Q: “Tom, a long-term employee, recently transferred into my unit. He has a reputation of being 'difficult.' On good days, he’s productive and upbeat. But on bad days, he’s critical and hostile. Unfortunately, the bad days outnumber the good days. I’ve tried to be supportive, but he’s exhausting me! What can I do?”
A: Tom seems to be a chronic problem, yet wimpy managers keep transferring him from place to place. You need to avoid repeating this cowardly, pass-the-buck behavior.
“Calm and supportive” is the wrong approach. You’re Tom’s boss, not his therapist. “Firm and direct” is a more appropriatestyle when confronting a serious performance issue. Subtle hints and friendly encouragement will have no effect on an employee who routinely turns into the office terror. Try this approach:
1. Clearly explain the problems created by Tom’s disruptive behavior.
2. Describe the change that he must make. Put simply, he needs to be “good Tom” all the time.
3. Explain the negative consequences that you will impose if no change occurs.
4. Help him develop an action plan for improvement. When he feels a bad day coming on, how will he control his behavior?
Set a specific time to give Tom feedback and follow through.
Be sure to follow up. Otherwise, Tom will get the message that you’re not serious, and you’ll be back where you started.