Wait, I’m the Problem Child?…Now What? Part 2

In Part 1 I highlighted what some have realized when they come to terms that they may be a problem person on their team. Maybe you’ve had the difficult conversation with your manager and you’re now wrestling with the feedback. Everyone responds to this type of direct feedback on performance in any number of ways. Some are more productive than others.What type of person are you?

Misfit: Maybe you’re just not in the right organization or in the right role. It’s not the right fit and you feel like you’ve been forcing it for some time. You’re misfit for the work or the organization. This happens all too often. You’ve known it for a while and it’s impacting your performance. You’ve just not been very motivated to do something about it. You’ve coasted with relative disinterest in your work and your team. You’re waiting for something to move you and this is your opportunity. You can quit quietly and go your own way. You don’t cause a scene and you may be able to talk your manager into calling it a mutual parting of ways. Either way, you’re out the door and on to discovering your new thing, your right fit.

*Note to managers about the Misfit. This is a change they need. They may have sat on their laurels for a while, but leaving this role is best for them and best for your team.

Combustible: No one tells you you’re not right for something. You’re the reason this company, division or department is as good as it is. You’re easily offended by negative feedback and you’ll quit and figuratively attempt to burn the place down on your way out. If your manager is short sighted enough to let you stick around for more than 15 minutes you’ll do your worst to turn your team, clients or vendors against them. That’s right, you’re in charge here. While this approach may feel good in the moment as you’re protecting your ego, in the long run you’re causing irreparable damage to yourself. If you’re this self-focused then please slow down enough to know that the only person you’re going to damage is yourself. You may not do the work to change in this role, but at least leave quietly for your own sake.

*Note to managers about the Combustible. They’ll need a swift exit. You’re doing yourself and your team a disservice if you allow them to stick around and inflict damage. Talk with HR in advance to get the support you need.

Subtle Saboteur: You’re one of the most dangerous types and you know it. Sure, you’ll play along. You’ll agree to change your behavior and you’ll bend to your manager’s request only to buy yourself time so you can inflict slow damage inside the organization. You’re not unlike your combustible counterpart, you just do it with less noise. Where the combustibles are like bombs going off, you’re like a slow gas leak. You cause as much damage, but you’re really hard to detect.  So, you can stay in your role and make it even more difficult for everyone around you before you’re forced to leave (if your manager’s worth their salt they’ll have you leave sooner than later). You really should quit if you’re going to do this. The time will still come, but you’ll have done some damage in the process. You’re just a wolf in sheep’s clothing or a combustible disguised as compliant.

*Note to managers about the Subtle Saboteur. The more specific and measurable the performance plan the better able you are to gauge commitment and progress and identify a subtle saboteur in the process.

Survivalist: You can’t afford to be out on the street so you need to comply. You don’t necessarily like the work nor do you like the people, BUT you need the job, you’re in a tough spot. You want to buy time to find another job. It’s usually finances that keep people in this situation. You need the money to survive and the thought of bailing on it is completely disrupting. Ok, that may be the case, but you’re showing up to work in a way that shows your distain for the work and the people and it’s clearly impacted your performance to the point of your superior bringing it up and letting you know your job is on the line. It’s time to get in gear. You needed a job and this one was offered to you. You chose to take it. It was your life situation that led to you needing this particular job. That’s not your organization’s fault so quit treating the people around you like they forced you into this. You have a choice. Lean into this opportunity and change your behavior. That behavioral change will be a transferable skill for you in the future anyway. And, while you’re doing that hard work of change at work, begin to get your financial affairs in order so you can set up to make an occupational leap in the near future. Meet with a financial coach or try something like Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University and get ahead of your finances so you don’t stay stuck forever. You’re a survivalist and you can do the work to improve despite the circumstances. Along the way be thinking about the type of work you want to do while you’re becoming a person whom others would want to work with.

*Note to managers about the Survivalist. You may have an opportunity to coach them in the direction you need them to go for a time. Keep an eye on their performance and have open discussion with them. You may find an opportunity to help them find another team or organization while they’re making the changes you need to see. This can be a win-win.

