Six steps for managing an insubordinate employee successfully
Congratulations on your promotion. You were selected over several internal candidates for the management role you have been working toward for years. The one thing you didn’t count on was the former peer who thinks he should have won the promotion.
In fact, in the few short weeks since you assumed your new duties, “Jim” has done several things that you think add up to insubordination. What should you do?
First, ask yourself if his behavior meets the definition of insubordinate behavior: defying authority, disrespectful actions or communication, or the failure to obey reasonable directions about a project, task or other work deadline. Let’s say Jim “borrowed” your office while you were out without asking permission. Perhaps he rudely refused your request for a report during a team meeting. Once you are certain his behaviors are, in fact, insubordination, you need a plan.
Let’s get some of the “what not to do” out of the way first. Don’t wait for this behavior to go away. Allowing it to fester is the same as endorsing the behavior as acceptable and part of the norms in your department. Don’t respond emotionally or aggressively. When force meets force, the outcome is destructive for both parties. Resist reporting it to human resources until you have a plan (more on that in a moment). Likewise, resist complaining to your allies, unless you are brainstorming on constructive measures. Instead, try to:
1. Detach emotionally. Don’t take it personally. Remember, it is likely this individual would have reacted in a similar manner no matter who was promoted. Step back and focus on facts and issues. Identify the best outcomes for the team and company. 2. Set an example of desired behavior. Even though this individual is acting disrespectfully, you must be the mature adult and treat your entire team with respect while expecting accountability. 3. Prepare your case before meeting with human resources. Document the specific instances of disrespectful or insubordinate behavior. It is essential to specify the negative impact on team performance. Ending disruptive behaviors is only the first step. Spell out what you want instead, for instance: cooperation and respectful communication with the entire team. Outline the specific tasks and standards required of this role. Spell out how they relate to team and company goals.
4. Ask human resources to help you get to the root of the problem. Can you identify goals that Jim could work toward that would benefit him, the team and company? 5. Create a plan and stick with it. With HR, draft a written
plan for Jim’s improvement. Establish benchmarks, timelines, supportive resources and checkin points. Establish consequences and rewards and carry them out.
6. Be prepared to take next steps, including termination, if Jim decides not to cooperate.
Although Jim’s short-term goal was thwarted, he may be able to overcome his disappointment and work toward a win for himself and the team. Do your best to support that. Remember, your job is to ensure the best performance from the team while not allowing one poor performer to derail those efforts.