that change is inevitable. What works today, may not necessarily work tomorrow.

You should then make references to familiar situations from the past, where the failure to both recognize and adapt to change had serious consequences.

You can even ask if those opposed to considering change have ever experienced a situation where, in looking back, a situation might have turned out better had they tried to do something differently.

This is an important first step in that it creates a willingness to at least consider an alternative way of seeing and doing things. Especially when you use examples to which people can personally relate.

Tip 2 – “What’s Popular Isn’t Always Right . . . “

Early in my book The Future of You, I had made reference to the following quote; “Our belief does not change reality or truth.  You may sincerely believe something to be true, but you may be sincerely wrong.”

good intentions2

Often times, people stay the course because they truly believe they are on the right path. This is an important point of recognition because their inertia is not the result of being lazy or simply finding security and comfort in the familiar.

In these instances, you need to appeal to their integrity of purpose or intent.

Acknowledge that like you, they too are more committed to getting it right, than being right. As a result, and in much the same way you are open to being shown a better way, you know that they are also open to new ideas.

In taking this approach, you are not directly challenging what they are currently doing as being wrong or ineffective. Instead you are focusing on their strong desire to do what is right and in the best interest of everyone.

For example, you can say “I know that you are focused on achieving the best result – even if that means doing something new or different. Based on this, are you open to hearing my idea?”

Once again, you are placing the emphasis on people’s desire to achieve the best outcome, and not on the fact that it may go against the norm.

Tip 3 – “What’s Right Isn’t Always Popular.”

This last tip is focused entirely on you, and your faith or confidence in what you are doing.


If you truly believe that your way is the best way, even though it flies in the face of conventional wisdom, then you have to be prepared to take the heat and accept that you will likely ruffle some feathers.

Recognition of the above is very important, because it means that you will be going into a situation with eyes wide open from the start.

Far too often what would have been a great idea and important breakthrough, has been abandoned because a champion did not fully consider the potential response or opposition they would face.  When confronted with significant push-back, you have to be firmly grounded and ready to withstand criticism, alienation and even the potential loss of your job.

If you are not prepared to endure the consequences, whatever they may be, then you are not truly ready to go against the grain.


An apology of convenience? by Roz Usheroff

An inspiring LinkedIn message?

An inspiring LinkedIn update?

In my January 14th, 2013 blog post “The Business Apology: When Taking Responsibility Trumps Contrition” I wrote the following;

“In truth to be effective, apologies have to help to diffuse the situation rather than make it worse.  The only way that this can be achieved is through a sincere expression of regret combined with a clearly defined plan of action to remedy the situation.  In other words, and from a public relations standpoint, you achieve a better long term result by taking personal responsibility and being accountable early on in the process as opposed to later when it looks like it was forced or worse . . . contrived.”

Within the context of the above advice I must admit I was somewhat surprised when the LinkedIn update that rolled across my screen earlier today suggesting that offering an apology even if one is not in the wrong, for the sake of a relationship, is somehow “Inspiring.”

I thought for a brief moment, am I missing something here?

To me, taking ownership of one’s actions and offering a sincere apology backed by an effort to make things right is a sign of maturity and strength.

A sincere apology when truly warranted is a reflection of not only your personal values, but a recognition of your integrity in terms of staying true to who you are and what you believe.

It is also a sign of respect for the other party and your relationship with them.

Once again, if I am off-base here let me know.

However, I could not help but wonder how many of us have ever offered an apology or backed down from a situation to preserve a relationship or for fear of offending or losing our job?

An even more profound question is what was the ultimate cost of such a surrender of one’s true feelings and beliefs?

So here is my question to you . . . have you ever apologized knowing that you were not in the wrong, or backed down from taking a position that you sincerely believed in your heart was the right position?

If you have, do you still believe that you made the right decision?  If you had it to do all over again, would you choose another course of action today?


Are you a prisoner of others past experience with you? (Part 2) by Roz Usheroff

“Many years ago I learned that when people give you feedback … they are really telling you about themselves…their beliefs, values, experiences, expectations – their ‘story’, their ‘reality’.  So, it’s not ‘personal’.”

The above is an excerpt of just one of the many responses I received to Part 1 of this post on dealing with someone who either doesn’t like or has had a negative experience with you.

The person who made the comment went on to say; When someone appears to not like me, or behaves negatively toward me, I remind myself of this and I find that it helps.  I can then be curious, instead of defensive.

While I found that there were many views on how to deal with a difficult relationship I find that this observation, at least in part, represents a good starting point.

To begin, you should not take the disapproval of another personal.

