What To Do When You Inherit Unhappy Employees and Productivity Drops?

by | May 31, 2016

exec_coach_blog_2015_10_20When faced with coming into turnaround or change an organization how you relate to the existing employees will be a core part of your strategy. You may inherit unhappy employees and productivity may be very poor, so what are your options?

A few years back, I coached a CEO who directed an educational institution. Prior to meeting in person, I had been in contact with his office and was surprised at what seemed like offhand treatment by an assistant. Our first appointment underscored some of what this executive was experiencing.

While waiting in the lobby, I overheard shouting and thumping sounds (books and files perhaps) coming from the direction of the executive office. The receptionist seemed unphased; like she’d heard it all before. When introduced to my new client, I discovered that the commotion had emanated from the office of his assistant; an assistant that he had inherited from his predecessor.

This person was clearly unhappy in her work, and the entire executive suite was suffering from the abuse of meltdowns and bad behavior.

Unsurprisingly, our initial conversation was about how to sort out this mess.

What do you do if someone just does not seem like a good fit?

And, how do you lead an existing staff member who for some reason does not fit into the vision of the business?

1. Find Out What You Don’t Know

There are many reasons why someone may be unsuitable for an organization. Exercise patience and, as much as possible, uncover what’s behind their behavior.

Set up a time to speak with this person in a nonthreatening environment. You might discover that he or she has talents, ideas, and interests that may not have been previously encouraged.

When you take the time to discover what’s really going on with your newfound staff and workplace dynamics, you can better determine how to address these issues.

2. Appreciate and Validate the Role

Take into account the depth of knowledge your new assistant could have. You may be surprised at the skill level this person has acquired or what great suggestions they could offer. Perhaps a simple acknowledgment of the person’s efforts, ideas, and talents is all that’s needed to help them reengage.

It is also possible that you’ve entered an environment where the leader didn’t encourage people to develop their skills; perhaps they were not held accountable or allowed to learn from taking risks and making mistakes. Through conversation, you can often discover how to speed up your transition.

3. Restructure Their Role

Once, armed with new insights, you could offer suggestions and recommendations of new creative paths for them to follow. See if there’s an opportunity to develop this person’s talent in a role they didn’t previously have or revise or realign their responsibilities. Sometimes, to an outsider, it might seem that a person is not contributing; where in fact, their talents may have been lost in the environment.

It’s in your best interest to help those who can’t make the shift to support their new leader to find alternate career options. This could mean reassigning an employee or helping the person decide that they would be better off finding opportunities elsewhere.

Of course, some people will simply refuse to move into a supporting role. As a leader you must understand this fact and recognize that you may be better off hiring someone new.

It all comes back to vision. As a leader, your vision should guide your people and persuades them to follow your direction.

Carefully consider what talent is best suited for your workplace and how you want to build your organization.

To my great satisfaction, I experienced a situation where I inherited a support person. We discussed confidentially how the previous VP limited her to mundane work duties, and how her creative motivation had been lost, and she was on the verge of resigning. As a result of our conversation, I was able to redefine her duties. Ultimately, her hidden talents made me look good within the organization like no other could.

New leaders have to hit the ground running. They have a small window of time in which they can guide people to their vision and create alignment. How you interact with unhappy employees and productivity issues may take time. It is important not to jump to conclusions about staff members, or avoid or ignore behaviors that drag an organization down. Take the time, observe, and interact with staff members who initially may appear to be a poor fit.

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