6 steps help team navigate change

6 Smart Steps to Help Your Team Navigate Change

Change is Inevitable, Strategic Change is a Choice

It’s a hard truth that confounds many leaders: continued success requires continued change.

But change isn’t easy. For most people (and therefore most of your team) it’s more comfortable to do what you did yesterday than to do something new today.

One of the critical roles every leader plays is to help their teams to navigate change successfully. Not just change for the sake of change, but strategic change that achieves breakthrough results.

Transforming results requires every heart and brain working together. Change requires confidence and inclusion, not selling. When you take your audacious vision and make it feel real, practical, and achievable, your team will be energized and ready for what’s next.

1. Establish a clear vision

Be crystal clear about what you want to accomplish. Communicate and reinforce your vision through every medium possible. When you’re sure everyone’s got it, communicate even more. It’s important to explain the reasons behind a change as well as to identify the specific behaviors you need from employees in each role.

2. Be honest about the benefits

The notion that all that employees care about is WIIFM—what’s in it for me?—is BS. Sure, employees want to know what’s in it for them. They equally want to know what’s in it for you and for their customers.

It’s not enough to be clear about the “What?” – they’ve got to know the “Why?” as well. In the absence of information, people often jump to the most pathological conclusion. Leave out key information and they fill in the blanks with assumptions (e.g., “the next thing you’ll do is downsize.”) They want to know that you’ve thought this through with your brain and not just your pocketbook.

3. Start small

Don’t advocate for an idea or change that’s half-baked or full of flaws. Test it first with a small group, take their feedback seriously, and get it right. It’s tough to regain credibility. “Oh yeah, I admit it stank before, but now it’s better,” only leaves people wondering why some bozo made a choice to sing praises for an idea, system, or process that was full of problems in the real world.

Even if it looks great on paper, your boss is sold, and it worked well in the IT war room, field test the change first.

Yes, this takes time. Go slow to go fast.

Take the risk of making some waves to make it easy for your team. You might be slower out of the gate than others, but when you get it right and everyone owns it, you’ll sustain your results and be ready for the next change.

4. Establish easy-to-access listening posts

This is perhaps the most important part. Really listen to what your people tell you. Respond to feedback with solutions, not selling. When you fix something, communicate it back using the 5×5 method – 5 times, 5 different ways. Ask, “How can we address this and make the change serve its purpose?”

5. Leverage reluctant testimony

Share as many testimonials as you can, especially from people who were doubtful at first. Get your most excited employees showing how your new idea, system, or process changed their world. Your most influential stories will come from the least likely suspects: the sales guy who never bothered with this stuff before, the new rep who’s now running circles around the old-timers because she uses the new system, the supervisor who got his entire team (including the union steward) performing acrobatics with the new process.

6. Involve the team in key decisions

No one wants stuff done to them, or even for them. With them goes a lot further. Ask employees, “What’s working well and how do we leverage it? What enhancements do we need? Where should we head next?” All these questions go a long way. Include employees by involving them in your change efforts.

Your Turn

Leave a comment and share with us your best leadership strategy to help your team navigate change.

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leadership skill no one talks about

The Leadership Skill No One Talks About

The Secret to Transform Your Culture or Results is One Often-Ignored Leadership Skill

“I’m so frustrated.” Martin, the Senior Vice President of a rapidly-growing communication hardware company serving the United States, leaned back in his chair and blew a heavy sigh past his mustache. “I’m hoping you can help me. It’s like there’s some key leadership skill I never learned.”

He continued: “Three of my direct reports are behind on projects I delegated. I walked through our contact center and customer service was a mess even though we invested all that time in training. Our quality initiative is stuck in neutral…it just seems like we can’t seem to get anything done.”

Martin is well versed in leadership and management. He knows the M.I.T. (Most Important Thing), how to set clear shared expectations, how to make sure everyone knows how to succeed, he knows how to reinforce what success looks like, and he knows how to inspire, to celebrate when it goes well, and how to hold everyone accountable when it doesn’t.

