Build a Better Business Podcast

98 – What to Do When Employees Work Against You

3 Key Points in this Episode:

  1. Don’t ignore the problem.
  2. Admit that the problem might be your fault.
  3. Make sure you have all the information before you act.


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Let’s get started with episode 98, in today’s episode there are three key points we will cover:

  1. Don’t ignore the problem.
  2. Admit that the problem might be your fault.
  3. Make sure you have all the information before you act.

You’ve heard me say before that to build a better business you need leaders that dream, managers that lead, and employees that care. This is the foundation of the build a better business thesis.

The reality is though that no matter how hard we work to provide our employees with an environment that is predicated on a culture of caring we will still have times when our employees may let us down.

There is a big difference between an employee making a mistake and an employee who is actively working against you.

Let me give you an example.

When I was running my contracting business, I hired an employee who was a very hard-working individual and when he was in a good place, he made me a lot of money. The problem was that often he was not in a good place and he would do and say things that worked against everything I was trying to accomplish.

Eventually, after repeated efforts with this employee, I had to let him go. It was painful because it set us back 6-months and I had to hire two people to replace him but, in the end, it was totally worth it because the people I had working for me after I let this person go were very supportive and they actively helped me to build a better business.

The other employees that had been working with this person also thanked me after I let him go because of the negative impact this one person was having on the morale of the business and the working environment for the entire team.

I have had several other experiences with employees actively working against the leader in my 21-years in business and I have come up with 4 steps that you must take to solve the problem.

Step 1 – Don’t ignore the problem.

When we have an employee that is actively working against you it can be a daunting task to deal with it. The worst thing we can do is ignore the problem and hope it will go away.

Wishful thinking never solved anything and, in the case, where an employee is actively working against you the longer you wait the more damage this employee will do.

Now admittedly, sometimes it is difficult to know whether an employee is actively working against you because they rarely do this when you are around. But, once you start to see evidence, even if it is anecdotal, it is your job as the leader to investigate thoroughly.

If you discover that an employee is actively working against you it is imperative that you face the problem head-on no matter how uncomfortable it is for you, the employee in question, or even for the rest of the employees.

Step 2 – It might be your fault.

This is important, you must be willing to accept responsibility for the current situation. You are the leader and “the buck stops with you.” Now it is possible that you are directly responsible, maybe you had a bad day, or week, or month and you took it out on this employee, and they didn’t think that was fair.

More likely though you are only indirectly responsible because for whatever reason the wrong person was hired, or the situation was not identified quickly and has been allowed to fester.

You can’t change the past, but you can change the future by taking appropriate action now in the present. The first thing you must do is speak with everyone involved and listen intently, ask clarifying questions, and look for how you as the leader contributed to the problem. Once you know how you contributed to the problem you can take appropriate action.

Step 3 – Clearly understand the issues then act.

Now that you have accepted responsibility for the problem you can develop an action plan to fully address it. For you to take appropriate action you must clearly understand all the issues.

It is great that you have taken responsibility for your part in it but now you must understand how the other individual or individuals fit into what is happening.

What is motivating this behavior?

Are they having personal problems at home, mental health issues, or is substance abuse a factor?

What is the objective the employee is trying to accomplish?

Are they really working against you or are they trying to help you and they are the only one brave enough to stand up to you?

Once you understand what is happening and you have figured out who is responsible you’ve got to get to the bottom of why this is happening.

I’ve seen situations where it appears that an employee is actively working against the leader or the dream of the business but after carefully examining the culture and the systems of the business, I have discovered that if I were in these employees’ shoes, I probably would act in a similar way.

Once you fully understand then you can act.

Step 4 – Measure the results and adjust as needed.

How will you know if your action plan is working?

You must document the situation, your hypothesis of what and why the situation is happening, and the consequences of the situation as it stands today.

Next, you develop a written action plan and then you and your team execute on that plan.

If you don’t measure the results you can end up making a lot of changes, using up resources, and in the end effecting no change at all or even getting worse results.

For example, you may identify one individual employee as the source of the problem. You may let that person go expecting that the problem will be solved by replacing the employee with someone new, only to find out that the problem persists and is getting worse. Now you know there is more work to do to uncover what is really going on and what to do about it.

All of this is part of being an effective leader. This is part of “working on your business” and is really solving problems is the most important use of your time.

You’ve identified an employee that is working against you, you’ve done an analysis and collected all the relevant information, you have developed a plan and acted measuring the results and things got better, is there anything else you should do?

I will answer that after we hear from our sponsors.

Before the break we asked the question, is there anything else you should do after dealing with an employee that has been working against you?

Whenever I had to let go of an employee, I always made sure that after it was done, I took the time to speak to my employees.

Not everyone in the business may have been fully aware of what has happened, and it may be a shock to hear that a fellow employee was let go. This can cause insecurity among the remaining employees and that is never good because their minds will be on whether their job is secure instead of doing whatever they are hired to do.

I’ve seen occasions where an employee is terrible on the job but lovely during breaks, lunch hour and after hours. So, unless the other employees personally witnessed the bad behavior on the job that led to them being let go, they will not understand the decision.

You must do your due diligence before having these discussions. Remember that there are privacy laws and human resource regulations that you are expected to follow. You could inadvertently share information protected by these laws and regulations and get yourself into hot water. Know what you can and can’t say before you have these conversations with the remaining employees.

It is important to reassure the remaining employees, to genuinely commend them for the good work they are doing, and to talk a lot about the positive environment you are trying to create so that they continue to have a great experience working for you and pursuing the dream of the business.

Sometimes it is best to not speak at all about the individual that was let go. It can be enough to just reinforce the values and culture that your leadership is striving to create and leave it at that.

When employees work against you it can feel very personal especially if you are a purpose-driven leader with a big dream and you are passionately trying to have a significant impact in the lives of your customers and employees.

Frequently, if the actions of the employee are not directly in response to something you have done it usually has nothing to do with you or even your business at all.

There is a saying that I believe to be true, “hurt people, hurt people.”

When someone is working against you, they often don’t even know why they are acting the way they are and, in some instances, they have almost like an out-of-body experience where they are watching themselves misbehave and they feel powerless to stop it. I know this because this happens to someone very close to me. They describe that feeling when they have been verbally abusive and despite genuinely wanting to stop seem incapable of correcting the behavior.

Building a better business doesn’t happen overnight, it is a process that takes time and the thesis of being a leader that dreams who employ managers that lead and employees that care it is not a perfect solution to every problem you will face. You can do everything right and still things can go wrong.

Remember though that applying the strategies you’ve been learning listening to these lectures will lead to a “better” business. It won’t be “perfect” but when you think about it, the journey you are on and the work you are putting into building a better business that is going to have an ever-increasing impact on its ideal customers, employees, and suppliers are part of the reward.

I don’t know about you but finding out how far you can go with this is thrilling so don’t become overly discouraged if you face obstacles. Apply what you’ve been learning and keep building a better business.

On Tuesday, in episode 99, I will introduce you to Jefferson Lilly, he is a self-made millionaire and we are going to talk about how to invest your money in places that are largely ignored but earn significant returns on investment.


This episode sponsored by:

Trackstar Web Design

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Process Street

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Thank you for listening and I look forward to talking to you soon.

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