Icicle: You care a great deal about your work and the people with whom you work, but this feedback is paralyzing. It’s shaken you deeply and you don’t know if you can face your boss, team or clients again. You’re full of self-doubt. You’re not sure if you can get back on track or what it means to make changes. You never meant to veer off course or to be disruptive. You just got so busy and life took over. You’re stuck, unsure if you can step up and face the feedback again. You have a difficult road ahead. It’s not that the work of change isn’t possible, it’s that you’ll have to face your fears throughout the entire journey. If you don’t step up to make the necessary changes you’ll likely lose your job. If you stay frozen, you’ll miss the opportunity to rebuild trust and grow in the organization. You’ll need to let your manager know you’ll need overt support through the process. You’ll want to express your care for the work and your team and be very clear that you want to make changes.

*Note to managers about the Icicle. Be proactively supportive. They’re not self-cleaning ovens like others you work with, but they are very capable of making the necessary changes. Give them the attention and support they need and they may just surprise you.

Contritionist: This is a manager or coach’s ideal individual. You’ve chosen to genuinely take in the feedback, work with your manager or coach and work to make changes, build or restore relationships and tell a new story of yourself in your organization. It doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy, but it is possible. You like the work you do and the people you work, but you’ve run off course somewhere along the way. The feedback you’re receiving from your boss is especially difficult because you do care about what you do and the people with whom you work. If that’s the case, it’s time to step up. Pride will battle you for a bit. Who are they to tell me that I’m not cutting it? Who are they to decide how I should behave? If you’re a top performer (and you know it) pride may be your biggest hurdle. Who are they to get in the way of me hitting my numbers? Don’t they know this is part of the package? They get my numbers (creativity, innovation, etc) and my personality is part of the package.  Your organization may have tolerated you because of your numbers for some time, but they’ve hit their limit. You’re now being called to a new reality. You’re being asked to step up or step out. Channel your strong, driven personality and put it to work in changing your behavior and you’ll be able to change your story.

*Note to managers about the Contritionist. They really do want to do the work to right their course. So, be present, be specific and offer direct feedback. Coach them along the way and offer resources where you’re able. You may find an entirely new level of contribution from this individual.

Who are you and how will you respond?

Wait, I’m the Problem Child?…Now What? Part 1

So, it’s you. Maybe you saw it coming. Maybe you’ve known you’re a bit difficult for your team or boss to handle. Maybe it’s a complete surprise. Maybe you were blindsided. Regardless, you’ve now had the talk. Your boss or your boss’ boss or some kind of corporate superior sat you down to tell you there’s a problem. And that problem is you. Your performance, your behavior, your attitude, your relationships or lack thereof are about to cost you your job, a promotion or an opportunity. Whatever the issue is, you’ve been notified that your organization, team or boss has a problem with you. Your boss has identified specific behaviors and their impact on your team and organization. They’ve outlined clear changes they need to see in the way you do your work and relate to others. Even if your boss handled the conversation perfectly, it’s still difficult feedback to hear. You’ve just found out you’re the problem child. And now you are faced with making changes.

Admittedly, no one really wants to be the problem child. Sure, some people pride themselves on pushing the limits, being a renegade or bucking the system, but being the problem child, well that’s not anyone’s favorite title. And now it’s yours. What do you do?

You have some decisions to make. Yes, you have a choice in the matter. For some reason, many people forget that they’re employed at will. It’s your choice to be at work. It’s your choice to behave as you do. It’s your choice to remain the same and it’s your choice to change. All of this is volitional. If you’re reading this it’s doubtful that you’re an indentured servant or forced labor. So, you can choose to stay or you can choose to go. Don’t make it’s something it’s not. Your behavior has gotten you into trouble at work. The company will choose for you to leave unless you choose to change your behavior. That’s the arrangement and it’s appropriate. Beyond standards laid out by employment law, your organization, your CEO, your boss and your manager get to set the behavioral and cultural norms that govern what works and what doesn’t in your environment. You get to choose to live by them or exit to live without them. If this isn’t the work you want to be doing nor the people you want to be working with go ahead and leave. You’ll be doing yourself a favor and can go search out work you actually want to do. And the team you leave behind will feel a weight off their shoulders as well. Win/win.

