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How To Be The Bad Guy and Keep Your Job

Few people enjoy being the “bad guy.”  It’s difficult to fire people, write them up for persistent rule breaking, or mediate awkward situations.  A manager has to do those things in order to keep the team running smoothly.  In fact, failure to deliver consequences can be detrimental to a team’s morale and performance.


The Company Is Key

Managers can grow fond of people in subordinate roles and form friendships.  It’s only human! This, however, makes any disciplinary action more difficult.  It can also be difficult to enforce new policies, move forward with new initiatives, and change old office patterns when the people resistant are your office pals.

Aside from avoiding befriending people you manage, the key is to remember that the company comes first.  Always.  The good of the team and the good of the company needs to dictate any decision a manager makes.  It helps to keep this in mind when delivering less-pleasant news.  If you are afraid the “friendship” may suffer, you are putting your needs over the company.  If the friendship is true, and the person receiving disciplinary action is capable of separating work from personal feelings, it shouldn’t be an issue.  If the person is upset, so be it.

This same “company first” policy should be a mantra in meetings as well.  Rather than focusing on the person who has poor ideas, poor output, etc., focus on why the idea itself will not benefit the situation.  Explain why the behavior is detrimental.  Keep the focus off the person behind the behavior or idea.

Go a step further and focus on the positive.  Here are two examples:

“This idea about sprockets is just the kind of thing I’m looking for!  Not only does it align with our company mission, but it has been addressed in our customer feedback several times. Can anyone think of anything else along these lines?”

“I wanted to thank Sam and Henrietta for consistently being to work on time.  One of our big contacts called first thing in the morning, and they were able to handle the situation immediately, saving us hundreds of dollars.  The client was impressed with how quickly we were able to resolve the issue.”

People need reminders about why certain policies are in place.  It’s easy to fall into a “why can’t you be flexible about this” mentality.  Specific examples help cement the reasoning.  Also, sometimes people need specific details about what kinds of ideas to generate, why some are better than others, and how they can generate more helpful solutions.  Because it requires a little more effort and thought to come up with specific examples, it helps keep your mind, as the manager, in the right place—focused on clear outcomes and company benefit.

What if I can’t stand the guy?

First, figure out why you dislike the person you have to manage.  Is this personal?  A personality issue? Or is this person causing big problems and delivering substandard work.

Entrepreneur published an article on this topic, and recommended communication and “looking for the good” as solutions to this issue.   If you have determined that the issue (in all honesty) is not personal, look deeper into the behavior that makes the employee unlikable.

Negative behavior, such as bad-mouthing or slow output, can be a sign that the person does not know how to do what they are asked.  The person might be afraid to ask questions because they don’t want to look bad or lose their job.  A manager needs to assess the reason behind the behavior, in a safe and private way, so proper remediation can be delivered.  Negative employees often need help handling change, need reassurance that getting/asking for help will not jeopardize their job, and need to be given opportunities to demonstrate their best skills.

Calling It Quits

After all the documentation, assessment, and remediation prove ineffective, it is time to dismiss the employee.  If the “ultimate consequence” is not a viable option, and one that is appropriately used, other employees begin to feel like, “Why bother? It’s not like they are going to do anything about this.”  Morale diminishes, engagement falters, performance suffers, and people start hating their job.

Managers can feel stuck between two worlds.  The company doesn’t want to pay unemployment, for example, and would rather you “encourage the person to leave on their own free will.”  Run the numbers for them.  How much is this employee costing (in re-training costs, lost clients, slowing the other workers, etc.)?  Find out how much financial damage the employee is doing and approach it from that angle.  Also, run the numbers on how much effort, time, and resources it will take to “make the person want to leave.”  This is a passive-aggressive technique which can eat up a ton of time, ruin trust from other employees, further damage morale, and cost other good employees.  When in doubt, see how much it “costs.”

photo credit: The Urban Scot via photopin cc

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