Leadership in Action – Dealing with Disruptive Employees

man holding telephone screaming

As leaders, we often hang onto employees, who do not fit into the organization, for too long. There is a mix of reasons and rationale we tell ourselves, but these come at the expense of the culture and the performance of the rest of our team.

To be clear, the type of disruptive employee, the one we hang onto for too long, is not the one that causes us to think differently. It is the one that can’t (or won’t) follow our organizational values. For one reason or another, they believe they are exempt from the normal rules and expectations of the rest of the organization. They are so convinced of the rightness of their perspective that they are blind to the impact they are having on the team around them.

As leaders, we share in the blindness of their negative impact because of the economic value we perceive the person brings the organization. We hold the “devil I know” perspective that this is the type of person we need to do that job. As well, we think we need to learn to live with them, as we believe we cannot afford to live without them.

The impact on the rest of the team is not completely blind to us. We do underestimate it considerably. We rationalize it as our failure to bridge the gap between the value the person brings, and the adjustments we all must endure for that value.

What we do not see is the full impact of their behavior. These disruptive employees run through the organization carrying the flag of the customer, while dropping nuclear bombs on the rest of the team. “Forget our process! We need to do this now!” While that activity might get done, all other productivity suffers while the team recovers from the initial blast. Over time, good employees will leave because of perceived unfairness in the culture.

We also tend to overestimate the economic value the person brings to the organization. Eventually, when we can no longer endure the violation of the values, we let the person go. When that finally happens, research shows that very few leaders regret letting the person go. In fact, they realize that it should have happened much earlier.

An effective organization does fire people. It is the passive, non-accountable organizations that never fire anyone. In healthy cultures, people do get fired, but it is not done in a reactive way. Team members are held accountable for both their performance and their behavior. If they do not fit into the organization in the first 90 days, it rarely gets better. When you fire someone who does not fit in the organization, it is obvious to the rest of the team. Instead of creating fear of being fired themselves, it shows how important the values really are to you and the organization.

So, hold your team members accountable for both their performance and their behavior. Provide them with clear expectations, concise feedback and give them a chance to grow into their role. If they consistently violate the values after the feedback, you need to act. Be a role model and Nurture Growth for your entire team.