He knows all of these fundamental leadership skills.

So what’s the problem? What’s the leadership skill that Martin feels like he’s missing?

The Missing Leadership Skill

As we work with thousands of leaders around the world and watch them start using Winning Well leadership and management strategies, we’ve seen a common theme when it comes to who succeeds over time:

When it comes to changing a culture or transforming results, they don’t just start – they finish.

Sadly, organizations are littered with leaders who start, but never finish:

  • The leader who says the meeting starts at 9, but when someone is late, doesn’t say anything.
  • The manager who declared that a customer call must begin with empathy, confidence, and connection, but he only said it for two weeks and never got back to it.
  • The team leader who facilitates a great meeting, helps the team dig deep to make tough commitments, but doesn’t follow up to see that it happened.
  • The manager who has a brilliant performance coaching conversation with an employee who needs to improve in one key area, but three months later has never reviewed the desired new behavior.
  • The team leader who declares a new era of entrepreneurial teamwork, but then never asks for a single new idea.
  • The manager who delegates a project, but never receives it back.

It doesn’t take many of these failed commitments before your team loses faith in your ability to make change happen, and worse, you lose faith in yourself.

Make Your Choice

When you set an intention and follow through your confidence increases. Your team knows they can believe you, trust you, and rely on you. You credibility builds.

Finishing is a choice. It doesn’t happen by chance. In fact, the chances are it won’t happen at all.

Here’s the deal: life is busy. You’ve got more to do than time to do it. Your plan is going to get interrupted and your interruptions are going to get interrupted. If you don’t have an intentional, focused way to finish what you start, it won’t happen.

Effective leaders consistently choose to finish – but they don’t leave it to chance or a heroic act of willpower.

Make It Automatic

If you have to spend energy trying to remember everything you need to finish you’ll never do it. There’s just too much going on and your brain has limited energy. Just thinking about every open loop can be exhausting.

There’s a better way: schedule the finish.

The moment you set an intention, make an appointment with yourself or with the other person where you will complete the intention or take the next step. The key is when. What moment in time will you follow up, follow through, and finish?

Here are some examples:

  • When you have a performance conversation using the INSPIRE model, the final step (E) is the Enforce step. Schedule a brief meeting to review their desired behavior. Eg: “Sounds good. Let’s meet at 10 next Tuesday to see how this is going and if you have any questions.”
  • When you delegate, schedule a time where the other person will meet with you in person or by video to return the project to you, answer questions, and discuss next steps.
  • When you lead a meeting, conclude the meeting by asking who will do what, by when, and “How will we know?” The final “How will we know?” are scheduled commitments to the team. Eg: “We will all have our data to Linda by Friday at 4 pm. Linda will send us the new process by Wednesday at 3 pm.” Everyone puts the times on their calendar. If Friday 4 pm comes and Linda doesn’t have data from Bob, she calls him. If 3 pm Wednesday comes and they don’t have the process, they call Linda.

The key in all these examples is to make an appointment. There is a difference between a to-do item and scheduled time on your calendar, particularly when that time is scheduled with another person. The likelihood of you both keeping your commitment increases significantly.

For items that don’t naturally fit in a calendar appointment (eg: you’re rolling out a new process to improve on-time delivery and quality), you can still make appointments with yourself to reinforce the initiative (communicate at least five times through five different channels) and to review performance.

When you create an expectation – particularly a new one that is the result of training or a new process – follow through on behavior quickly. When people get the behavior right, celebrate it, acknowledge it, and reinforce that this is what people like us do.

When it doesn’t happen, have quick INSPIRE conversations to redirect people back to the new way of doing things. If there are problems that prevent people from doing what’s needed, solve them quickly and visibly.

(This is the strategy at the core of the Confidence Burst strategy.)

Your Turn

Finishing isn’t flashy, but it’s a leadership skill with a huge payoff.

Martin didn’t need to learn a new strategy or read another book. His only missing leadership skill was to finish what he started.

