If you are an executive leader, then you survived a rigorous application process, you presented in front of a panel of future colleagues, you positioned yourself within the right networks, you offer the preferred, not just required, candidate qualifications, and you accomplished all this under intense scrutiny. However, at some point, you will face one of the most challenging other-duties-as-assigned: dealing with a team bully.
An employee can become the office whiner or bully for various reasons: complacency in their position, insufficient supervision, a sense of entitlement through seniority, or poor training; the list could go on forever. Effective executive leaders know that if the situation is left unattended, the bully will ultimately adversely affect employee turnover. Effects are heightened when the bully holds a supervisory position and it could also lead to legal ramifications for the company.
When bullies are allowed to continue modeling poor behavior, the company will be left with a mediocre team lacking all respect for leadership. Why is this? It is because your higher caliber employees know they are easily employed and won’t stay with a company that tolerates this unacceptable behavior. What’s worse, they may share of their experiences across their social pipelines and affect other areas of the organization, like marketing and sales.
So, what are effective strategies for dealing with bad behavior? Here is a 10 step strategy effective leaders find helpful:
- First and foremost, you must accept accountability. As the leader, it is one hundred percent your responsibility to protect and develop your team. Even if you inherited them when you accepted the position; all roads lead back to you.
- Setting up a good plan of action requires that you know who you are facing. Learn the history of the offending employee. Research the employee through discussions with your leadership colleagues and the employee’s personnel file.
- Find examples of unacceptable behavior. This is the time to be specific. If the employee truly is causing disruption with your team, then you have specific examples you can use. The bully needs to be able to picture the situation in their mind, to recall their actions and their audience’s reactions.
- Develop your plan of action. Seek guidance from your human resources department to ensure you follow the law. Practice your approach. Even seasoned executives should go over their approach several times. This will ensure that you remain on topic and steadfast in the plan of action you have developed.
- Face the challenge head on with a positive outcome in mind. Unless the behavior is egregious, puts other employees or the company at risk, or is illegal, everyone deserves a second chance. This is especially true if company deficiencies led to or permitted the poor behavior. Your first objective should be determining how you can help this employee mend the situation and improve. It’s going to be very difficult for the employee to undo possibly years of damage and for other employees to trust that this isn’t just some quick fix. Let the bully know they are in for some great resistance because they need to rebuild their teammates’ trust.
- As you discuss the examples with the employee, make sure they recognize why their behavior was wrong. If they don’t, then you need to explain why, in detail. This should include discussion about expected performance and proper behavior.
- Identify training and development opportunities focused on the employee’s weaknesses and come up with an immediate schedule allowing the employee to take the trainings. Schedule weekly meetings between you and the employee to discuss progress.
- Let the affected team members know you are working with the employee to change their behavior and that you will protect them and resolve the situation.
- Document, document, document. Most importantly, document. As the leader, you must also protect your company and ensure that you document complaints and grievances, and show that every measure possible was taken to help the team.
- Be prepared to terminate the employee.
Number 10 is perhaps the most crucial. Not every tormenting employee will embrace your plan of action. If an employee refuses to follow the course the two of you set forth, you must honor your end of the agreement and terminate the employee. All eyes are on you and are watching to see if they can trust you.