How Can I Fix Marginal Behavorial Traits in a Good Employee?

QUESTION:  I have a key employee that pays a great attention to details; he has a sense of urgency and seems to display a commitment to getting the job done.  But he is somewhat of a problem in his behavioral traits that rub other employees wrong,(we get complaints all the time)  thus has affected our retention ratio.  How do I help him change his behavioral problems to be a win/win?
Marvin Haines, CEO of a Regional Construction Firm

Don’t sweep this under the rug
Just because one person seems to be an outstanding employee and you view his/her contribution as positive, it doesn’t mean that it is not costing you thousands of dollars in the long run.  When I hear about retention ratio falling off the charts, this equates to huge cash deficits to the bottom line.  So don’t be complacent, deal with this head on.

Get the facts
Sometimes irritating behavior is under-reported by co-workers; more often, the story grows in the telling. One of the worst things you could do is to confront an employee with bad or insufficient information. Doing so can has a negative impact on the employees, their perception of you and your organization, and negates the effectiveness of the intervention.

Get at least three specific examples of each problem behavior (this is generally an ample number to convince the employee that a change is warranted).

Observe the behavior yourself, if possible. This makes it easier to describe the conduct and its impact when you speak with the employee. The employee will also be less embarrassed than if you have only tales brought to you by co-workers. It's one thing if the boss sees an opportunity for you to improve. It's another thing entirely if your co-workers are talking about you behind your back.

If it is impractical for you to see firsthand what's happening, then compile specific, detailed observations (day, time, specifically what happened, etc.) from co-workers to reinforce your coaching.

Prioritize and be patient
In most cases, such as with the employee you describe, there's more than one distinct behavior to be changed. Only so much can be accomplished at one time. Trying to deal with too many problems at once will only increase frustration for everyone and may actually undermine your coaching effort.

Before meeting with the employee, decide which behavior(s) you will work on first. Prioritize the rest and plan to work on each over a reasonable period of time. The employee above, for example, could easily be coached to hand off work to the appropriate person. Learning to get to the point quickly when sharing information may take more time and might be better done after you've had an initial success with the employee.

Determine what you want
Telling someone what they are doing wrong is only part of the solution. Tell the employee what you want clearly and in enough detail that they will get the picture of what desired behavior sounds and looks like. It is best to share several specific examples of each desired behavior with the employee.

Tell the employee above, for example, that they should typically wait at least a full workday before repeating a request for information, and not to go to other employees unless the first person can't help. This is a specific, measurable and easily understood solution to the last issue mentioned.

Meet with the employee and plan positive reinforcement
Meet privately with the employee to discuss the needed change, the advantages to the employee if changes are made, and the specific behaviors you want to see—and to develop a plan to monitor those changes as they occur.

Working with the employee, develop a plan to ensure that he or she gets immediate feedback when undesirable behaviors occur, as well as positive reinforcement when improvement happens. Since you may not always be available, the employee might even consider asking a co-worker for help in this respect. You should plan to meet with the employee at least weekly to discuss progress and provide additional support as needed.

Time for a team checkup
One final thought: If all you are hearing is complaints, it may be time to take a critical look at your team. Good teams do more than complain; they pitch in and help one another succeed. Do your employees truly understand that they are empowered and are expected to help others? Do they have the assertiveness and coaching skills needed to do so well? Enhancing co-workers' abilities in these critical areas will result in more team cohesiveness and better overall results.

George Mancuso, CPC
Client Growth Consultants