New manager must set expectations & create accountability

Dear Joan:

I have an employee who has personality quirks but not an easy to document performance problem. She has a negative attitude and is constantly badmouthing colleagues, policies, new ideas and probably me, behind my back.  

I have heard about her antics through others but I have also seen her in action myself (slamming drawers, mumbling to herself loud enough to be heard, etc.)  

Her work is very good and she has been given good performance reviews. I am the new supervisor in the area and I would like to bring up this matter but I can’t fault her work, so I know she will say that she is an excellent employee and others aren’t as good as she is. Any advice? 


First, let’s clear up the misperception about the definition of a “performance problem.” Your employee does, indeed, have a performance problem because her behavior is having a negative affect on the team, on you and on herself. 

For example, what is the negative impact of her behavior? In a meeting, when she rolls her eyes, crosses her arms and says, “I don’t see why we have to change…” what affect does it have on the rest of the group? 

When she slams drawers and mumbles, how does that affect the work environment for her colleagues?  

When she badmouths her colleagues behind their backs, how does that damage the level of trust and collaboration on the team?  

And let’s look at the negative consequences for her. Are people avoiding her? Do people seek her out to ask for help? Does she get included on projects? Do you assign projects to someone else (when you know she would actually be a better person to run the project), because you don’t want to expose her to people outside of your department? 

The timing is excellent because there is a new sheriff in town. As a new manager, you can set new expectations and hold her accountable for them. And it sounds as if you expect collaboration and teamwork.  

I suggest that you have a team meeting to discuss all of your expectations. You may want to include things such as how you want to manage flextime, customer service standards, vacation scheduling guidelines, and any other areas that are open to interpretation.  

Next, have a one-on-one meeting with each person, to discuss expectations regarding each of their positions. This will also give you an opportunity to get to know each person and talk about their personal career interests.  

During this second meeting, you will tell your problem employee what behavior changes you expect from her. You will want to play back what you have observed in a behavioral way. For example, don’t say, “You have a negative attitude and you are very disrespectful of those around you.” 

Instead, play a video of her behavior: “Since I arrived, I’ve noticed a pattern of behavior. I’ve seen you slam drawers and mumble loudly enough for people to hear, when you are frustrated or angry about something. I also noticed that you have rolled your eyes and sighed heavily in meetings, when I am describing some of the changes we are going to have to implement.  

You are an excellent employee on the technical aspects of your job but I feel very strongly that “excellent performance” also means that you collaborate with your peers and lead by example on the changes we are going to be implementing. 

The negative affect of your behavior is that people avoid working with you. I hesitate to give you some projects because I worry that you will do these things with your team members or people outside of the department.  

I also would like to see you take a leadership role in the department on some of the changes that are coming. You would be the perfect person to lead them.” 

Then, listen to her reaction and explore her reasons for her behavior. If she blames others or points fingers at some entity (management, administration, etc.), listen but then redirect the conversation back to her. Hold her accountable for what she has power to change. For example, “If that person is so frustrating to you, what can you do to help change it?” 

In the end, she must know that the expectations you set are real. If you see her act out in the future, call her in to talk with you immediately. She will either have to conform or feel it on her performance review, her salary increase, or eventually she will have to get out of Dodge. 

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616,, or 
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