You Can't Afford to Tolerate Bad Behavior
Overwhelmed by the constant bickering and low morale in his office, Doctor Smith called me. During the conversation I heard all about how Suzie Jones had created a toxic work environment. She pushed the limits with her comments and behavior for years. Her actions conveyed an over-valued sense of importance. Co-workers were resentful and repeatedly complained about this prima donna. It didn't surprise me that there was turnover in the practice.
Doctor Smith didn’t know what to do to rectify the situation. I asked him why he hadn’t terminated Suzie. He replied, “She’s the Office Manager. She has a lot of experience. And she’s been with me for five years. She does a great job at insurance and billing. I’d be lost without her.”
While I understood the frustration and fear, the real issue was Doctor Smith's narrow view. Certainly Suzie Jones had a ton of knowledge about the practice. But, when bad behavior is ignored, it's like a cancer that metastasizes. According to studies, 68% of employees and customers will quit or leave a company because of one employee's bad behavior. Factor in the turnover you experience when you lose those employees, and it may cost 150% of each salary.
Can you really afford to ignore even one negative comment on your team? Are you willing to let one employee bring down the rest of your staff or chase away patients…especially in today's economy?
It is uncomfortable to confront bad behavior. And you don't want to take it lightly. Therefore it's important to plan and prepare for a smooth dismissal if that's what is necessary. The first step is to schedule a serious and formal conversation that is done privately. The best location would either be in your office, with the door closed, or in a neutral setting like a conference or break room.
Communicate expectations clearly in terms of performance and behavior. For example, emphasize that while she has excellent “technical” skills, Suzie also needs to have positive interpersonal behavior such as helpfulness and cooperation with co-workers. As the Office Manager, she must build team identity and handle situations with diplomacy and tact. This requires listening well and seeking mutual understanding.
Although she does not need to “like” everyone on the team, she absolutely must be respectful…no matter how upset she is.
Identify the gap between expectations and observed behavior. Be specific by focusing on changeable actions. For Suzie these might include rolling her eyes when team members ask questions or suggest ideas, coming back late from lunch, making personal phone calls or surfing the internet during work hours, or talking in a loud and demeaning tone to others. Stay focused on what Suzie says and does in the most concrete descriptions.
Clarify the rewards of meeting the expectations - i.e. job security, future opportunity, appreciation and value to the practice. Be sure to express your appreciation to Suzie and emphasize what a great job she does with insurance and billing. Let her know that you want her to continue to work with you and that she needs to make changes in her behavior.
Spell out the consequences of not meeting expectations. Voice concern to Suzie that the way she has treated co-workers suggests that she is not happy. Underscore that you want her to feel satisfied and to enjoy her job. Avoid ultimatums. Focus on the impact of poor performance, to the team and ultimately to the employee.
Allow the employee an opportunity to choose his/her own path. One road leads to rewards, and the other leads to new adventures - including the option to leave. Your practice may not be the best place for Suzie if she can't get along with the other members of the team. Be truthful and kind as you lay out the choice.
Inform the employee that you will support him/her in whatever they decide. Convey that the choice and the responsibility ultimately belongs to Suzie.
Confirm that the employee understands your expectations and that you will do your part by supporting her and holding her accountable.
Once you have had this discussion, document it and put your notes in the employee's personnel file. If it's necessary to have a second conversation about poor performance, be sure to have the employee sign the written warning. Then empower the employee to create his/her own destiny. Their actions will signal their "choice." Show support. Reward them for progress, or release them from a situation that neither party is happy with.
It's never easy to let someone go, but it is the right thing to do if that's the employee's "choice." By following the above guidelines, your team will respect you for fair and decisive leadership.
Dr. Haller provides training for leadership effectiveness, interpersonal communication, conflict management, and team building. If you would like to learn more contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org
Interested in having Dr. Haller speak to your dental society or study club? Click here.
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