Finish. Schedule the follow-through. Don’t leave it to chance or your to-do list.

We’d love to hear from you: As a leader, how do you ensure you finish what you start?


leadership development Karin Hurt and David Dye

How Do You Know What Your Team is Thinking?

How to Know What Your Team is Really Thinking

Are you listening to your team
and the stories they tell?

During times of change and uncertainty, your team is desperate for information. They’re looking for the story behind the story. They’re thirsty to listen to anyone who knows what’s REALLY  going on. And in the absence of information, they’ll find their own stories and share them widely.

Most of the time, those stories are 10X worse than the truth you’re afraid to share. 

Yes, get your story together to explain what you’re doing and why. Hold town hall meetings. Conduct great skip level meetings.  Walk around as much as possible, AND don’t overlook the importance of listening to the stories your team members are telling one another.

Simon’s Story

I met Simon, a millennial Austrian engineer on a recent diving trip. He’d quit his well-paying engineering job and was on a 3-month backpacking adventure in South America. Curious about what gives someone the courage to just quit a job with nothing lined up when they return, I asked to hear his story.

Our company got bought by a Canadian-owned multinational company. All they care about is profits and reducing costs. They’ve created all these remote teams without much training or communication and I now work for a German boss who is a complete #@%&@$#.

They cancelled the Christmas Party!

You’re a leadership person, don’t you think that’s a bad sign? And then right after they cancelled the Christmas party, they had a big meeting where they brought us all in to talk about how great it was going to be and all this rah-rah about being one team. They had money for that, but not for the Christmas party?

This company is ruthless. So I quit. I’m going to travel and when I come back, I’m going to find a job for a smaller company that really cares.

I asked him what he would have wanted to hear in that big meeting.

The truth about where we are going. Transparency about the vision and cost-cutting efforts. How and why decisions are being made and how I will be impacted. Is that too much to ask?

In the absence of information, Simon had built his own story of bloodthirsty opportunistic grinches, which of course was validated by the stories of his peers–many of whom are still there looking for more evidence their story is true.

It might be. Or maybe not.

I don’t know about this company or the leadership motives behind their communication strategy. But, I’ve worked with enough senior level teams to know that there is another side of the story.

I asked Simon if he had shared why he had really left.

“No one asked.”

Sarah’s Story

And now what I heard from Sarah, just the other day.

I was brought in to do some “brand ambassador” training. The focus was how to help frontline employees provide extraordinary customer service and represent this premium brand.

The minute I walked into the room, I knew there was no way we could start there. So after some introductions and some fun, I asked, “What’s really scaring you about what’s happening in the company right now?”

Sarah spoke up first:

The only people who care about the customer around here are the people in this room. Ever since the merger (8 years ago) it’s been all downhill and now this new IT system is the final straw. Now we won’t have any choice but to be “corporate.” We’ve lost all ability to do the right thing for our customers.

Now this time, I DID know the other side of the story. I understood how and why the new IT system would improve the customer experience. I’d engaged in hours of discussions about the importance of extraordinary customer service as their key differentiator. In fact, that’s why I had been brought in. The senior team’s number one priority was differentiation around an extraordinary customer experience.

But that story doesn’t matter. Until we understand the story Sarah and her friends were sharing.

“Why do you stay here?” I asked.

George spoke up next, “because these people are like family, but you can bet I’ve stopped wearing my company shirt to the bowling alley. And if someone sees me at the grocery store with it on, I make up a story of winning the shirt in a golf tournament.”

It was only after hearing their very real stories, that we could begin the real work of transforming the customer experience, digging into the AND of personalized service and the value of new systems to take that experience to the next level.

Why the Brain Loves Stories

I know you are working to frame the story you want your team to hear. It’s also so vital to slow down and be really open to hearing the stories they are telling one another.

Paul Zak has done some fantastic research that matters when it comes to your culture and how your team processes change.