Everyone’s initial reaction to such direct feedback paired with what may be an ultimatum is a bit different. Most people are initially hurt. We all respond to such hurt in different ways. Some of us are defensive. Some of us are immediately contrite. Some are sensitive and deeply moved. Some are stubbornly resistant appearing unmoved by the feedback. Some still shut down and boil inside. There are a wide variety initial responses to this type of feedback. Some are more damaging than others. If you’re one to speak quickly, this is a time to slow down your response for your own sake. You can’t take back what you say once it’s out there. You may be hurt, offended or confused. Those are common experiences. This type of feedback is unsettling. You’ll be shaken up for a while. How you respond impacts how this process will play out.

You must decide what kind of person you are and how you’re going to respond. You may be a Misfit and realize the role or environment you’re in isn’t the right fit, so you leave. Or you’re a Combustible and you respond explosively and toxically. Maybe you’re a Subtle Saboteur and you stick around quietly inflicting damage on your team or organization from the inside. You might be a Survivalist needing the job and may make necessary changes to satisfy a need to keep the lights on at home. You may identify more closely as the Icicle who desires to make positive changes, but freezes in place paralyzed by fear induced by the negative feedback. Then there’s the Contritionist who genuinely leans into the process and embraces the coaching working to change their story in the organization. Each type responds differently and have their unique impact on the organization and their team. Stay tuned for greater detail on these types in part 2.


A Culture of Trust


I have been reading some interesting research recently regarding the science of Trust from Dr. Paul Zak, professor of psychology and management, and director of The Center for Neuroeconomic Studies at Claremont Graduate University.  He writes that human beings are “constantly seeking the right balance between being wily of strangers and obtaining the value of interacting with them.”  He shows how our brains are actually wired for greater health, joy, generosity, productivity and wellbeing in relationships where trust is preeminent.

It doesn’t take long on this planet to “get burned”, betrayed, or let down by the people around us.  As a parent, you know how painful it is to watch this happen with your children.

One tendency, when feeling betrayed, is to become cynical, lose all trust, and put barriers up that cause us to look for the worst intentions and motivations from others.  I’ve been there and done that.  Not a pretty picture.  Letting go, forgiving, and moving back to deeper relationships of trust is the only option that makes sense for me.  Risky?  Sure.  No doubt, people will let me down again.  But I still have a choice; get bitter and cynical, or get better!  I have to choose the Get Better option.

On the other hand, being human, I am pretty sure I will let people down as well, even if it’s unintentional.  I am hoping the realization of the common human condition will help both of us forgive one other and try again for a better relationship.  I call it, “The Triumph of Hope over Experience.”

Brief caveat:  Let me assure you I am aware of the cycle of domestic abuse and abusive relationships.  These are not the kinds of relationships I am addressing in this article.  If you are in one of these toxic relationships, please escape and get safe, even if it is a toxic work environment. 

In organizations management too often thinks laborers are out to take advantage of the company, to get away with doing as little as possible.  On the other hand, laborers have been known to become cynical and distrusting of management, thinking they are out to use and abuse them for the sake of the almighty dollar or to meet some goal.  Many of us bring these past experiences of betrayal to our new environments to the point that we are preconditioned to be self protective.  That preconditioning will definitely shape the lenses through which you view things to the point that you are more inclined to see signs of betrayal and disloyalty over trust and humanity, thus reinforcing your cynicism.  This could be a tough cycle from which to break free.

My question:  What might occur in an organization that is pursuing a Culture of Trust?  You see, Trust is the real engine of economics and economic transactions.  In a Culture of Trust people will still make mistakes, but Radical Candor (thank you Kim Scott) would prevail.  People would address these mistakes, directly, honestly, openly and respectfully in order to achieve a better outcome for all stakeholders.  We would see each other differently.  I would look to my colleague as someone who has the best intentions, even when I don’t see them.  I would work hard to get clarity so that I don’t make assumptions.  I would do my best to provide clarity to others so they don’t make assumptions.  We would have open and honest communication, a rarity in most organizations.  We would offer our best contributions.  We would listen to and value the contributions and suggestions of others, regardless of rank.  We would spread honor where honor is due un-begrudgingly.   We would celebrate successes.  We would move into mistakes and failures with intentions to improve rather than blame.

Some say that my vision for a Culture of Trust is a utopian fantasy.  Maybe.  But the alternative doesn’t do much for me.  So I will continue to pursue this in the organizations I work with.   The one thing that I know for certain, is that in order to make progress toward that vision, each person has to begin by looking in the mirror.