Now I fully understand and appreciate the fact that this is a position that for many contradicts their initial reaction to not being liked or being viewed in a negative light.  In fact it goes against what for the majority is a natural desire to be accepted and fit in.  As an aside in an upcoming post I will talk about the phenomena of what is commonly known as the herd mentality.  However in relation to today’s post, acceptance and validation is a big part of our need to be accepted.

As a result, when someone criticizes us we more often than not can take it as a rejection of us personally, as opposed to a specific idea or an action.

This of course is the critical point which will determine the route you will take going forward.

By not making it personal (or taking offense), you leave yourself open or “curious” to not just understand the why, but also proactively seek in a positive context, any possible solutions.  This is both empowering, and at the end of the day productive.

Now someone will ask what if the other party doesn’t wish to pursue a shared journey of enlightenment and resolution.

Roz Prisoner Part2 image

My answer in this latter instance is the same.  By sincerely reaching out to the other person, you are now freed from carrying their baggage of discontentment, as you have done everything you can to build a bridge of communication or right a wrong.  If the other person doesn’t want to go there, it is their choice.  But keep in mind that their decision to maintain the break, is likely linked to factors that have more to do with their circumstances and views of the world as opposed to yours.


How do you turn Adversaries into Allies by Roz Usheroff

“The sages asked, “Who is mighty? ” and answered, “Those who can control their own emotions and make of an enemy a friend.”

from Bob Burg’s new book “Adversaries into Allies: Win people over without manipulation or coercion

I have a voracious appetite for reading, and though my busy travel schedule does from time-to-time provide me with the opportunity to indulge my passion, I find that there are far too many books that occupy my shelf space than they do my eye space.

However, Bob Burg’s latest book Adversaries into Allies caught my attention for a number of reasons, not the least of which was the subsequent tagline “win people over without manipulation or coercion.”

I touched on this point in principle in my recent 2-Part series “Is your brand your most powerful negotiating tool,” referencing the fact that when dealing with partners or stakeholders we far too often assume an adversarial you don’t get what you deserve you get what you negotiate mindset.  This is certainly the antithesis of my assertion that “the strength of your position is not based upon learning the latest negotiating techniques to outsmart the other party but, rests in your ability to demonstrate your value to them in terms of helping them to achieve their goals.”

The key is to find the all-important balance between serving the interests of others while still realizing tangible and meaningful benefits for yourself.

As usual, this reminded me of a recent story I heard from the world of social media.

An enterprising young woman started a group on one of the social networking sites promoting garage sales in her city.  To cover her costs for setting up and managing the group, where people who were planning to have a garage sale could post information on the site, she charged an annual fee of $25 per member.  It certainly wasn’t a great deal of money, and there was no shortage of people who signed up to not only tell the community about their sale but also check to see when others were holding one as well.  Suffice to say it was a popular group.

One day a person posted a comment on the group site indicating that they could not understand why the woman was charging a $25 fee.  After all it did not cost money to join the network, so why should it cost money to join the group?

Rather than defending her position by providing a detailed overview of the time and effort it took to maintain the site, the young woman asked her detractor the following question; “I see that you are a real estate agent.  Do you charge people for selling a house?”

The person questioning the $25 fee said “of course.”

“Why” asked the young woman?

Somewhat perplexed the other woman answered “because I provide a service that requires my time and energy, and so I should be paid for my services.”

“I understand” said the young woman.  “Should I not receive compensation for taking the initiative to set-up and maintain this site so that people can quickly and easily find out when and where garage sales are taking place in our community?”

The answer of course was obvious.

Now this is a simple example of how the young woman rather than responding in a confrontational or adversarial manner – that would have likely escalated the discussion in a negative fashion – chose instead to help the other person to view her position in the context of that person’s own experience.  In essence, she created empathy through greater understanding.

The question I have for you is “how do you deal with an adversary?”

Do you become offended and/or defensive, or do you patiently listen and try to understand what the person is saying and why they are saying it?

How you react at this early critical stage will set the tone for how you deal with an adversary, and ultimately your ability to turn them into an ally.

Abraham Lincoln I-destroy-my-enemy


FedEx Commercials and the Toxic Boss (Stealing Ideas)

I recently posted a series of articles on dealing with a toxic boss to which I have received a tremendous response.

By writing the series, I did not want to give the impression that anyone who holds a position of leadership is automatically going to look for ways to deliberately make your life miserable and derail your career.  That said we are all nonetheless familiar either directly or through the experience of others, with the challenges of having to work for someone who is less than supportive.

In my research for another post, the following FedEx commercial presented a truth about which we can perhaps smile if for no other reason than the fact that we have all been there at one point in our career.

While the old saying that originality is the ability to conceal your source may seem amusing, no one with whom I have talked finds any humor in a situation where a boss has laid claim to their ideas.

