Employees are the lifeblood of every small business. Many must serve as brand ambassadors, liaisons with clients and potential clients while also handling their day-to-day workflow. But like the old adage states, one bad apple can spoil the whole bunch.
But how do you quickly identify and remove these toxic assets from your balance sheet? To answer that, BLACK ENTERPRISE spoke with Steve Blue, president and CEO of Miller Ingenuity, a $25 million railway component solutions provider based in Winona, Minnesota and author of “The $10 Million Dollar Employee: Where Your Most Toxic Liability Meets Your Most Important Customer.” He offers the following advice:
Understand what a toxic employee is. Most people have eaten at a restaurant with bad service or bad a bad experience at a hotel or with a flight attendant. These are the classic examples of toxic employees. Because of their behavior a customer may less likely use that product or service again. “As a traveler, I’ve run into so many employees that are toxic and their supervisors aren’t doing anything about it and it drives business away in droves,” says Blue. This applies even if the worker doesn’t have direct contact with clients. “Toxicity multiplies and if one person is toxic and doesn’t care about their job, they still interact with other employees. And so they infect other employees who see they get away with the attitude. “
Understand how much a toxic employee can cost the company. Blue points out that many people will not patronize a restaurant again after having a bad experience with a hostess or waiter. “So what’s the lifetime of one customer in a high-end restaurant industry? It’s about $100,000 over 20 years,” he claims. “Multiply that by the amount of people that person turned off that night. If its five people per night and 35 per week, the numbers get pretty compelling.”
Once the employee is identified, take action. For the betterment of the company, Blue recommends parting ways with the employee. “But in my career I see managers and supervisors and human resource departments give a million warnings and excuses,” he says. “But you can’t change an attitude. The best thing to do with people who don’t care is just to get rid of them because you can’t fix them. I tried to turn them around but I’ve never been able to do it.”
Put measures in place to identify these employees quickly. “First of all you have to put a stake in the ground that states exactly what you expect from employees – a standard of behavior,” says Blue. “And then you hold all your managers accountable. Don’t have a culture by accident. Have it by design.” While doing that, he advises starting one level below the CEO – because toxic employees can exist at any and every level.
Love up the survivors. If you company in a rough situation where business is bad because of the economy or other reasons, it’s important to create an environment that doesn’t lend itself to the spread of toxic employees – especially after layoffs. “Communicate with them, let them know what you’re doing to mitigate the softness in the business and provide support and guidance to them,” he advises. “If you do all of that then you have a right to expect a positive attitude. But what people tend to do is not focus on the survivors and not work with them through their concerns.”