Kevin, your sales manager of three years, has developed a habit over the last few months of coming in 15-20 minutes late for work. He always seems to have a legitimate excuse (heavy traffic, kids got sick, had to do a personal errand, car broke down, etc.). You generally don't mind being flexible, but his behaviour is becoming a pattern, and it's affecting your other staff. You've noticed telling looks between staff members when Kevin walks through the door, the inadvertent glance at the wall clock by your receptionist, the hushed whispers by the coffee machine in the staff room. Everyone is wondering why you're putting up with it (and subconsciously perhaps, why they shouldn't try to get away with the same thing). For the health of your business you need to address this behaviour, but he's the best sales manager you've ever had, and he's a great guy. How do you deal with the situation without damaging your relationship with him, and still maintain credibility with the rest of your employees?
Confrontation is never easy, but sometimes it's a necessary part of running a business, and when the business is yours, you have to deal with it. Here's a highly successful three-phase approach to confronting negative behaviour.
Step 1 Problem Identification
This is the initial conversation you have with the person. Carry this out in private, and at a time when neither party is feeling rushed or stressed. At every stage be as specific as possible.
- Describe the behaviour you see.
- Tell the person how the behaviour is affecting you and others.
- Allow the other person to respond (expect excuses but look for underlying reasons and possible solutions).
- Outline how you want the behaviour to change or describe the behaviour you'd like to see.
- Get agreement that this is reasonable and that they will behave in this way in future.
- Set a deadline for follow-up.
In Kevin's case, your conversation might go something like this:
"Kevin, I've observed a pattern over the past few months where you're coming in 15-20 minutes late in the mornings. The rest of the staff depends on you to be here on time because they need to meet with you in order to plan their day's schedule. Their productivity is affected when you arrive late." (Allow Kevin to respond.) "I appreciate that from time to time you may have to come in late we all do, but here's what I'd like to see from now on. I need you to be here by 8:30 so that your 8:45 meeting with other staff proceeds as scheduled every day. If there are occasions where it's necessary for you to be late, I'd like you to call ahead so we can plan around it. Does that sound reasonable to you? Let's meet again in two weeks to see how it's going."
Step 2 Follow-up
By now, the person will either have corrected the behaviour (in which case you can conclude the meeting very quickly, thanking them for their efforts), or the behaviour will still be causing a problem (in which case you go through the following steps).
- Describe the behaviour you requested and the behaviour you're still seeing.
- Remind them that they had agreed that this was reasonable.
- Ask why no change has been made.
- Describe the behaviour you'd like to see once again.
- Ask whether they understand and are willing to act in this way.
- State a consequence that will occur if the behaviour is not changed.
- Set a deadline to review again.
The meeting might go something like this, "Kevin, two weeks ago we discussed the problem of you coming in to work late, and I requested that you make an effort to be at work by 8:30 every morning. In the past two weeks, you've only been on time three out of ten workdays. Can you tell me why you haven't been able to do what I've requested?" (Allow for response) "I can't accept you continuing to arrive late, so I'm going to give you another week to show me that you can get to work on time each day. If this situation doesn't improve, we'll need to discuss whether your employment here can continue. Let's get together in a week to see how things are going."
Step 3 Consequences
If steps one and two haven't changed Kevin's behaviour, then you need to make some decisions. How badly do you want to keep him? Is there a win/win solution that can be reached? Or is it time to let Kevin find another job? Let's assume you want to find a way to make it work for both of you, but you also need to be seen as being firm and fair by your employees.
- Describe what you have decided to do, and why.
- Allow the person to respond to your decision (only if you're continuing the employment under revised terms).
- If you are suggesting a win/win option - ask them if they can live with the new terms of their employment
- If the behaviour is serious enough to warrant termination, make sure that you have provided the appropriate number of warnings (written or verbal) they are entitled to prior to their termination notice. This will avoid complications later. Provide the details of their termination and end the conversation.
If you've decided to continue employing Kevin but to alter his employment terms, the conversation might go something like this. "The problem of you coming in late hasn't resolved itself; it seems that mornings are just very difficult for you for a variety of reasons. You are a valuable member of the sales team and I don't want to see you leave. In order to allow you to take care of the personal issues that require your attention in the mornings, I'm going to reduce your hours to 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. However, I do expect you to be ready for work at your new start time; if that doesn't happen, I'll have no choice but to let you go. Can you accept these new terms?"
Confrontation isn't easy, but it can be done effectively if you have a plan and stay firm. In the end, the process outlined above is fair, efficient, and effective.