Every team has one, eventually. The disgruntled employee. The surly one. The guy with the bad attitude. The bad apple. How do you deal with the bad apple? He can turn your entire team into a toxic place if left unchecked!
Here are three steps to take.
- Talk to him. This is one of those obvious interventions so commonly overlooked. WHY is he acting this way? Is he frustrated? Annoyed? Hurt? Something in his personal life may have gone spectacularly wrong. Whatever it is, you can’t address the underlying problem unless you know what it is. And you can’t know what it is without finding out from the source! Inquire in a nice way, don’t be threatening, and show you care. Address hi concerns, to the best you can. If he’s miffed about being passed over for a promotion, for example, you have something to work with – a recommendation can be offered, if he can produce for this project, etc. Look for motivation points, encourage buy-in, and make it clear you are aware of his behavior and want it to change. Appeal to his psychology, too – people want to feel needed, and you can use that here.
- Bring HR into it. Document the behavior, have them talk to the employee, and work with him. If your talking to him doesn’t go well, this is what HR is for. You get the good manager points for trying to work it out before bringing in the cavalry, but the cavalry is needed here. If you want to do this strategically, you make sure the employee doesn’t know the call to HR came from you – and you continue to position yourself as someone who wants to help, as you did when you reached out to talk to him earlier. This can be a “good cop/bad cop” set up, and it can work effectively.
- Meet with the team, without him, to address the issue. Validate their feelings of frustration and annoyance. Brainstorm with them how to overcome this obstacle from within. At the end of the day, you want to mitigate the ripple effect of this bad apple’s negativity and prevent it from sinking the project team ship before it gets to where it needs to go – all hands on deck! If you can’t work with him, work around him. (And again, document everything for HR.) You might be a man down, but if you rally the troops, you can still succeed. Make sure you keep momentum going – when your team feels like its flowing, the small wins will keep coming.
The show must go on. Give your bad apple a chance for redemption, call in the cavalry when he doesn’t take it, while keeping everyone else on point and on target.