Managing Challenging Employees

The word “toxic” has been heavily used in recent years to describe both workplaces and employees. It’s used so often, in fact, that I wonder if a number of employees have been written off as toxic when in fact they were just a challenging individual to manage. It’s a fine line, but a line nonetheless.

In the staffing industry, managing sales professionals is a good part of a senior manager’s day. Sales professionals come in all shapes and sizes, but the stereotypical “sales pit” is filled with extrovert personalities, alpha behaviors and, in general, an outward display of ego. There is nothing wrong with this, of course, but often such individuals will be the most vocal and not always in the way you hoped when it comes to organizational change. Some will oppose changes in policy, compensation and process. In essence though, is this not what makes them good sales people?

It is by very definition part of their day to day job to challenge statements made by prospects, customers, candidates and so on. Too often, I hear managers say in meetings or staff reviews “well this person is difficult to work with” and then here comes the inevitable T-word when questioning if this individual is a fit long term. Because they didn’t go along with management’s new ruling, whatever it may be, does this make them a bad employee?

Let’s think on this for a minute. Do you really want salespeople within your organization who will easily roll over when something is handed to them that they don’t agree with? Inevitably, those who do have the same approach with their customers, and we all know that can amount to too much time wasted on business that is not “real” or revenue lost because negotiations were faintly handled, and the salesperson just accepted what the prospect or customer said.

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As managers, we have a skill set that individual contributors don’t. Part of that skill set is to be adept at navigating difficult situations, possess the ability to have tough conversations, and manage all types of personalities. Some people are easier to manage than others, but does that mean that we write the ones that are not easy off as toxic? It seems like there is work still to be done with that individual and as managers we need to address their concerns, hear their questions, understand why there is opposition, and engage that person so they become a promoter of the new process/policy, and not a detractor.

Of course, most top billers are allowed to go their own way given the revenue they bring into the firm. The result is that they can become entitled and resist changes within the organization.  If someone is sabotaging management’s initiatives or consistently bad mouthing decisions to other colleagues then, yes, I agree this is a toxic individual that needs to be dealt with accordingly. My point here is that we don’t immediately go that route with the first sign of resistance. Let’s earn our titles and our wages as managers … some of the most difficult employee relationships can be our greatest success stories when it comes to leading and developing our own skill set as a superior.

Tricia Bielinski
Tricia Bielinski is global HR director, K2 Partnering Solutions Ltd.

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