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Q: A very challenging employee recently transferred into my group from another department. "Mark" has worked in several areas of the company and has a reputation for being hard to manage. On some days, he is pleasant, productive and easy to work with, but at other times he will suddenly become rude and hostile.

Since Mark is new to our group and still adjusting to his job, I have tried to be supportive and understanding. However, his outbursts seem to be getting worse, and my other employees try to avoid working with him. What should I do about this?

A. Sadly, you appear to be the latest victim in a management game of "pass the buck". Instead of taking on the tough task of dealing with difficult employees, some cowardly managers simply transfer the trouble elsewhere. However, now that Mark is your responsibility, your current approach may be perpetuating the problem.

Although your "supportive and understanding" strategy is undoubtedly well-intentioned, Mark will interpret this as acceptance of his disruptive behavior. Therefore, it's time to shift your management style to "firm and direct". When confronted with serious performance issues, managers must convey clear expectations about the need for change.

To begin this corrective action discussion, describe the work-related problems created by Mark's aggressive behavior. Explain that he must learn to express disagreements constructively, and then describe the penalty that will follow another angry outburst. Ask him to develop a written plan for solving this problem, and schedule a time to discuss it.

Once you and Mark have agreed on action steps, establish a schedule for assessing his progress. If he improves, praise him for his efforts. But if nothing changes, enforce the stated consequences. Otherwise, Mark will get the message that you weren't really serious, and you'll be right back where you started.

Q: I recently started a new job and can see many ways to improve operations. However, my team leader gets defensive whenever I suggest ways to increase efficiency. "Jackie" has worked in this business for 19 years and seems very set in her ways.

So far, Jackie hasn't used any of my ideas, even though they would be easy to implement. How can I get her to be more open to change?

A: Let's take a moment to consider Jackie's point of view. After comfortably performing her job for almost two decades, she is suddenly being told by a newcomer that she's doing it all wrong. So are you really surprised that she's resisting your proposals?

Before suggesting additional improvements, invest some time in building this relationship and learning about the business. To show that you value her years of experience, ask Jackie about customers, products, the history of the company or anything else of interest. Once she feels that you appreciate her knowledge, she's more likely to welcome your ideas.

Finally, when making suggestions, try to choose your words carefully. Saying "you could do that more efficiently" sounds like personal criticism. But stating "I think we might be able to make the billing process more efficient" keeps the focus on the work.

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