Managing staff is an entrepreneur’s most critical function. Some would argue that finances are more important, but I would suggest that if you do not have a great staff in place to get things done, your company will have little value.
Entrepreneurs frequently must deal with the issue of problem employees. A problem employee is not necessarily someone who is not productive. In fact, lately we have seen very good employees become problem employees.
For those wondering how it is possible that a good employee could become a problem, the answer is simple. An employee could be getting so much done but alienating the rest of the staff in the process.
Case in point, an employee at a high tech company was always able to get so much accomplished and, from that perspective, was a great member of the team. He consistently met his numbers and, at one point, was bringing in more revenue than many of his colleagues.
Despite his productivity however, all of his colleagues had lost respect for him because he had a very abusive management style. He went out of his way to tell his team how inferior they were, and in the rare occasions when he praised them, he would always follow it with a criticism. Of course, he thought he was being so clever that his fellow employees would not see how he was putting them down. On the contrary though, they saw right through this, and the morale of the team was deteriorating quickly. One by one, he began losing all the talented members of his team.
Despite the fact that the rest of the staff was constantly complaining about this individual, management refused to do anything about it. They were afraid he would leave and feared the business would suffer tremendously if he did.
When discontent reached a fever pitch however, management did finally agree to bring in an outside business coach for the problem employee. As it turned out though, all that did was give the employee more ammunition to say his coach said he was right and everyone else was wrong.
Obviously, this was a problem that had been festering for a long time. Management just chose to turn a blind eye to the situation and keep holding to the flawed hope that the issue would resolve itself.
Eventually, the high turnover and low morale started showing up in the numbers, and when business started dropping significantly, management finally had to acknowledge the problem. When three employees threatened to file a harassment suit, which would have cost the firm so much to defend, they were forced to take action.
In hopes of finding a resolution to this situation, the company brought in outside consultants. Their recommendation was to either let the problem employee go or move him to a place where he had absolutely no contact with the rest of the staff. They also were adamant that each manager should receive training in recognizing and responding to workplace harassment. It was necessary that they work to ensure the channels of communications were open between employees and managers. As it was, staff was given the opportunity to express their concerns, but management was not listening to what they were saying. They just were not taking the complaints seriously enough.
After closely monitoring the situation for a period of time, the firm finally made the difficult decision to let the problem employee go. Though they initially feared that production would decrease, productivity actually improved since the rest of the staff now felt free to do their jobs.
Now go out and make sure you are not ignoring the problems an employee is causing just because they happen to be productive. The sooner you deal with this, the better.
Jerome S. Osteryoung, director of outreach services at the Jim Moran Institute in the College of Business at Florida State University, can be reached at (850) 294-7478.