The first part of the answer (as to why the brain loves stories) is that as social creatures who regularly affiliate with strangers, stories are an effective way to transmit important information and values from one individual or community to the next. Stories that are personal and emotionally compelling engage more of the brain, and thus are better remembered, than simply stating a set of facts. In the absence of information, your team is more likely to make up a story far worse than even your most difficult bad news.

Do your best to be as much of a story listener as a storyteller.

Hear their stories. Listen well. Share yours. Listen again.

Related Posts

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Executive Visits: 4 Strategic Approaches for Influence and Impact

leadership development Karin Hurt and David Dye

How to start team accountability when you never have before

How to Start Team Accountability When You Never Have Before

It’s never too late to begin team accountability.

“Karin and David, can I ask you a question?” We had just finished a keynote where we gave leaders the tools to have the tough conversations. Sarah, a middle-level manager, came up to talk to us, looking nervous. “I’ve been a pleaser manager my entire career, but I hear what you’re saying. It’s time for team accountability, but I don’t know what to do next. Where do I begin?”

What a great question, and one we hear frequently. If you’ve allowed your team to slide and have chosen being liked at the expense of achieving results, you’re not alone. In our surveys of managers, over 2/3 have a preference for getting along over getting results.

The good news is that when you recognize the need to practice team accountability, you can start with a few achievable steps. We have worked with many managers who have transformed their leadership from people-pleasing to human-centered results and accountability. Here are six steps you can take to transform your leadership and your team’s accountability when you haven’t done it before:

  1. Take responsibility

Before starting a new initiative, it’s vital to let your team know what you’re doing. You are a role model for everything that happens going forward so you need to demonstrate accountability right now.

You can say something like: “I haven’t been the best leader in this area. Frankly, I’ve preferred being liked over achieving the results we’re here to achieve. I haven’t done the best job when it comes to accountability, but that changes today. I owe it to you and we owe it to one another and we owe it to our customers.”

You don’t want to say this unless you’re serious about making a change. When you take responsibility and reset expectations, can massively improve your credibility and role model what it looks like to make a positive change. At the same time, if you aren’t serious and don’t back up your words with actions, your credibility will suffer.

  1. Reset Expectations

The word “accountability” can be scary to your team, particularly when you haven’t talked about it or practiced team accountability in the past. Take time to talk about it. Be clear about what success looks like going forward.

Eg: “Accountability doesn’t mean beating people up for poor performance, it means we’re going to keep our commitments to one another. When we do, we will acknowledge it. When we don’t, we will work to understand why and what to do next time (or to make it right, now).”

You may need to reframe or emphasize the values you’re working from. For example: The team’s success is more important than our individual discomfort and when you don’t hold me or one another accountable, you’re hurting the team and the people we serve.”

Finally, start small. Try confidence-burst strategy for accountability. Pick a time period between two team meetings. Eg: “For the next 10 days we’re going to practice accountability. We’re going to keep our commitments to one another, and when we don’t, we’re going to address it directly.”

  1. Equip Everyone with the Basics of Team Accountability

Unless they’ve been part of a highly effective team in the past, most team members won’t have the skills to hold one another accountable. You will need to teach them to Ditch the Diaper Drama and share the INSPIRE model with them. Here is a quick refresher on the INSPIRE model:

I – Initiate: Create space for the conversation.

N – Notice: Make an observation of the behavior in question. Eg: “I noticed that you didn’t bring the report you committed to…”

S – Support: Offer supporting evidence as needed.

P – Probe: Ask “What’s going on?” or a similar question that brings them into the conversation.

I – Invite: Ask them how they can remedy the situation.

R – Review: Check for understanding to ensure you have understood their commitment.

E – Enforce: Set a follow-up meeting when you will both check to see you’ve kept your commitment.

  1. Reinforce expectations

If your team is a rock band, you are the drummer. Keep the new accountability commitment in front of them. For this accountability confidence burst you can literally review it daily. Remind everyone what you’re doing. This is the MIT (Most Important Thing.)