As an executive coach I am frequently asked how to deal with scenarios that arise in the workplace such as when a boss poaches an employee’s idea.

My advice in this regard is to say something, but unlike the employee in the FedEx commercial, do so in a fashion that repossesses your idea as opposed to calling your boss out.

How do you repossess your idea?  Simply add information to what your boss has already said to which they would not have anything else to contribute.  By doing this, you avoid confrontation but you also get to reclaim your power.

Do you have a story or experience with a toxic boss that you would like to share?

I am interested in hearing from you by way of the comment section below, including what you did to resolve the situation.


We Are Not In Kansas Anymore: Managing Cross Cultural Conflict (Part 1 of 2)

I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore . . . and with those words Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz embarked on a remarkable journey in an effort to return home.

Of course, here in the real world, home as my extensive travel schedule would suggest, can be any one of multiple destination points around the world.

What I’ve learned or perhaps gained in terms of wisdom and experience from my international travel has provided me with an intrinsic view of different cultures.  I have learned that what resonates in America can be offensive to other countries.   As a result, gaining a firm understanding on the nuances of doing business in what I will call the global community is critical to creating relationships. Knowing your audience in advance of what you say and anticipating how they will react is paramount to success. Respecting different cultures and their customs are essential to building trust.

In essence, there is more to communicating that simply learning the language. This is one of the reasons why I believe that prevention is the best form of medicine as it diffuses potential points of conflict before they occur. Investing time in doing homework will help you to feel greater comfort and confidence.

Nowhere is this approach more critical than when working in virtual teams comprised of individuals from different cultural backgrounds collaborating on an important project.  This is especially true when face-to-face time is limited to communicating over the virtual realms of the Internet.  While convenient, the lack of personal interaction in which all individuals are in the same room at the same time means that there is a greater risk of missing the subtleties of body language that can help to ensure that discussions are kept on a productive and even keel.

Synchronizing your points of connection!

Given the dynamics associated with the above, here are five important tips to keep in mind when participating in a multicultural collaborative effort so as to minimize the likelihood for a major disconnect;

  • Real life experiences are the best teachers: Recognize and accept the fact that there is no substitute for real life experience.  As is the case with sports teams who practice in preparation for a game, no amount of practice will actually replace true game experience.  As a result, and if you have never interacted with different cultures, seek the advice of others – preferably from those who were born in that country who can offer important insight and advice.  I had the privilege to receive advice from individuals of German descent, explaining that prior to working in Waldorf, Germany, I first needed to establish credibility before I initiated small talk and inquired about family life.  As I prepared to work in Brazil, expatriates living in the US explained that direct aggressive feedback wouldn’t work in their culture.  Contrary to Germany, small talk was a prerequisite for building trust, rapport and relationships.
  • Celebrate differences:  Accept the fact that differences can be perceived as potential for misunderstanding and potentially becoming a threat . . . at least at first.  This means that you should not be surprised if there is a natural apprehension on the part of individual team members, at least in the early stages of meeting.  Like the first day of high school when you feel a combination of both apprehension and excitement at the prospects of meeting a new teacher as well as new classmates, until each member of the team becomes more comfortable with one another communication is likely to be somewhat cautious and measured. Look at celebrating differences and demonstrate genuine curiosity.
  • Seek commonality:  Actively seek to identify points of common or shared views, as opposed to focusing on just the differences.  The similarities can serve as good building blocks as we tend to trust someone who looks and acts like us. Commonality speeds up relationship building and will help you to understand how to prevent conflict from occurring.  It can at least make the differences when they arise, less traumatic or disruptive. Take the initiative to explain how your culture is not so different.  Your sharing of your values will more than likely help others to want to relate to you.  Never assume people know what you are thinking about.
  • Ditch stereotyping:  Above all else, avoid stereotyping which can lead to wrong and counterproductive assumptions about cross cultural team members.  I am not talking about blatant prejudices here, but the imperceptible preconceived ideas and opinions that are often formed by the anecdotal references of others including the media.  While there are certainly cultural attributes associated with specific cultures along the lines of etiquette or dress, to broadly and blindly extend this to ideas or personal expertise is a recipe for disaster.
  • Embrace change:  Finally, recognize and anticipate that as people from different cultures interact on an increasingly regular basis, there will invariably be changes.  In other words, culture idiosyncrasies do in fact change to varying degrees over time, so being able to adapt to these differences throughout your entire career will enable you to facilitate positive interactions on a consistent basis.

Of course and despite our best efforts, conflict can and will likely arise from time-to-time.

In part 2 of this series I will talk about what you can do to effectively deal with conflicts within a multicultural team setting.