Business Mentoring Matters

Problem Employees—Is Mentoring the Answer?

Posted on Tue, Oct, 06, 2015

problem_employeesYou want to see everyone in your organization succeed and thrive, but you're also a realist. You know not every employee is going to work out.

At the same time, you want to offer problem employees as much support and help as possible. You're considering mentoring, which raises the question: can mentoring alone save problem employees?

The short answer: maybe.

Here's what to keep in mind as you make your evaluation:

1. Define labels.

What constitutes a problem employee anyway? One company's problem employee might be another company's "go-getter." Definitions can vary widely, even within the organization itself. A struggling employee, while problematic, might not be a true "problem employee," according to your company's criteria.

So make sure you understand how your company defines problem employees vs. struggling employees. (And make sure management and your staff agrees.) Your definitions will (and should) include various subsets since not all problem employees are the same.

2. Consider which types of people might respond well to mentoring.

As you look at your definitions for problem employees and struggling employees (including the various subsets), ask yourself which folks might respond well in a formal mentoring program that lasts 9-12 months.

Yes, this is a judgment call to some degree, although you can make sound decisions regarding certain groups. For example, if you have an employee struggling with addiction, then mentoring is not the appropriate solution (and it's certainly not a substitute for a proper treatment program).

On the other hand, an employee who originally showed a lot of potential but who currently under-produces might be a perfect candidate for a mentoring program.

3. Remember, it's not one size fits all.

As we've been stressing, one broad label ("problem employees") doesn't communicate the different types of people within that category.

In fact, even if you label someone as a problem employee, you'll then need to dig deeper and understand each problem employee's specific circumstance before determining whether mentoring or some other action (including termination) might be necessary.

In other words, you'll need to decide on a case-by-case basis. For example, an employee who has a strong personality (e.g. aggressive, snarky, dismissive, abrasive) but who consistently exceeds sales quotas might be considered a problem employee according to your definition because the person's behavior disrupts the workplace and adversely affects morale. The question you need to ask is whether the person might benefit from mentoring.

4. Mentoring shouldn't be seen as punishment.

When you recommend mentoring to a problem employee, you need to make sure that the employee doesn't see it as a punishment. You and the employee (and the employee's direct manager) should have one or more conversations about the overall concerns regarding the employee's problem area (e.g. behavior, output, etc.).

These initial conversations will likely help you decide whether the employee might benefit from a mentoring relationship or if another course of action might be better or necessary.

If you think mentoring is a viable option, you need to discuss the mentoring concept with the employee. If he or she is not familiar with the company's program, provide an overview, including why the company believes in mentoring. Share some success stories. Offer to have a former mentoree talk to the employee about his or her experience.

You want the employee to understand you're advocating for him or her and that mentoring is a great tool to help address some of the issues the two of you have been discussing. For mentoring to work, the employee has to show some interest (it's OK if he or she isn't 100% invested at this point, but if the employee is mostly resistant to the idea, mentoring probably won't produce the desired results).

5. Evaluate your decisions regarding problem employees.

Let's say you start going through the process we outlined above, determining on a case-by-case basis which problem employee might benefit from mentoring. You should revisit your decisions.

For example, let's say over the course of a year, you recommend mentoring to 10 problem employees and seven opt into a program. How are those employees today? Do they still need the "problem employee" label, or have they returned to the category of "good, valuable employee"? In other words, did you make the right decision in recommending mentoring?

Obviously, you're not to blame for any failed attempts. You did what you could, and you know it's not going to work out every time. But if your decisions are leading to more failed attempts rather than success stories, you might need to reevaluate your own decision-making process. Perhaps you need to revisit the labels/categories you created, or maybe you need to pull in a colleague as a "second look" after you make your initial decision.

Need more guidance? We're always happy to help. Contact the mentoring experts today.

 corporate mentoring myths