The news here in Philadelphia lately has been dominated by headlines about Carl Greene, the now-suspended CEO of the Philadelphia Housing Authority.
Greene allegedly harassed female employees and had a reputation as a ruthless leader who used intimidation to get what he wanted from just about everyone. The reported bad behavior overshadowed his transformation of Philadelphia’s public housing system into a model.
Also in the news is a suspended Kraft foods employee who allegedly went into the workplace and began a shooting rampage.
The cases are extreme and have something in common: Both people had a history of work-related problems. Greene’s reputation as an unwelcome Romeo stretched back to his prior job in another city, and the Kraft employee reportedly had a history of anger issues. So why didn’t anyone fire them before things escalated?
Leaders are often reluctant to fire even the worst employees. Why? Some leaders fail to see the problem, others hope the employee will change on his or her own, and others tend to discount the impact of bad behavior and react only when problems boil over. By then, it’s too late.
As well, sustained behavioral change — particularly around basic traits a person possesses — typically takes time, persistence, motivation and quite a bit of effort.
That’s why it’s so difficult to get a chronically late employee to start showing up on time, or to get the office “screamer” to knock it off.
In terms of dealing with problem employees or, better yet, not hiring them in the first place, here are three things to think about:
- Love is blind, but hiring shouldn’t be. Be clear about what your company values and screen for those values when you’re hiring. On reference checks, ask about key behaviors you want — and don’t want — at your company.
- Deal with bad behavior as soon as possible. Even if you address it informally at first, document that it was addressed so you can recognize patterns early.
- Be clear about remedial steps. Telling someone to “fix” themselves doesn’t work. The biggest company jerk doesn’t think he or she has a problem. Provide resources and a timeline for improvements. If the bad behavior doesn’t change, it’s probably time to part ways.
Ultimately, the person has to want to change. It calls to mind a joke about a zen master who goes to New York City. Wanting the full New York experience, he goes to a hotdog vendor and places an order.
“Make me one with everything,” the Zen master says.
The vendor makes the hotdog and the Zen master gives him a $20 bill. The vendor pockets the bill.
“What about my change?” asks the Zen master.
And the hot dog vendor replies, “Change must come from within.”
David A. Weiman, Psy.D.
Psychologist and Executive Coach
My leadership blog: http://www.leadershipupdate.blogspot.com