How Your “Problem Employee” Is Your Best Resource


Many times in talking with various organizations, I hear the following statements:

“Don’t listen to <such-and-such employee>. All they do is cause problems.”

“<Employee> is just a gossip. Ignore them.”

“Yeah, well nobody like them anyway.”

The common context of these statements is in response to the specific employee bringing up an issue to people’s attention. But even more startling is the astonishing fact that these statements have been uttered by their leaders!

My question for leaders today is this:

Can every employee have a valid point at some time?

If the answer is yes (which it universally is), then the next question for us is: how do we qualify the legitimate voice from these people from what we perceived as causing problems or chronic complaining?

As a leader, our job is to give vision, value, and voice to each and every team member. In order to do so, we cannot allow the narrative of someone’s personality or past trends to frame a current valid issue as something to dismiss. It’s like the boy who cried wolf – eventually something important comes us that we must take that person seriously.

As leaders we need to ensure every person can align to the culture and have a shared voice in the organization. Here are 6 ways as a leader you can better understand people who are portrayed in this manner:

  1. There are no “problem employees” – just people who do not fit the culture. Find where this employee truly lies. If they are truly a cultural fit, you’ll need to work with them and show them the value they are to the organization. Focus on the core values they align with and rebuild that working relationship.
  2. Understand that some people can create extra buzz to make themselves heard. Discern what is the germ of their concern and make sure to work with them to pare it down to the concrete issues to be discussed.
  3. Ask yourself if this person is a trouble-maker or just passionate about the cause of their work? The line between the two can be easily  blurred if you take second-hand input at face value. Dig down deep to find what their core thrust is that they raise – do they want conditions changed, or are they not simply agreeing to what’s around them?
  4. Make sure accountability is a two-way street. Many times I see so-called “problem employees” are really the only ones raising legitimate concerns for change. And when they are surrounded by others who don’t want to change or be held accountable, they get branded. When your accountability culture allows mutual checks and balances, many times those labeled as challenges become the core leaders of the organization’s culture.
  5. Have temperature checks with this person regularly. Find out what their concerns are, their likes and dislikes, their thoughts and feelings. Keep connecting with them, and with the rest of your team, to make sure you have a pulse of what goes on and how the individual and the team compliments each other.
  6. Squelch any talk that marginalizes the individual. Any person on your team that is culturally fit and engaged should never be talked poorly of. Work to emphasize the mutual support and teamwork of each other through your culture. If you can shift the team’s narrative from labeling people to supporting and valuing each other, everyone will feel comfortable providing input.

So-called “problem employees” are most often misunderstood assets to your organization. Qualify their values, make sure they align, and unleash them as a valued resource to your team.

(image: thinkstock)


About Paul LaRue

My goal - To encourage you to lead & influence others with positive impact.

Posted on March.20.2016, in Leadership. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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