August 29, 2017

Managing Toxic Employees

Whether you’re directly managing a toxic person or managing a project with a toxic employee, it’s important to deal with the situation transparently and quickly.

Managing toxic employees is tough. 

In my experience, it’s actually surprising – you question what’s happening, wonder why the employee is exhibiting the toxic behavior and often ask yourself “What did I do to get us to this situation?” Most people have positive intent around their work and want to make an impact; however, some folks exhibit toxic methods to getting the work done.

In those cases, it’s important to resolve the situation transparently and quickly – especially if you’re directly managing the individual (and even if you’re “dotted-line” managing the person on a project or major initiative). Remember, not only is your professional engagement at play here, but the rest of your team (and possibly broader organization) could be impacted as well…

In my experience, here’s how you best manage toxic employees:

  • Make note of the behavior pattern. We all have bad days. As a manager, you want to document behavior over time and the impact on the work … as well as the people involved. Notice both overt behavior and impact (missed deadlines) as well as covert behavior and impact (team members looking discouraged/not participating). Both are super important.
  • Get 360-degree feedback. Talk to co-workers (or other managers) working with the toxic individual. You can do this directly or anonymously, but getting feedback from everyone around. Ask the same questions and see how people respond – you’ll see the depths of impact from this toxic employee.
  • Bring-in HR (or manager if you’re leading a project w/ a toxic person). Usually the last step for most people, I think it’s important to bring in HR (or manager) sooner rather than later. Giving your HR representative an outline of the situation (and your recommended plan of action) is crucial – especially if disciplinary steps are required. Plus, HR can highlight additional resources that you may not know about.
  • Clarify expectations. If you do see a pattern and feedback continues to come-in highlighting the toxic behavior, you’ll want to clarify expectations with the employee quickly. Expectations around how you want the project to work, as well as expectations around how you want the team to operate. You might want to discuss how you’re measuring success (both the “what” and the “how”) as well. Being direct here is crucial.
  • Highlight the importance of the work (and the impact on the project). I have found that discussing the critical nature of the work can sometimes “wake-up” people who are operating in a toxic way. Talking to them about why they joined the project (or the team) and how they look at success can also bring about positive change. Use this as a tactic to bring the employee into the conversation – and possible solution.
  • Outline the path forward (both the good and the bad). Both for you and the employee, knowing what the future will look like is key to managing toxic team members. I think it’s totally appropriate to say that changes could be made if toxic behavior continues (of course outlining how you’re measuring this as a manager). I think toxic employees should know where they stand and they have a choice to continue their approach or modify to align more with your expectations. No surprises here for anyone!

Your homework this week: If you’re managing a team or managing a project, it’s important to think about how you’re dealing with a toxic employee. If you’ve noticed bad behavior (or received negative feedback), start moving forward with the action plan above. Take notes to possibly build a pattern. Start talking to HR.  You’ll thank me later, I promise!

Coming-up later this week:  It’s the end of August and that means it’s resource time! I’m sending out my favorite Book, Article, TEDTalk, and PodCast (B.A.T.P.) all around toxic co-workers. You won’t want to miss this!

Here’s to your Engaged Pursuit!

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