Keeping Your Employee On The Bus

Keeping Your Employee On The Bus

by elainesuess

One of your employees or direct reports does not seem to be on the right bus. We’ll call him Employee. He has said he’s aligned with the company’s values, and he is a hard worker, but his behaviors do not seem to match up with the company values, and oftentimes he doesn’t do the right work.

Plus, his communication style often offends other employees and he unprofessionally and in strong language tells his supervisor he’s wrong in front of customers.

There are other things going on, but that’s the heart of it. A supervisor, who we’ll call Supervisor, thinks it’s time to get Employee off the bus.

What If You Could?

But, what if you could keep an employee like this on the bus? What if the employee could change? What if he could contribute fully and work productively with his colleagues and supervisor instead of continuing with this current ineffective approach?

After all, it would cost money, time and impact productivity to find a replacement for him. In this case, Employee has been at the company for a number of years, he knows the business and he knows the work.  And his level of  commitment to the company is high.

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What To Do?

Certainly, there are many starting points and pathways forward, but perhaps we can take a cue from the real life guy, the supervisor. He invested in coaching, and here’s his journey of success:


1. The first thing the Supervisor did was get mad, and then continue to get madder over time, wanting to invite the employee to get off the bus from whichever door he was closest to! It was not his sole decision, however.

2. After discussing the issue over time, Supervisor made an observation and asked himself an amazing question:

“How much of this is me?”

3. After asking himself  “the amazing question,” Supervisor started to see Employee differently and use a strategy called “appreciation” with Employee.

Definition of Appreciation: an ability to understand the worth, quality, or importance of something (or someone): an ability to appreciate something (or someone)

4. After settling on this strategy, Supervisor began to look for and find things every day that Employee was doing well, and to recognize him and the work. There were no false comments or inauthentic building up—there were only simple communications pointing out to Employee what he was doing well, and appreciation for it. Supervisor kept at it over a period of time, and more amazing things began to happen:

Employee began to change.

Now, Employee was more open to suggestions for improvement in his work. He more positively engaged in sharing ideas as well as listening and responding to differences of opinion. He started proactively asking questions instead of defending his position. He became a more valuable team member, more creatively discussing with the team what might be best for the customer. One time, Employee even got teary eyed when a compliment was given to him.

Another piece of the “keeping the employee on the bus” puzzle was that his work responsibility was shifted to allow a better alignment with his strengths and to help him best contribute to the company.

And, Supervisor began to change.

Supervisor was surprised at the changes in Employee that were brought about by using this strategy. Thinking about “the amazing question” though, Supervisor had naturally developed greater empathy and trust, along with his communication and conflict management skills. 

This is a true story.

When we look for what someone is doing well and give authentic feedback about it, it often changes them and us. It also has a wide impact. Taking this approach, we’re focused on finding what is right, instead of always looking for what is wrong.

Does showing appreciation work in every case?

The answer is yes.

But the longer answer is that it doesn’t work in the same way with everyone for every purpose.

Still, it’s a good start.


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