Q: As of this month, I’ve had a new team member transferred to my group.
He has been in the company many years, and has valuable knowledge and experience. He also has a reputation for being very difficult to work with.
I would like to help him become a better partner with his colleagues; if things don’t improve, I will be considering an improvement plan through HR.
How should I handle this?
Olivia, 52, IT infrastructure team lead
A: Let go of the past and see what you can accomplish if you try giving him a clean slate.
All too often, problem employees are passed around within companies, transferring the issues without actually addressing them.
In my experience, these employees are often genuinely surprised to find out that there are issues with their behavior.
After all, their performance reviews may be just fine! In these cases, while the employee still bears some responsibility for their behavior, more culpability lies with cowardly or inept leadership.
It’s also likely that his past managers didn’t create clear expectations about the positive behaviors they wanted to see.
This is especially likely in the interpersonal realm; often expectations are set around work tasks rather than the soft skills needed to be a good team member.
So, given your goal of helping him become a better partner, identify clear positive expectations.
Be specific, preparing descriptive examples to help him understand your vision for him in his new role. Also have examples for behaviors that you won’t tolerate.
Then set up an initial level-setting discussion with him. Share your expectations, but also get his perspectives. What does he think his strengths are? His weaknesses? How does he rate himself on the different elements of emotional intelligence? What are his hopes in working on your team? Also establish some shared goals for him in his new role.
What if you have concerns as a result of this initial discussion? You owe it to him to be candid about it.
If he is finger-pointing at people from the past, dismissive of others, resistant to your point of view, etc., identify this immediately and call him on it.
While you don’t want to enter the relationship expecting past bad behavior to show up, you also shouldn’t be oblivious if he shows old patterns.
For ongoing management, set up regular check-ins, probably weekly at first, and have ways to observe him in action. For example, ask to be copied on e-mails and attend some of his meetings so that you can have a firsthand experience of tone and style.
Then don’t just call him out when he doesn’t meet expectations. It’s equally important — maybe even more — to notice when he is interacting in ways that build positive relationships.
He will then know what’s working, and will be pleased that you noticed. And give him access to any training or mentoring he may need.
Be clear on consequences if he can’t or won’t change.
You won’t want to lead with that, but be ready to tell him when he’s nearing that line to give him one last chance to adapt to a new way of working.
What challenges do you face at work? Send your questions to Liz Reyer, a credentialed coach and president of Reyer Coaching & Consulting in Eagan. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.