How to Handle Bad Apples

Whether you run a small business or multiple franchises, it’s almost a given you’ve run into bad apples. These are the folks who don’t seem motivated, don’t deliver what they promise and seem to spend a good amount of time complaining and bringing down the rest of the team.

In line with my 3Ts (train, transfer or terminate) philosophy, let me outline some of the things you might do to try to turn these workers around.

1. Review your Role.

Start by asking yourself these questions:

What might I be doing to cause this situation?

Have I given this person the support, training and resources needed to be successful?

Have I clearly communicated my concerns and, specifically, what the employee needs to improve?

Does this employee have the skills and abilities to succeed at the job?

2. Try Motivation.

If you feel you can discount those issues as the cause of the problem, then the next step is to figure how to tie-in quality job performance with something motivating. The employee needs to see that doing well at work will have a positive impact on something that is of value to them.

By the way, this is really hard.

3. Create an Improvement Plan.

If motivation doesn’t work, then turn to D&Ddirection and documentation. Lay out a written and specific description of where their performance is not acceptable and build a clear and measurable plan to get the person to where they need to be.

I have a unique way to approach this that I feel adds a lot value: I ask the person to build their own plan. I do this so there will be no argument later that they did not understand what they needed to do, or that it was unfair. Of course I go over it with them and we usually negotiate a few items, but I want it to clearly be from them, in their words. Then I ask for three more lists:

What will you need from me in order to successfully complete your plan?

What sort of reward should you get if you achieve
your plan?

What should the ramifications be if you cannot achieve your goals?

Typically, the reward they ask for will be pretty fair and the punishment they list will be termination. If the bad apple employee successfully completes the plan, then you get to give a big pat on the back and deliver the reward you agreed to—this is a win/win. If they cannot achieve the goals, and you honestly did everything you were supposed to do to help them, then I’ve found most folks simply quit when they realize they cannot deliver. This is also a win/win. And, yes, I have actually had several people “fire” themselves!

A very important element, though, is that the list must be very specific, measurable and—when possible—clearly observable.  This is the only way to take emotion, perception and opinion out of the equation. It has to be completely clear so that it is never your opinion of their performance vs. their opinion. That is a no-win situation.

4. If Necessary, Terminate.

If you go through all of this and the bad apple employee does not achieve the goal and does not want to quit, you now have the documentation for a defendable termination.

One last comment:  Keep Human Resources in the loop through this entire process and to try to always have a neutral third party in the room when you have serious conversations with this person. It is a pain to do this sort of stuff, but it can alleviate a lot of pain and “he-said-she-said” confrontations down the road.


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