While insurance is a people business; finding, keeping and training the best people is one of the top insurance industry challenges. Still holding on to a problem employee can have long lasting and detrimental affect on everyone in and around your insurance agency. In many instance the challenging employee has redeeming qualities. They were there in a pinch, they know more about insurance than anyone else, they have a great attitude but…. and there is always a but. To really grow an agency that serves you, addressing poor performers has to be something that you challenge yourself to get good at. In this blog we will break down the causes, the affects and the solutions to get your problem employee handled.
Causes of Problem Employees
Problem employees are generally not born overnight. They either came to your insurance agency with some preexisting issues you didn’t catch during the interview process or something developed during their tenure with your agency. The poor performance came from somewhere. Let’s start by identifying types of poor performance.
Poor Performance Types
- Situational (they have a personal matter or challenge that is temporary)
- Permanent Situational (a situation has spurred on a permanent change in demeanor and lifestyle)
- Badittude (the person has a perpetual poor attitude about the agency)
- Bullying (the person continuously puts other people down and is not a team player)
- Knowledge (the person is not grasping training material)
- Careless (the person is making careless mistakes by not taking their time)
- Attendance (the person has continued attendance issues that impact the team)
- Insubordination (the person is insubordinate to management)
What Typically Can Cause Poor Performance
When an agency team member is facing adversity outside of work it can often and easily be brought into the workplace. They become consumed with the matter and their focus, professionalism and cell phone etiquette are often the first to go. While we all want to be accommodating to those in need we have to be careful to have a clear and repeatable plan for those who are experiencing issues. Remember, how you handle this one issue will resonate with the rest of your team – both positively and negatively.
Also note that personal issues may seem to have an end date but they can linger. For many people going through a health crisis with a loved one, marital or children issues or aging parents they themselves may be trying to stay positive and wanting to believe the best however, that may be providing the agency a false sense of a timeline for accommodation. I have learned, the hard way just for the record, that when I lead with my heart it always has bigger consequences. Generally speaking, when you are the flexible employer you will always take the brunt of the situation. Someone in a personal situation always takes the lead and puts their employer last. For everyone’s sanity, set the boundaries early. You can still lead with heart but on your terms.
So what do you do when a personal situation comes to impact performance:
1. Have a written game plan before the crisis. When you try to do it while thinking of the person’s situation you will always create something to accommodate the person.
2. Sit down with the person to understand the situation in a professional manner, avoid details of a personal nature. Determine the following:
- Nature of the issue
- Timeline of the issue, when do they believe it will be resolved
- Identify how the team member believes this may impact their work and their team members
- Review with them any time off they have accrued in case they need to take it
- Share with them any support systems your health insurance carrier may have to help support them in a difficult situation
- Alert them that you will get back in touch with them with a plan
3. After understanding their challenge identify what would be a game plan everyone could buy in to, consider:
- Cell phone use in the office (hint: don’t make special accommodations)
- Offset or different hours
- The need for a leave of absence to handle the matter
- Changes to their employment status (ie: part time)
- Role change to something less demanding or stressfull
4. Provide the team member options that work for everyone, including your clients or team
5. Remember, team members will think they can do it all but they may need to do it all either for financial or health insurance reasons. These are not reasons to fold on your agency’s standards.
6. Expect them to be concerned, often times for people work is what holds it together.
Remember, how you handle this will impact everyone, including you. We can all be good team players temporarily but when situations are longer term in nature there needs to be clear boundaries that are enforced.
Horrible Terrible Attitudes
Bad attitudes are contagious and well, unnecessary. If someone has a case of the badittudes it has to be addressed quickly and with no mercy. No one has time for a poor attitude. Plus they multiply and can turn off your rockstars. Bad attitudes can resonate in several ways:
- Eye Rolling
- Body Language
- Negative Comments
- Less than kind gestures to team members
Insubordination…. the challenge of a lifetime. This is when someone’s belief system varies from what your requests are. It could be coming in on time, placing business with the companies you request or doing a certain process. The bottom line is if insubordination is apparent to others they will follow the leader. It has to be put to a stop!
Affects of Poor Performance
When we hold on to a poor performance or don’t address the issue the issue always grows and causes symptoms in other areas. Rather than address a poor performance we can choose to ignore the situation. This generally leads down a path that is even more difficult to recover from.
