Employee coaching: Dealing with ‘bad-attitude’ employees

by on May 21, 2010 · 0 Comment POSTED IN: HR Cafe

When coaching employees, focus on changing behaviors, not attitude

When a manager has a troublesome employee on staff, the first impulse is often to respond like this: “Pal, you’ve got a BAAAAD attitude and you better change it fast.”

It feels good to say that. It’s an emotional release. But that’s the ONE thing you should never do. Workers with bad attitudes have heard that line from parents, teachers and bosses all their lives. Sometimes they’re even proud to wear the label. They think, “I’m the rebel, the defiant one who stands up and says what no one else dares say.”

Coaching employees can’t change mindset
When coaching employees with a bad attitude, you can’t change this mindset. It reflects a deeply held belief embedded in the employee’s personality. And in a perverse sort of way, it works for them. Problem is, it doesn’t work for you or your team.

What’s the solution? Don’t ask employees to change who they are or what they think — things that may be unchangeable. Instead, talk about specific unacceptable behaviors — which you can frame as temporary and possibly changeable.

Because bad-attitude employees are predictably defiant, it shouldn’t take you long to build a list of specific negative behaviors. Document those behaviors in a crisp, non-judgmental memo that notes the what, when and where of the incident. Follow up by connecting those behaviors to the resulting negative consequences. For example:

“On Monday, February 11, you rolled your eyes in our weekly meeting when I suggested that we had to push the envelope and produce some ‘really killer’ sales collateral materials for our presentation to NanoSoft the following week. This suggests your unwillingness to help the team. The lead sales rep on NanoSoft has a bonus attached to winning that account and he came to me to complain. He perceives you as an obstacle to his success.”

Conclude your disciplinary memo by stating the specific behavior changes that must be made. Set a deadline and note the disciplinary consequences that will result if you don’t see improvement.

Will the behavior change? Maybe yes and maybe no. But your odds of success are greater, because employees who want to keep their job may conclude they can change WHAT they do, without compromising WHO they are.

photo credit: Joe Houghton

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