  1. Celebrate every success

You get more of what you celebrate and encourage so be on the lookout for acts of accountability, especially when a team member holds YOU accountable. Stop the meeting, congratulate them, draw attention to it, encourage and celebrate the team for holding one another (or you) accountable. Then return to the meeting.

  1. Practice accountability about accountability

This is a powerful opportunity to reinforce new behaviors. When the team doesn’t practice accountability, stop the meeting. “We’ll get back to the sales strategy in a minute, but first we need to talk about what happened. I noticed that I didn’t bring the data I said I would – and no one said anything. What’s going on?” You’re using the INSPIRE model to reinforce that they didn’t hold you accountable – and they should.

Your Turn

It’s never too late to begin practicing team accountability. When you take responsibility, reset expectations, equip your team to practice accountability, and celebrate as you practice new behaviors together, you create a foundation for transformational and breakthrough results.

Leave us a comment and share your best strategy to start practicing team accountability when you never have before.

leadership development Karin Hurt and David Dye

The Power of Observation: Better MBWA

The Power of Observation: 6 Ways to Show Up Helpful

I just got off the phone with a frustrated CEO, who was fired up after a half day of observation in one of his call centers.

“Karin, Why don’t these managers GET IT?

I just left a visit to one of our call centers and within an hour, I’ve seen more than a dozen urgent and easy things to address that really matter. I’ve been encouraging managers and team leaders to be out on the floor. So they’re there. They’re theoretically doing the observation I’ve asked.  But I don’t think they know what to do!

They are standing right next to the issues I see, and they don’t see them! When I ask them for what patterns they’re noticing they offer to pull a report. How about the patterns they heard on the calls today in their observation?!! When I ask how the calls are going, they tell me “they’re good.” What does that mean? Can’t they hear what I hear? No one has a pen in their hands… I’m so frustrated. Isn’t this common sense?

How do I make them see that getting out of their offices is not enough? It’s what they do with that time.”

Does this sound familiar? This “Why can’t they see it?” feeling is the worst. And surprisingly hard to teach. But it is possible.

Observation Matters: Really Practical Ways to Ensure Your Presence Makes an Impact

After a few weeks in the role Verizon Sales exec., it became clear that there was a real difference between spending time in the stores and EFFECTIVELY spending time in the stores–observing what’s going on, learning, and being truly helpful to the team.

Some District Managers really understood the power of careful observation and used that in their helping. And for others, it was an art that needed to be taught. There were a few DMs who could be in a troubled store all day and completely miss the glaring issues– and of course, ignoring the obvious problems is far from helpful, it’s destructive.

If you’re looking to help your managers and supervisors be more observant and helpful, try working with them on this list of six ways to show up helpful.

6 Ways to Show Up Helpful

1. Start with connection.

Winning Well managers balance results AND relationships. You can’t show up helpful if your employees think you’re there to play a game of “Gotcha.”

Connect first with something personal. And then ask about what they’re most proud of and where they’re struggling. It’s amazing what you’ll hear if you just ask, “What do you need to better serve our customers?”

2. Think like a customer.

Observe what the customer is experiencing.

When I would do my store visits at Verizon, we would start in the parking lot. What does the customer see when they first walk up? Is there trash on the sidewalk? Are the windows clean? Are the signs hung correctly? Are all the light bulbs working?

Observe the customer interactions. If you can see the customers, do they seem relaxed and confident, or agitated? If you’re walking around the call center floor, are you hearing empathy from your reps? Are they providing clear and accurate information? Are they going out of their way to create a positive experience?

If you’re doing a ride-along observation on a repair truck, are you showing up during the committed time frame? Have we left the customers home cleaner than we found it? Have interactions been polite and friendly? Does the customer know how much we care?

3. Pay attention to the MITs (Most Important Things.)

Focus your observations on the most important things and work on them one or two at a time. As you’re walking around notice how employees are spending their time. Are they focused on the Most Important Things (MITs?)

If they’re not, get curious. Do they understand the behaviors that are critical to success?  If not, it’s time to revisit expectations. Are they clear on what behaviors will lead to success? Have you connected what you’re asking them to do, to why you’re asking them to do it?