One bad apple may bring down team productivity 30-40% according to The Wall Street Journal. People tend to focus on the negative, so rather than writing new business or serving your customer they are focused on the drama of the day or they mirror the bad apple. The idea of “if they can do it, so can I” sets in. When this happens as a leader you are quickly outnumbered. Addressing it directly with the team member is always your best bet.
Not addressing another team member’s performance means the rest of the crew is picking up the slack. There is no faster way to burn out a rock star than asking them to continuously cover for a poor performer. Think of the true cost of turnover, recruiting, training and transition. Don’t run off your top team members to harbor a poor performer.
When you have one team member who isn’t giving it there all every day other’s will start to question their personal loyalty and commitment. When a team experiences lower morale everything takes longer, excitement is minimal and even more importantly your customers feel that the team is not psyched to be serving each other. Low morale is a dangerous place to be and the only cure is extreme gratitude for those who are not the poor performers.
Have you ever dealt with an ongoing poor performer? Stress levels spike. You cringe when the tattle tail police report another issue. You don’t enjoy interacting with them but you have to. You are unsure what will happen next but you are trying to work through it with the person. When the other party is willing all works great. When the other person is unwilling your stress level spikes. Why are you trying harder than them to keep their job?
Solutions for Problem Team Members
Even if you aren’t Olivia Pope you need to handle the situation like a boss. The situation simply will not improve by letting it linger. In fact the earlier we catch it and address it the better.
Look In The Mirror
As the leader you have to own every single thing. You let it happen, you didn’t address it and it’s now your turn to take that back over. But first a healthy dose of “what can I do better” is in order. Is there a reason there is conflict? Are your team members open and honest with you? Is there hiding? Did maybe you make a bad cultural hire? Ask yourself the following:
Have you tried to motivate the person the way THEY want to be motivated?
- Are there outside stressors that are impacting their abilities at work?
- Do they have the skills for the current role or a changing role?
- Have you provided consistent training to provide them new skills?
- Are there clear expectations and have missed expectations been addressed in the past?
- Are you supporting their success or have you recoiled to your office and disengaged?
- Have they reached their personal limits, this is as high as they can go?
This doesn’t always mean have a big meeting with lots of notes and bullet points of what’s not working. This means start by saying good morning. Positive days start with positive thoughts. Make it a point to seek this person out and say good morning. See if you can change the vibration of your interactions. Be the bigger person and start proactively saying good morning with no ulterior motive.
After saying good morning for a week, throw another log on the fire. Give the person 1 compliment a day. We are working to soften them up to hear the challenge they are placing on the agency. When they are more receptive we get to a solution much faster. Most account managers are mainly motivated by recognition and gratitude so try it and see if the person improves. If you do see improvement you can’t just stop there. The issue still needs to be addressed; you’re just starting to soften the person up.
Ask to Get Their Feedback On A Problem
See how the words change? Don’t ask for a meeting, we want to decrease tension and get to a solution (if they are a valued team member). By rephrasing what you need to work on with them you are asking for a dialog not a lecture. Have a casual meeting to get their feedback on the situation.
Start by outlining the symptoms of the problem. Ask them why they think employee morale is low, or why a report is not accurate, or why people are asking for overtime. Getting them talking will help them realize that they are part of the challenge and they want to be part of the solution.
Identify and Confirm The Solution
Once you and the team member determine the solution write it down. Outline it in detail, what they are going to commit to and what you are going to do to support that. Discuss potential pitfalls to the solution. What you know in advance you can prepare for. No sense in building a great plan and expect it to go 100% on point right? That literally never happens. Ask for their feedback on what should happen if the problem occurs.
You as the leader can’t get too busy to hold the plan in place. It’s people’s natural reaction to slip back and not hold their new standards. Hold routine check in meetings and make sure you are focused on facts not feelings. Feelings tend to fall in the excuse category. Bring concrete facts to the table. If the situation does not repair itself through this process your next step is a performance improvement plan.
Often times we allow poor performance to continue because we don’t have the vocabulary to use to communicate with the challenged party. Or, we feel we have done enough and the person just isn’t hopping on board. We spend more time talking about them to management than we do on the problem. Challenging employees are incredibly frustrating so pick your frustration- working with them or hiring and training someone new? Both are equally challenging. If someone is just not a great fit, identify it and place them on a performance improvement plan. I know how difficult hiring can be, and how emotionally draining addressing poor performance can be but know that both decisions are difficult, one just has much better odds of a remedy.