How to Handle Star Employees With Bad Attitudes
Six entrepreneurs share their best methods.
4 min read
1. Don’t excuse it.
“This is an interesting question — and the way it’s phrased says a lot about how we view productivity. It’s all too often that we make excuses for ‘performers’ who have a temperament that negatively impacts those around them. I’d approach them with a true desire to understand what’s driving the bad behavior, but if it doesn’t improve with the support I’m able to give, I’d remove the employee.” — Stephanie Nadi Olson, founder, We Are Rosie
2. Consider the source.
“Identify the reason for the attitude. Perhaps it’s in response to his or her manager’s bad attitude. In many cases, an employee may not feel comfortable or know how to deal with this kind of a situation, and that unhappiness may manifest itself in a negative demeanor. It is so important to always take the opportunity to learn of gaps in our business operations. These conversations give us a glimpse into areas for improvement that we would otherwise miss.” — Johanna Zlenko, CEO, The Closet Trading Co.
3. Move on.
“You replace them. Early on, admittedly, we tolerated productive employees who had bad attitudes, partly because the productivity was necessary to grow, and partly because we still felt that people were doing us a favor working for us, which is a common feeling founders have. But now we have zero tolerance. Productivity with a bad attitude is arguably worse than nonproductivity. The negativity is immeasurable and can have lasting impact.” — Jason Griffin Reidel, cofounder and CEO, Gorjana
4. Offer support.
“Have a performance-related conversation, first stating the problem with their behavior and the impact it’s making on the business. Next, state the expectation of the company. Then tell them what you want for them as their manager, expressing your belief in their talent and skill. But follow up with stated consequences, and then move to a plan. It’s not enough to tell people to fix an issue — they might need your support. Let them know you’re behind them.” — Daina Trout, cofounder and CEO, Health-Ade
5. Dig deeper.
“Ask how the person is feeling about work. Open-ended questions such as: ‘If you could change one thing about this company, what would it be?’ or ‘If you could restructure your workday, what would it look like?’ can reveal that the person is having personal issues or a communication problem with a coworker or is concerned about the direction of the company. Whatever the response, make sure to listen. Close your computer, put your phone away, or get out of the office to have this conversation. It will make the next steps clearer.” — Steven Gutentag, cofounder, Thirty Madison
6. Prevent it.
“Just as we coach our hairstylists to be more productive, we have a bona fide coaching program to manage our egos, communication and professional relationships. We require our teams to practice straightforward, positive communication regularly and in person. This sets us up to manage changes in attitudes and behaviors successfully. If a team member’s behavior slides, call the problem out respectfully and clearly. If they want to stay, they’ll meet you on common ground. If not, it’s over. We’ve lost top performers — some responsible for 20 percent of the income at a single location — and recovered quickly. Don’t negotiate with terrorists.” — Jon Reyman, CEO, Spoke & Weal