Ask yourself the following questions:  Where am I making assumptions?  Where am I being cynical or distrusting?  What conversations do I need to step into with more Radical Candor?  What conversations am I avoiding out of fear?  Who do I need to forgive so I can move on?   Who do I need to ask to forgive me for being out of line, so we can move on together?  Who needs recognition or encouragement from me today?  Who needs feedback and clarity from me?  How does the work I do have meaningful impact in the lives of others?  Am I finding joy in my work?

Try these questions on for a few weeks before you ask others in the organization to do the same.  Let’s see how this works out.  Could be fun.

Dealing With Your Team’s Problem Child

You may have one of them on your team. Or several. The symptoms vary. Maybe they’re unproductive or unmotivated. Maybe they stir up issues on your team. Maybe they’re the center of office drama. Maybe they’re entitled, demanding or rude. Maybe they’re missing critical details and failing to meet commitments. Or maybe they’re just unaware. You feel like a teacher must have felt when dealing with a unruly student. You’re frustrated, tired of beating your head against a wall and your efforts don’t seem to be working. Yes, this is a full-grown adult on your team and the thought running through your head is, “I’ve got a problem child”.

When mentioning a problem child, you likely know the type. Whether the issue is personality, performance, attitude or disruptive behavior they leave quite the wake behind them in the organization. They’re tolerated by team members, disruptive or avoided all together. And they’re oblivious to it, or worse, indifferent to it. Their numbers or your passivity have kept them around, but their personality is weighing on the organization. It’s time to do something. For the good of the team and for the good of this individual change must take place.

I’ve not yet met anyone who truly wants to be the problem child. Sure, some are brash and love the idea of being disruptive or a maverick, but that’s different than being a problem. While they may be oblivious to their impact on the organization or indifferent to others, the health of the team needs you to take action. You need to take action for your own leadership development and to protect and grow a healthy organization. Every day that goes by with a problem child wreaking havoc in the organization the more ingrained the precedent is being set in your organization. I can’t promise that it will go well. That’s not always in the cards. Sometimes the problem child is just that, a problem. They may make a lot of noise and try to sway others in resistance to the feedback you’ve delivered. If that’s the case, they’ve only reinforced your concerns. Regardless, you must level up and have the conversation.

If you take issue with a team member’s personality, performance, attitude or behavior and you do nothing about it, you carry responsibility for their impact on the organization. You have a responsibility to level up and have the hard conversation.

So, what do you do? You can let them go (transition, fire, layoff, or whatever P.C. term you prefer). You can reprimand them and demand change. You can put them on a self-managed development plan. You can hire a coach and do a deep dive with them giving them every chance to succeed.

Whatever your course, you need to do these three things:

  1. Be honest and be crystal clear. Are you at your limit with this individual? Is this a put up or shut up moment for you? Are you wanting them to get their act together or get off the bus? If that’s the case, be honest. Be honest with yourself and be honest with them. It’s the right thing to do. Problematic personnel don’t come around to change via subtle messaging. Many need a wake-up call to make change. It’s your job to give them that wake-up call. Don’t shroud it in “development” when it’s really a do or die situation for this person’s career. Sit down with them and let them know the reality of the situation. They’re an adult and so are you. Be candid, be respectful and be very clear with expectations. If their job is on the line, let them know that. If a promotion is in jeopardy then be clear. If they’re going to be removed from a team then be forthcoming with that information. You’re not respecting the individual by dancing around the topic. Nor are you doing so by avoiding it. Leave nothing to ambiguity.
  1. Assess willingness to engage. You won’t be able to gauge willingness if you don’t take a direct approach. If you position a process as leadership development when it’s really meant as a correctional process you’re misleading the individual and crippling yourself in the process. You must give yourself the opportunity to truly assess their willingness to participate. To do that, see how they respond. Be prepared to give them the night or the weekend to consider their commitment to a change process. Let them stew with it and come back with a thoughtful response so you can assess their position outside of the raw emotion of the initial conversation. You’ll let them know their progress will be measured, you’ll be engaged in the process and the expectation is they’ll show evidence of change in the way they show up in the organization. Some will commit heartily. Others will commit with hesitation. Some will blow smoke to buy time to find another job or rally a resistance. And others will refuse immediately and opt for an exit. You can easily work with the heartily committed and the hesitantly willing. Even those who refuse and opt to quit offer you a clear path. The difficulty comes with those who want to buy time to line something else up or engage a passive resistance. You must follow up to gauge whether someone is wholly committed to the process. Evidence of a person’s willingness is shown through tangible change efforts and adhering to the agreed upon plan.
  1. Decide on a course of action and measurement. Outline specific areas of improvement, how it will be measured, and who will be measuring it. Make the timeline and measurement very clear as well as the consequences. “If you make these changes you will retain your position, grow in the company, be in good standing, etc. If you do not make these changes then you’ll be asked to leave immediately or be removed from a specific team or responsibility”. Write it out. Sign it yourself, have them sign it, and hand them a copy. Refer back to the measurements in your follow up conversations. Set your follow up meetings immediately. If you’re managing the entire process set a standing weekly meeting for the entirety of the process. If you have a coach working with the individual, introduce them within 24 hours and ensure their first interaction is scheduled.

