Disgruntled Employee or Brand Ambassador?

Here’s a tough question that can lead to great things: Which of our company values are we not living up to that is causing them to be frustrated?

You’ve got one on your team. That person your spouse is tired of hearing about at dinner. Today it was this, tomorrow it’ll be another thing. Why can’t they just do what you asked them to? You’ve thought more than once about letting them go. Maybe that’s the right call. Or, maybe it’s time for a promotion.

Try to suspend your frustrations — the things you already know are problematic about their behavior — just for a minute. What else could be going on there? Is there something underneath their not-so-graceful approach, a message about something going on in your business that nobody else is telling you? Here’s a tough question that can lead to great things:

Which of our company values are we not living up to that is causing them to be frustrated?

It’s the easiest thing in the world to push a disgruntled employee out the door. You have all the power to make their life miserable, and to turn others against them in subtle or not so subtle ways. Here are three ways to avoid doing that, and open up the possibility of something very new for everyone involved:

  • Assume they’re a spokesperson. Whatever it is they’re speaking up about, it’s a lock that others are feeling it too, and either aren’t willing or feel they can’t afford to risk saying something. Don’t let their silence convince you the problem is isolated. It isn’t.
  • Be careful with your audience. If you’re down on this person, everyone on the team has already picked up on it. They’ll almost always side with you one way or another out of self-preservation. It’s your job to not let them influence an already difficult employee situation.
  • See dissent as a force for good. The single most difficult thing to do as a leader is to get honest feedback from your team, to give people the experience that it’s safe to share what they’re really thinking. You don’t have to be a great leader to know how to do this, doing this makes you a great leader.

If you look with these new eyes, you might discover that your disgruntled employee is anything but. In fact they might be an incredible ally in your quest to create a truly great culture and business. Are they rough around the edges? Sure. Do they make too big a deal out of minor issues? Probably.

Wouldn’t it be great if there were more of them?

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