One of the biggest mistakes I see managers make when they’re riding along or doing floor support is focusing on too many priorities at the same time.

If you tell someone: “Your desk is messy; you forgot to use an empathy statement; you didn’t mention the new promotion, and by the way, your handle time for that phone call was 15 seconds too long,” they’re not likely to retain much.

4. Look for patterns.

It’s easy to overreact when you see one employee with wrong information or a bad habit. I’ve seen many managers react with an emergency meeting because of one bad actor, and everyone is wondering why their manager is wasting time talking about something everyone already knows.

Of course, it can go in the other direction too. If you uncover a few employees struggling with the same issue, it’s worth keeping your eyes open to see who else needs help. The next obvious question any manager would think is, “Where else is this an issue?”

5. Connect work to outcomes.

In my Verizon days, I would never leave a store visit without spending time with the store manager in front of his “Big Board” (a white board that was to be updated daily with metrics in the back of the store for all the team to see).  We would talk about the customer experience and what they were doing to make it better. Nothing was more frustrating  than to see outdated metrics. “Oh wait, it’s better now!” The manager would say as they erased the numbers and put up new ones. “So how would your team know that?”

In your observations, it’s helpful to ensure the team has an easy, updated, way to know where they stand.

See more on developing critical thinking in your team.

6. Celebrate small wins.

When doing observations, it’s easy to focus exclusively on what’s going wrong and what needs to be improved. It’s so important to also notice what’s going well. Making a big deal out of small wins can go a long way in pointing out the behaviors that will lead to success. We get more of what we celebrate and reward, and less of what we ignore.

Your turn.  What are your best practices for effective observations and showing up helpful?

See Also: The Secret to Managing Up: The Green Jacket Effect (with Video)

When MBWA become OCHTC Oh crap here they come).

Too valuable to fire?

Employee Too Valuable to Fire? 6 Leadership Strategies

Is Anyone Ever Too Valuable to Fire?

Have you ever worked with an obnoxious colleague who seemed to be protected because the employee was considered too valuable to fire?

Maybe you’re a team leader who has one of these brilliant bullies on your team.

If so, you might not be surprised at what I watched happen at a corporate leadership development program I was facilitating. The HR Director had set out materials on every table – including dishes of candy.

A tall, lanky man entered the room, went straight to the back row, asked the HR Director and his own supervisor if he had to attend the program. When they told him he needed to be there if he wanted to lead a team, he threw a tantrum.

He picked up the dish of candy, threw it against the wall, swept the papers from the table, and unleashed a string of profanity.

In most organizations, that behavior would be a “career limiting move” so I was curious how the HR Director and his supervisor would respond.

They walked away.

I asked the HR Director how she was going to address his behavior.

She replied, “Oh that? That was tame. He’s been far worse, but I’m not allowed to address his behavior. The CEO says he’s too important to lose. He’s really smart and we need him on this project.”

Too Valuable to Fire?

If you’re a leader who tolerates abusive behavior, harassment, or bullying because the employee is smart or talented, you’re making a big mistake.

Think about the messages you’re sending to your team.

First, you’ve told your team that you’re weak. You’re not a strong enough leader to create a positive work environment.

Next, you’ve told your team members that you don’t value them. If you did value them, you would ensure they were treated humanely.

Finally, you’ve told everyone that this kind of abuse, harassment, and bullying is okay. You’ve planted seeds for even more chaos and disruption.

The reality is: no one is too valuable to fire. If you’re doing work that requires a team of people working together, no one brilliant person can do everything themselves.

It’s easy to get caught in a trap when you think you either have to tolerate the bad behavior or else lose the talent. Fortunately, that trap is an illusion. You have powerful leadership tools and choices to make. Here are six leadership strategies to help you deal with an employee who seems like they’re too valuable to fire:

  1. Pick Your Problems

Leaders recognize that they don’t get to chose if they have problems. It’s not “if problems” but “which problems.” The choice is Which set of problems do you want to have? Before you can do anything else, you’ve got to face reality: you have a serious issue here and you’re going to have serious problems.

