QUESTION: How do you handle a situation where an employee is great at his or her job but does not get along well with other employees?
ANSWER FROM JUDY KAY MAUSOLF of Practice Solutions, Inc.
I would start by scheduling a time to meet with the employee. Tell the person how much you appreciate how well he or she is handling his or her assigned tasks. Then reinforce the necessity of teamwork. Share that you have concerns with how the person interacts with other employees. Clarify how their behavior has a negative impact on the team, the patient’s experience, and the entire practice’s performance. Define your expectations on how the person is to interact with team members in the future. Inform the person that for them to continue to be a part of the team, it is necessary for them to work well with the rest of the team. Tell the person that no matter how skilled they are at their job, if they can’t get play well with others they will no longer be welcome as part of the team. The decision of whether the person stays or goes is up to them, based on their future actions toward the team.
ANSWER FROM SHELLEY RENEE of Shelley Renee Consulting
Dear thoughtful leader, I feel your angst. You feel compelled to outweigh the cons with the pros. It sounds as if you have been watching this situation for some time. Unfortunately, a “stellar” employee does not a team make, any more than you can put your Beta (aka fighting fish) in the tank with your guppies. You are watching the rumblings of a volcano. This problem is not one that fades away quietly. You must act quickly and decisively. What do you do? Dust off the office manual and check that your policies are up-to date. Do you have signed employee agreements, up-to-date job descriptions, and a detailed conduct policy? Schedule the long overdue performance review with your “stellar one.” Openly discuss the attitudes that are expected along with a good work ethic. No, that person does not have to like the other team members, but yes, he or she is expected and obligated to protect the safe, warm, kind office environment you desire. The “stellar one” cannot chew on the guppies! As a leader, in your anxious moments, ask yourself, "Can I operate this business with a single person?" If any team members are being harmed or work under threat of being “chewed on,” by all means this “stellar one” must find a new tank to swim in.
ANSWER FROM KATHERINE EITEL, Founder Lioness Learning:
I believe it is the owner’s prerogative and responsibility to clearly communicate the skills, attitudes, image, and demeanor that are required to work in the business. As an owner, I don’t feel the need to justify or defend those requirements. Once I have communicated these in a clear and neutral (nonjudgmental and nonthreatening) way, I let each employee decide if those requirements are a good fit for them. If they agree to the expectations, then if they step out of line, the owner must have an unemotional conversation with the employee outlining the changes that must occur and the timeline for improvement.
Here is an example of what that conversation could sound like: “Jane, I want to share a concern I’m having about the alignment between my expectations and yours. You are an excellent employee in terms of how you perform your duties and, in that regard, you are a perfect fit for us and we are in total alignment. Where I have a concern is in the relationship you maintain with other team members. One of my requirements is that all team members develop the skills necessary to be a great team player and contribute to the positive environment for patients and each other. I value you on the team and want you to work here, and you must improve in this area for that to happen. I will be your strongest advocate for helping you gain those skills, including providing outside resources if necessary. I will also be happy to entertain your ideas for improving those skills. What is not an option is that these skills do not improve by (this date) in these measureable ways. (Name these) Is this something you feel you can commit to?”
You’ll notice I never used the word “but” in any sentence, and that is an important part of communicating something like this. Also, the employee may want to know who has complained about her behavior, or what the complaints were, or even deny all together that she isn’t already a great team player. In any case, never be drawn into what I call “speaking backwards” about the past (as no two people will ever see the past the same way). Simply continue to redirect the conversation to what you need the future to look like.
The biggest advantage any manager has is to come into a conversation like this not angry or frustrated. The strongest platform from which to lead is a place of confidence that, whether the employee stays or leaves, both parties will be fine. If you go in to a conversation like this believing neither will thrive without the other, then you will be communicating from a place of fear and concern rather than strength and confidence … and it will affect the tone and outcome of the discussion.
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