How Do You Coach a Reluctant Employee?

The problem with nearly every leadership and management book and philosophy is that they make one dangerous assumption: that your employees are willing and eager to be a part of your vision.

They teach you how to communicate, how to lead, how to describe your vision, and how to get people to follow you in the same direction you want to go.

They don’t take into account the fact that some employees are just, well, jerks. They don’t actually want to be there. They don’t care about what you’re doing. Some of them are downright ornery and are just automatically contrarian and negative.

We all know those people, but the leadership books like to pretend that those people don’t exist.

So how do you deal with the reluctant employee? How do you coach them? How do you get them to turn around and buy into their vision.
There are certain tips and tricks to coach a reluctant employee. Don't give up on them right away.
Last week, I talked about how you can turn B players into A players and C players into B players, but that it can be rather difficult. It’s hard because your employees have to be self-motivated. They have to want to be involved in the company, they have to see it as more than a source of a paycheck, and they have to see the relationship as something more than transactional.

The easiest way to do with reluctant employees is to just fire them. After all, their attitude is toxic and it will affect and infect the people around them. A negative attitude is contagious and it can cause a lot of harm to the morale and productivity of the company.

So firing that person will often solve the problem. Plus, it sends the message to everyone else that you will not tolerate toxic employees. People don’t have to be bright rays of sunshine, but neither can they be negative people who try to stir the pot and create trouble around them.

How Do You Avoid Firing The Reluctant Employee?

First, you need to recognize that coaching someone is a huge investment in time. Even the most eager employee who’s passionate about their work is going to require a lot of time and effort. So dealing with a reluctant employee is going to involve a lot more effort.

If you’ve ever tried to persuade your kids to go to bed when they’ve been playing, you understand how much time and energy it takes to not just shout at them, “Do it because I said so!”

That didn’t work then, and it doesn’t work with dealing with employees.

Also, if you’re investing in one person, or even over-investing in them, then someone else is going to miss out on your guidance and leadership. And if you spend too much time trying to fix that one employee, other employees will miss out.

So it was always my practice in dealing with reluctant employees that I would meet with them and try to figure out what the problem was. If there wasn’t a problem, and they just didn’t want to be there in the first place, and they were just along for the ride and the paycheck, then I would leave them to make a decision about working there.

I would tell them that their attitude had to change or they had to go. As I’ve said before, people change or people change.

That is, attitudes change or personnel changes.

But in the beginning, when I would see a problem, I would give that person a chance to improve. And I would give them the help they needed. I would see if there were problems they were having in their work. Were there strained relationships? Did they need more training and education? Did they need more education? Were they being overworked and getting burned out?

I found that if I could deal with that problem in the beginning, it was usually enough to turn them around.

But if the fish doesn’t take the bait, then they’re not worth the effort. It’s time to pack up and find a new source of fish.

Depending on how critical the position is, I would decide whether I needed to keep that person or let them go.

Measurement Reveals a Lot of Problems

Of course, when you have a system of measurement and quantifying performance, a lot of these problems become self-evident.

Reluctant employees often don’t do the work they need to do. They don’t make their rates, they make a lot of mistakes, and they don’t meet the standards required of their position. If everyone and everything is measured, then their performance becomes self-evident, and they could make their own decision about staying or going.

By measuring everyone’s performance, they knew the standards that were being set and knew what they had to do to meet them. In a lot of cases, even the most reluctant employees knew that they had to make their rates or we were going to let them go. So they worked hard and continued to maximize their performance.

In the end, measuring performance, dealing with problems when they started, and coaching and guidance can often help you resolve problems with reluctant employees. But if they’re unwilling to change, then you need to be the one to make the change for the good of the company.

I’ve been a manufacturing executive, as well as a sales and marketing professional, for a few decades. Now I help companies turn around their own business, including pivoting within their industry. If you would like more information, please visit my website and connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn.

KeithJJ (Pixabay, Creative Commons 0)

Author: David Marshall
I’ve been a manufacturing executive, as well as a sales and marketing professional, for a few decades. Now I help companies turn around their own business. If you would like more information, please visit my website and connect with me on Twitter or LinkedIn.