Which problems do you want? The problems where everyone leaves and the team degenerates into chaos or the problems where you figure out how to address the issues and build a high-performance culture?

  1. What Does Success Look Like?

One of your most important leadership responsibilities is to capture, communicate, and clarify what success looks like for your team. When you’re interviewing, when you’re onboarding, when you’re meeting with your people…consistently reinforce what success looks like. What results will you achieve together? How will you achieve them? How will you work together, treat one another, and build healthy professional relationships?

Clarify what success looks like from the beginning and you’re less likely to hire, much less have to fire, someone for abuse, harassment, and bullying behaviors.

  1. Develop Early

As you work with your people, pay attention to their development from the first day. Use the Competence / Confidence model to quickly give them the feedback they need to grow. Brilliant bullies are often in the upper right quadrant because they aren’t as good as they think they are – they’re undermining their own performance by driving others away.

It is much easier to deal with a behavioral performance issue when you first see it than to address it once it is entrenched.

  1. Ditch the Diaper Drama

One of our favorite Winning Well leadership behaviors is to speak the truth directly, but in a way that builds relationships. Don’t wrap the stink in layers of self-protection (the way that modern diaper pails do) to cover the stink, but don’t solve the problem.

Directly address abuse, harassment, and bullying by describing what you’ve observed. Often, just the act of describing what you saw and heard will help the other person adjust their behavior.

I once had a high-value employee yell at me: “I’m tired of you acting like Hitler.” (His report was three weeks overdue and he’d run out of grace period to get it done.) I responded with the “Notice” step from the INSPIRE model: “I noticed that you just called me Hitler. Last I checked, I hadn’t committed any genocide.” Then I followed up with the “Probe” step: “What’s going on?”

When he was calmly confronted with his own behavior, he calmed down and we were able to talk about the real issue and make an agreement that we would never use that kind of language again.

  1. Manage Up – Quickly

If you suspect (or know for certain) that your boss doesn’t want to lose this person, get in front of it. Don’t do anything without their buy-in. You don’t want to have to back-pedal on a major decision and lose credibility. Talk with your boss about the behaviors, the impact on your team, the way it affects performance, and the alternatives they’re willing to accept.

You can also ditch the diaper drama in this conversation: “What level of abuse and harassment are you willing to tolerate for this person’s performance?”

  1. Rally the Team

One of the most awesome examples I’ve ever seen of a manager who had to deal with an employee too valuable to fire was Allan, a senior engineer facing a global product launch. He had a brilliant, but abusive, team member who was a key contributor to the project. The entire team had spoken with him individually about this person. Allan had done everything he could and it was time to terminate.

He spoke with senior vice president who told him: “I won’t stand in your way if you want to let this guy go, but this is totally your call. You are still responsible for getting the product launch done on time. It that doesn’t happen, it will likely mean your job.”

Allan chose to terminate the problem employee’s employment and then met with his team. “That employee is no longer with us,” he told them. “We still have to meet our deadline. I believe in us and I know we can do it, but without him, it’s not going to be easy. How can we do it?”

The team was grateful, energized, and innovative in coming up with ways they could meet their deadline. Productivity soared.

“It was a major gut check,” Allan shared with me, “I was worried about my own job, but I’m so glad I made the decision I did. I chose to believe in my team – and I’m glad I did.”

Your Turn

You might be wondering what happened to the company where I met the candy-thrower.

I explained to the executive team that if they didn’t confront this man’s behavior, they should stop wasting money on leadership development (because your behavior tells your people that you don’t actually value leadership), should spend the money on recruiting (because no one will stick around to deal with that every day), and prepare to miss their next product development deadlines (because the caustic atmosphere was killing everyone else’s productivity).

Leave us a comment and share your best practices when confronted with an employee who seems as if they’re too valuable to fire.