Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Skin Deep Toxicity

In his article, Managing Toxic Employees: How to Turn Such Individuals into Positive Performers, in BusinessWest (a business newspaper in Western Massachusetts), Edward R. Mitnick provides signs of toxic employees, explains how once-productive and positive workers might become toxic, and offers a step-by-step process for addressing these problems.

The problem with brief articles like this one that attempt to cover complex topics is that they oversimplify them and, in this case, barely acknowledge it. In this case, Mitnick focuses on the most obvious toxic performers—the kind of people everyone meets on the job.

The problem is, not all toxic workers are so obviously toxic at face value. But there are other means of identifying them—such as higher turnover (because people choose not to work with these toxic individuals).

Furthermore, the strategies that Mitnick suggests for addressing toxic workers are pretty standard, and look like they come straight out of a manual for managing marginal performers with a performance plan. The plan is the easy part; initiating the conversations regarding poor performance are the hard part and the article offers no advice on that.

In fact, one of the reasons that these problems arise is that managers avoided the problems when they first appeared because avoiding that unpleasant conversation was easier and quicker than having it.

(In fact, in Coaching in Challenging Times, published at the Training Zone UK, John Blakely notes that even executive coaches have been able to avoid these difficult conversations in their coaching until now but, because the clients paying coaches to addres the “‘coachee’s prejudices and shortcomings,” even executive coaches are going to have to have these “difficult conversations” and “confront” their coachees.)

To his credit, Mitnick suggests that toxic performers are often the result of bad management, rather than merely the worker’s own actions and that fixing the problem requires shared ownership.

Read Mitnick’s full article at http://www.businesswest.com/details.asp?id=1973.

Read the article on executive coaches having difficult conversations with coachees at http://www.trainingzone.co.uk/cgi-bin/item.cgi?id=195270&d=680&h=608&f=626&dateformat=%25e-%25h-%25y.

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