If they have committed to the change process, then embrace their commitment, support them and prepare them for the hard work that is to come. It’s not an easy journey and they need to know you’re going to walk through their development with them to the extent you’re able. What change do you need to see by what date to show evidence of progress? The initial steps can be extremely simple (show up to meetings on time, leave your laptop, phone or tablet off in meetings, learn a certain task in the business, apologize to your peers for xyz, meet with a coach weekly, etc). You’re looking for measurable progress. As you see measurable progress, even in the small things, you have a great foundation on which to build. 360 feedback assessment, other reputationally based profiles and coaching offer great resources to support an individual through this process.

If the person with whom you’re working expresses an unwillingness to step into change then follow through on the consequences. It’s their choice to change or not. So, it’s their choice to stay with the company, in the role, on a particular team, etc. If you need to see change to retain the individual and they refuse to step into the change process then they have chosen their path. Frame it as their choice and help them on their way. They do have agency over their decisions.

Sometimes you’ll find the problem child isn’t as much of a problem as you thought. You’ve had them mislabeled all along. They’ve just been allowed to go their own way with little feedback. You may find that you, your team and the organization have played a part in creating the circumstances and all that is needed is some guidance. You need to step up and lead, mentor, encourage and to show the way to success.

Radical Candor!

I can’t get the thought of it out of my head.  I don’t know Kim Scott or her organization, nor had I ever heard of her before I saw a post on LinkedIn that referred to her organization and her highlight of this term.  I cannot overstate its simplistic value.  I have been serving as a consultant and executive coach for years and have witnessed the destruction and dysfunction that results when Radical Candor does not exist.

Scott defines Radical Candor as that sweet spot that combines genuine care for people with open, honest and direct communication.

If genuine care for people is missing the result is Obnoxious Aggression, where people are blunt, direct and lacking empathy.  This usually results in a toxic work environment that people cannot run from fast enough.  Those led by Obnoxiously Aggressive managers keep their heads down, don’t speak up, never offer their ideas for fear of receiving the blunt end of their emotional reactions.  They are in it for the pay check and are usually actively looking for somewhere else to work.

If open, honest and direct communication are missing the result is Ruinous Empathy.  What a great term, and probably the most valuable aspect of Scott’s work.  While we’ve all witnessed it, I am not sure we actually had a term to define it until now.  Thank you Kim Scott!   Ruinous Empathy creates an environment in which we fail to make the hard decisions, engage in the crucial conversations, or hold honest performance reviews for fear of hurting someone’s feelings.  We hand out titles, bonuses and raises in hopes that these acts of “kindness” will lead people to behave better and act more responsibly.  However, nothing could be further from the truth.  This is just another version of a toxic work environment.  Only the toxicity is more covert than overt.  People tend to feel or get trapped in these environments because they cannot replace their salary or title in anywhere else.  They die a slow and painful death as the fires of dignity are quenched from within.

It stands to reason then, that the only environment in which people thrive and grow and bring their best every day are those where Radical Candor is the norm, or at least is the standard that is being strived for.  Achieving the fine balance of genuine care for people with open, honest, direct communication is truly an art.  And like all art, it is only perfected with focus, attention, and practice.