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Give a ‘wake-up call’ to these 3 common types of “nightmare staffers”

Nightmare employees come in all sorts of packages. Here are three of them: the staffer who always has an excuse, the staffer who downplays any negative remark about performance, and the staffer who demands the manager’s constant attention.

Management consultant Diane Ciotta, president of The Keynote Effect in Long Branch, NJ, tells how to handle each one.

The excuser

Whether it’s missing a deadline, or making a mistake, the excuser has an excuse.

But oddly enough, excusers aren’t devious, says Ciotta. They make excuses “because they don’t think they have the ability to do what needs to be done.”

Thus, the wrong approach is the very one that seems most logical – a response of “I don’t want to hear any more excuses!”

Focus instead on building the excuser’s confidence and thereby ending the excusing. Whenever there’s a positive in the performance, commend it with a compliment such as “you really have great rapport with the patients.”

Excusers need to feel appreciated. “Then they know that if they make a mistake it’s okay, because they’re viewed as valuable.”

But that doesn’t mean telling them they’re great. Make comments that show them they can, in fact, do a certain job.

Suppose there’s an assignment that requires math and the excuser says “I can’t do that because I’m terrible with numbers.” Respond with “yes, but you’re organized. If you apply your organizational skills to this, I know you can get it done.”

Along with that, invite the excuser to ask for help if it’s needed: “don’t be afraid to ask me if you have any questions.”

Now the staffer knows there’s skill enough to do the job, that it’s okay to make a mistake, and there’s help available if needed. And that’s enough to debunk any excuse.

What if the excuses continue? There’s a limit to how far any manager is expected to go. Treat it as a performance issue.

The downplayer

The downplayer minimizes every comment the manager makes about poor performance or failure to meet expectations. Nothing is a big deal.

At the same time, the downplayer expects a thank-you for doing the minimum.

Because of that, the downplayer is “one of the biggest problems” a manager has to address, Ciotta says.

The solution is not to spend time telling the downplayer about performance but to draw up a written performance action plan. Then there’s no question that things are being done wrong and here’s what the staffer has to do about them.

Document the performance problem, explain the effect is has on the office, tell what improvement is expected, give time for completing the improvement, and set a date for the next meeting to discuss the progress.

Along with that, state clearly that failure to make the correction can lead to disciplinary action including termination.

To drive home the message that yes, this is a serious issue, go over the plan with the staffer. And during the follow-up meetings, say unequivocally that the improvement has to be made if the staffer is to keep the job.

The updater

The updater is constantly looking for attention and affirmation. And that’s because inside is “an ego that needs stroking.”

Unfortunately, updaters seek attention in the most annoying ways.

They want public attention. In meetings, they elaborate on whatever is said. “They just have to put their two cents in.”

A good way to avoid that – though not entirely – is to keep from making eye contact with them during the meeting, Ciotta says. They read eye contact as “a green light” to chime in.

Updaters also want private attention, and one way they get it is to knock on the manager’s door – at the worst possible times – to offer pointless, useless information, usually starting off with “I just wanted to let you know that . . . “

That’s not so easily avoided. It has to be addressed head on: “Updater, many of the things you contribute are beneficial to me. But we are working on a schedule, so I’m going to ask you to write down all your points and send them to me in an e-mail at the end of the week.”

Now it’s possible to decide which, if any, of the points warrant addressing without having to listen to them all.

It also prevents the possibility that a valid point gets ignored simply because the manager gets worn out dealing with the constants interruptions.

And more, the updater will likely not send many points, because putting things in writing is a lot more difficult than barging into the office and talking about them.

Fire; it’s not a day care center

While it’s essential to know how to help problem employees work through their problems and become good employees, don’t be afraid to fire, Ciotta says. The office “can’t afford to be complacent about employees who won’t do what they need to do.”

Let a blatant poor performer stay on, and the productive employees get tired of picking up the slack. They also resent seeing the manager put up with it.

A manager “is running a business, not a day care center,” she says. Helping people grow doesn’t mean “coddling them.”

Her attitude toward termination is that it’s not a matter of firing someone but of “liberating” that person from an unsuitable job. “Sometimes people just aren’t in the right position and don’t even know it.” Terminating them “is doing them a favor.”

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