Do You Have A Toxic Employee?
Jacob M. Engel Forbes Councils Member Jacob M Engel (Yeda LLC) | CEO & Author | #1 Amazon Bestseller | Family Business & Entrepreneur Consultant | Leadership Coach. Recently, I worked with a client to turn around his business. We reviewed specifically some of the challenges his company had with its employees and why this was such a difficult issue to solve. We agreed that the big issue, the elephant in the room, was having to deal with a toxic employee — in this case, a very senior manager.
Toxic employees, especially in a senior position, create a huge amount of stress and bad culture. As someone once said, (bad) culture is created by the amount of bad behavior you tolerate. This manager, whom we shall call Robert, had an amazing background and resume in the very specific field my client needed. It was a perfect match, or so it seemed, for my client's needs. More so, he was referred by the client's business partner as someone who knew how to scale up the department and had an excellent grasp on the line of business. The one thing his partner forgot to mention was that Robert had a very intense nature and would fly off the handle very easily, plus he was an aggressive person. This meant he was able to get things done and could get vendors and others to follow his lead, but it also meant that when he was unhappy about something, you knew about it and so did everyone else. He would loudly complain about almost everything that didn't go his way and the leadership had to "walk on eggshells" when working with him, so as not to have him walk around pouting and complaining. In my initial meeting with him, he was cool with the idea of having a third person who was unbiased review what was working and not working in the organization.
He told me, "if they would only listen to me — I know exactly what needs to be done!" I managed to convince him that if he wants leadership to listen to his ideas then it's better if it comes from a third person without an agenda. He agreed, and now I was the one on the hot seat. When I was hired, I was told that I would have to work with Robert. So I made it my goal to get to know him and help him help himself. It failed! And while Robert had many good things to share, his aggressive style put everyone off, especially the leadership.
I recently read an article about various different types of toxic employees. The first type is "the bulldozer," and this term describes our guy. He would bulldoze over anyone that stood in his way. After many consultations, including with my mentor, we decided that Robert would either have to work with all of us as a team or he would need to move on in his career. However, there were concerns that if he left, there wasn't anyone there to take his place.
That meant we had to build an alternative to him running his team, and so we introduced the need to have a COO who would be more involved in the day-to-day. Robert liked this idea, as his complaint was that the leadership didn't interact enough with him and he also respected the internal candidate's capabilities.
The COO had a tough job, walking that fine line between being involved yet not revealing to Robert that his work was largely in preparation to take over Robert's department if push came to shove. Fast forward a few months, Robert left and the COO took over the department. What he shared with me is that he reorganized the department and that has increased output consistently to the point of the department virtually running on its own.
He lamented the fact that they didn't have the courage to do it quicker, and we discussed some of the lessons learned: • Even the best resume needs fact-checking. Check references, etc. • Use the same questions or assessments you always use and don't assume that just because someone says they're a great candidate, they actually are. • Hold people accountable for their (bad) behaviors. People get hired for skills and fired for attitude. • Hire slowly and fire quickly.
As my friend, Paul Silberberg would often say, "the best deal with bad people will always be a bad deal."
Be on the lookout for these other types of toxic employees:
• The Passive-Aggressive is, as the name implies, passive with whomever they're dealing with, especially their superiors, but aggressive behind their backs. They will roll their eyes, make snide remarks, slam doors because they are angry yet don't have the courage and consideration to sit down and talk about what makes them angry. Many companies believe that passive-aggressiveness is cause for termination.
• The Complainer is, no matter the subject, unhappy or miserable about everything. They are not a fun person to be around.
• The Knowledge Hoarder makes sure to keep all their information very close to the chest so that people have to keep on asking them what to do or what to do next.
• The Prideful is very much into themselves and their egotistical feelings. If you, as their superior, ask them a question that might imply that they haven't followed through on their commitments or are slacking off, they will pout and walk around with a sour face all day.
• The Gossip is extremely disruptive and notorious for camping out near the watercooler. They are harmful to the work environment and will talk behind everyone's back.
• The Underperformer is usually the wrong person in the wrong seat. Yet sometimes with the right coaching, the right seat can be found.
Your culture depends on your tolerance for these and other harmful behaviors. So be sure to test the level of toxicity with your employees early and often. If you discover a toxic employee, come up with a game plan or strategy to remove or help improve their behaviors.