A guide to dealing with resistant employees

Where, oh where has my willing employee gone? And where did all of these irrelevant and resistant employees come from?  

The No. 1 question I hear from managers and leaders is, "How do I deal with resistant employees?"

The answer is actually contained in the question: You "deal" with them, as in actually acknowledging their resistance and its costs to the organization. You do this while laying out your expectations and their options. These days, leaders need to make it clear to their employees that buy-in is mandatory in this market – not an option.

On average, each organization has about 20% of its employees in permanent resistance at any given moment. Most managers begrudge the fact that they have to spend so much time on resistant employees. In fact, the average manager spends over 80 hours a year on a single employee with chronic resistance. Resistant employees don’t have to take up a lot of your time, however they do take a great deal of managerial courage. When you lack the courage to address the situation rationally, clearly and honestly, you will pay for that lack of courage with your investment of time – which is your choice, not the employees’ requirement.

The best way to address the situation is to set expectations and ask for the employee’s plan on how he or she is going to sign up and contribute a higher value at less emotional expense. Have the employee create their own plan.  Resist the urge to overinvest – it is a sure sign of danger when a leader is investing more effort in an employee’s success than they are.  

After reviewing their plan, make a decision. The plan that includes a great amount of personal accountability may be worthy of your future investment because it has a possibility of great return – or it may not be a plan in which you are willing to invest further resources.  

If the plan does not have merit or the employee has no plan, then begin planning the employee’s transition outside of your organization. In this market, you simply cannot afford a terminally resistant employee draining team and management resources with little odds of turnaround or future pay-off.

Sound easy enough? For Reality-Based Leaders, "dealing" with those resistant employees that were mostly inherited by them is only the first step. Great leaders need to understand how these employees were spawned and go the extra step: Stop personally creating the next generation of irrelevant resistors!  

Employees who no longer offer relevant skills and abilities to the organization today were most likely once very valuable employees. Then how was their irrelevance and resistance created? By leaders who were not obsessive about and relentless and constant in their feedback to their people.  

Lack of feedback is simply the root cause of all employee issues, period. Leaders who get lazy in their handouts of development and performance feedback create an entire generation of resistant employees for the future who fall into one of three categories:

Tenured employees whose skills are not up to date – created by leaders who do not give each of their employees new and great challenges in their work assignments (raising the bar or expectations each and every year in performance expectations and goals) or who let up on their insistence on continuous learning and development from the employee.

Employees at the top of their pay scale who no longer deliver top value – caused by leaders who over-reward and under-coach employees over the course of their career. Rewards become entitlements and employees get indignant about any potential coaching as they become convinced that they are far more valuable to the organization than they actually are.   

Righteous top performers – great employees whose contribution is compromised by their righteousness and judgment of others and whose leaders allow and even encourage their inappropriate attitudes. Too many leaders allow their top performers to focus on other team members, judging them while setting themselves apart. Some even go on to inappropriately collude with these employees, granting them a skewed view into their management thinking and opinions – both of others’ performances and leadership decisions.

So for all of you who think you are the victims of past managers who have handed down a group of problem employees . . . for those of you who believe that feedback is a luxury or a nice extra in your current responsibilities... get real. You are creating the next generation of irrelevant, resistant employees all by yourself. If you take the easy, cowardly way out, we will all suffer, today and for years to come!  

So stop the madness! Give your current employees the cure: open and honest performance and development feedback. Do your part and leave a legacy of relevant, ready and willing employees – give feedback and give it often. You will be glad you did!  

And remember,

You rock and Cy Rocks!

Lead on my friend.  

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