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How to Handle the Bad Apple Employees On Your Team

Wow. Suddenly I’ve had several clients ask me how to deal with the “bad apple employees" on their teams. 

Whether you run a small, independent business or you're a massive success who has successfully invested in multiple franchise opportunities, every business leader runs into these types: The folks who don’t seem motivated, don’t deliver what they promise, and seem to spend a good amount of their time complaining and bringing the rest of a good team down.

How to handle bad apple employees

In line with my 3-Ts (Train, Transfer or Terminate) philosophy, let me outline what I feel are some of the key things a prudent manager / leader needs to do to try to turn this sort of worker around.

The first step is always to look in the mirror and ask yourself these questions:

What am I doing to cause this situation? Have I given this person all of the help, support, training and resources they need to be successful? Have I honestly and clearly communicated my concerns and, specifically, what the unmotivated employee needs to do to improve? Does this employee have the skills and abilities to succeed at the work I have given them? Would they do a better job and be truly successful in another role in our franchise or organization?

If you can answer all of these questions and you still feel like it's an employee / team member's attitude that is the problem, here are a few other steps to consider:

What is motivating them (or not motivating them), causing them to act this way?

I look at the word "motivation" this way: Motivation = “Motive for Action.” People do things for THEIR reasons -- not yours. So, what is driving their behavior? I believe that people always do the best they can with what they have -- so you need to get in there and figure how to tie-in something motivating and important to this person… with quality job performance. They need to see that doing well at work will have a positive impact on something that is of value to them -- something they are truly motivated by.

By the way, this is really hard.

If the motivation thing doesn’t work, then it turns to D&D or “direction and documentation” (remember the different types of Situational Leadership? Now we move from Cheerleader and Teacher modes to the Director mode – not a place you want to have to stay for long). At this stage it is time to put the bad apple employee on a formal “Improvement Plan.” Now is when you lay out a written and specific overview of precisely where their performance is not acceptable and you build a clear and measurable plan to get them to where they need to be.

I have a unique way to approach this that I feel adds a lot value: I ask the person to build their own plan -- in their own words -- and with specific measure of success and failure that they develop. I do this so there will be no argument later that they did not understand what they needed to do, or that it was unfair. If they built it, they will own it.

Of course I sit down and go over it with them and we usually negotiate a few items, change a few, add a few -- but I want it to clearly be from them, in their words.

Then I ask for three more lists:

  1. What will you need from me in order to successfully complete your plan?
  2. What sort of reward should you get if you achieve your plan?
  3. What should the ramifications be if you cannot achieve your goals?

Typically, the reward they ask for will be pretty fair and the punishment they list will be termination. If the bad apple employee successfully completes the plan, then you get to give them a big pat on the back and deliver the reward you agreed to -- this is a win/win. If they cannot achieve the goals, and you honestly did everything you were supposed to do to help them, then it has been my experience that most of these folks simply quit on their own when they realize they cannot deliver what they promised. This is also a win/win. And, yes, I have actually had several people “fire” themselves!

A VERY important element though is that the list MUST be very specific, measurable and -- when possible -- clearly observable. The ONLY way to take emotion, perception and opinion out of the equation is for you and the person to work on their goals to get them 100% quantifiable. They need to be binary -- either they got it or they did not. No argument, no guessing, no “I don’t feel like you did it.” It has to be completely clear so that it is never your opinion of their performance vs. their opinion. That is a no-win situation.

If you go through all of this and the bad apple employee does not achieve his or her goals… and does not want to quit, you now have all of the documentation you’ll probably need for a defendable termination. My only last comment here is to be sure to keep HR in the loop and to try to always have a neutral third party in the room when you have serious conversations with this person. It is a pain to do this sort of CYA stuff, but it can alleviate a lot of pain and “he-said-she-said” type confrontations down the road.

Well, I hope that helped. I am sure there are several more things to add to this list, but it is a good start at what you need to be thinking about if you have a problematic, bad apple employee.

John Spence is the author of “Awesomely Simple – Essential Business Strategies for Turning Ideas into Action.” He is an award- wining professional speaker and corporate trainer, and has been recognized as one of the Top 100 Business Thought Leaders in America.

Getting into Baby Boomers Wallets

Savvy businesses have been marketing to the Boomer generation for years. But interest is accelerating now that Boomers are approaching their 60s. In this day and age, no business can afford to ignore the economic realities of this phenomenon, with one in three adults currently at least the age of 50. The target audience for these marketing schemes should be adults aged 54 to 64. They have the deepest pockets, with an estimated average net worth of $210,000 -- higher than any other age group.

Before Buying a Franchise Identify Your TRUE Investment

Your approach as a potential franchise buyer is to identify the real investment dollars you’ll need to get the franchise to profitability. The initial source of this information is Item 7 in the FDD. Item 7 is a schedule that details the estimated investment in the franchise. This schedule includes the cost of various items, including: the initial franchise fee, training related expenses, rent, insurance, professional fees for legal and accounting services, supplies, equipment, licenses and permits and additional working capital. Depending upon the specific franchise, there may be added categories. When reviewing the Item 7 schedule it’s important to know that franchisors are not required to list every type of fee or expense that might be part of the investment in the franchise but rather the likely investment needed to start the franchise. As you work to establish your investment number keep in mind the words “estimated” and “typical.” Item 7 is a guide, and as such, you should use this information accordingly.

The Importance of Setting Clear Expectations

So my recommendation is as follows: As early in the relationship as possible, invest the time necessary to clearly describe the shared expectations for how you will work with your customers and, and how you will work with your employees. If you do this well, everyone will be on the same page and when you deliver something a little bit better than they expect, the will see you as someone they trust, like and want to be loyal to – a strong driver of success for any business.