How to Effectively Manage Difficult Employees: The AWOL

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Management can be tough. Even the best leadership skills can’t save you from every challenging scenario. I got together with Jezra Kaye to write a book for managers who are sick and tired of dealing with employees who can’t, won’t, or just don’t perform their jobs.

In our book, Managing the Unmanageable: How to Motivate Even the Most Unruly Employee, we laid out some employee personality types that just might sound familiar. We then gave specific tactics that will help managers deal with what we call the UE (unmanageable employee). I’d love to introduce you to one of them. We call this employee, “The AWOL.”

If your UE (Unmanageable Employee) is often late, disappears, no-shows or “just” neglects an important duty, he’s an AWOL.  Typically, when someone goes AWOL, his work piles up, deadlines are missed, and important messages go unanswered.  And the AWOL creates constant low-grade tension, because everyone knows that somebody’s going to have to cover for him, yet again.

What do you do with this person? You can start by consulting the “5C’s” that Jezra and I created. These are:

  1. Commit or Quit:  The first choice a manager faces, with any UE, is the choice of whether to try to retain the UE or not.   This is a matter that requires careful thinking.  After all, you’re weighing the costs and benefits of taking on a major challenge (UE salvage) against the costs and benefits of starting from scratch by finding and hiring a new employee.  This decision is a significant one, because UE salvage, if you decide to attempt it, requires that you make a firm and serious commitment to your unmanageable employee’s future. Why commit to someone you might not even like? Here’s why.

  2. Communicate:  Assuming that you’ve committed to working with your UE, you are now engaged in a UE salvage operation.  Your next step is one that many managers try hard to avoid — a frank and open conversation with the person who’s been making their life hell. Where do you start? Read about communicating with your AWOL here.

  3. Clarify Goals and Roles:  Most people believe that they know what’s expected of them at work.  But problems arise when employees “know” things that aren’t true — and become frustrated that what they “know” should be happening, isn’t.  Read more about what you might discover when you and your EU discuss his behavior.

  4. Coach:  While some UE’s will self-correct following a frank communication (or when you’ve clarified their roles and  goals), most will need to examine and shift the inner attitudes that are giving rise to unmanageability. That’s where coaching comes in; here’s more about it.

  5. Create Accountability: Few things in life are permanent, and left to their own devices, most people will begin to backslide almost immediately. Creating accountability is your final step toward managing the unmanageable– here’s how.

Have you tried any of these methods and met success? Have you found anything not mentioned that is great for AWOL employees? Let’s compare notes. Leave a comment below, send me an email, or tweet me.

I’d also love to hear from AWOL employees themselves! What management tactics make you even more AWOL? Don’t worry, we won’t hold it against you.

There are certainly other employees that simply seem unmanageable. Stay tuned! If you don’t want to miss further posts on this topic, please sign up for my newsletter.

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