Nip the Problem Players in the Bud

This article originally appeared in SmallBiz Daily.

Leaders, I have news for you: Problems don’t go away on their own, no matter how hard we wish them to. Part of being a leader is dealing with difficult situations – whether they are mere annoyances or more serious issues – on a day-to-day basis and finding solutions to them before they blow up more.

Many times, a problem stems from a communication issue or something else that can be easily fixed. But what if the problem is coming from a team member? That’s a whole other issue, and it can mean making some hard decisions, like if that person should remain on the team at all. It can be difficult to change a person’s attitude, but there are steps to take to work through the issues before you get to the point where you have to cut him or her out.

Give strong feedback

Start by making it clear to the team member that he is causing problems. In many instances, people are not even aware of it unless it’s communicated to them. Explain exactly what the issue is and what he needs to change to smooth things out. It’s somewhat of a scare tactic to give him the sense that his job is in jeopardy, but it may be the push needed for him to bring his attitude or behavior into check.

Have an honest discussion

It may seem cliché, but honesty is seriously the best policy. Before you’re too quick to let a team member go, give her the benefit of the doubt. Invite her in for a chat about it. You’ve given strong feedback, but there may be more to the story than what is readily apparent. Is the team member unhappy with her role? Is she feeling hostility from other team members? Or is she simply not a team player? Opening the floor for her to explain their side of the story can give you the necessary insight to move forward with a solution, even if that solution is ultimately to fire the employee.

Brainstorm solutions

Work with the employee to come up with ways that he can work through the issues and improve his behavior and/or performance. For example, if the team member is constantly shooting others’ ideas down and causing unnecessary tension in every meeting, he will need to practice listening to his co-workers and giving positive feedback when they share an idea. The employee should leave your office with an action plan to improve the situation, knowing that the change is a crucial one to make.

Test the hypothesis and reevaluate

Think of it like a science experiment – you need to give it time to see if your solution will produce the desired results. It may be as easy as making the team member aware of her actions and outlining a plan to change them for the issues to be alleviated. However, if given the benefit of the doubt, and she still doesn’t prove her value in the company, it may be time to let her go. And sometimes that’s ok, especially if you’ve tried everything you could before coming to that decision.

Ignoring issues out of fear of hurting a team member’s feelings or of causing drama within the company will only backfire and do just that. Be honest with yourself and your employees if something – or someone – isn’t working, take the initiative and nip it in the bud, even if it means letting someone go. The team – and even the employee – may be better off for it.