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When is enough, enough?

How do you handle that difficult team member who isn't performing and at what point do you say enough is enough? Business expert Daniel Fitzpatrick lays down the law

The employee who gives pushback every time you correct them, the complaints about that person not pulling their weight, mistakes combined with an “I don't really care” attitude. With some people on your team, it can feel like you’re banging your head against a brick wall.

They take a lot of time and energy to manage. When their name is mentioned, it triggers you into reaction mode, bracing for the next problem that could be coming your way.

If you’ve been in business for a while, you’ll likely have had someone like this at some point. Pareto’s law would say that if you had 10 employees, there is at least one who is exceptional and one who is difficult to manage. I’ve seen this many times with thousands of business owners I’ve coached.

Here are some of the strategies that have worked best with my clients, which could also work for you. Keep in mind I am coming from a business coach perspective, so make sure you check with an HR specialist about the legal aspects pertaining to employment law.

The litmus test

Remember in science class, when you learned how to use litmus paper to tell if a liquid is acid, neutral or alkaline? Let's apply the litmus test to your team member to see what effect they're having:

The team

How is the behaviour of this person affecting the rest of the team? Is the team getting frustrated and discouraged, are they feeling demotivated, or is there any bullying involved? Is the overall performance of the team being affected?

The business

Is this person's performance affecting how long jobs are taking, or causing too many mistakes at extra cost? Is their behaviour spilling over and affecting your clients or professionalism as a business?


Are you constantly putting out fires caused by this team member? Are you triggered into anxiety around what could go wrong next every time you hear their name?

If the answer to all or any of these questions is yes, somewhat, or no – that’s the equivalent to the three possible results from a litmus test. By asking these questions, you’ll know exactly what you’re dealing with.

Case study

A husband/wife couple in an engineering business with around ten staff were working with an extremely knowledgeable team member – but his attitude was terrible! It was so bad that the wife admitted to me one day that she didn't even like going into the office in case she might see him.

The couple felt powerless, because they were worried about losing him, and with all the work they had on, they didn't think they could replace him. They knew the guy knew that, which made things even worse.

After a few weeks of us working together, I encouraged them to take control back. So, they started calling the shots again. He was given the opportunity to change his attitude or move on. He decided to move on.

It only took a couple of months to find a good replacement, while the rest of the team stepped up to another gear. They had their business back and enjoyed coming to work again, and the rest of the team was much happier.

Mirror, mirror on the wall

If you have a problem team member, it's important to look in the mirror. Good coaches know that the business reflects the business owner. Your strengths, weaknesses, successes and mistakes reflect in your business. The more you work on yourself, the better your business will perform.

Ask yourself: did things go wrong at the hiring stage or has this developed over time?

Only by looking back can we see what really happened. It’s important to learn from any mistakes you might have made, so you don’t repeat them.

Do you have a good hiring process that considers attitude, not just skills?

Have you set the right structure in place, including written checklists, best practices and training, so your team members have the opportunity to succeed? Notice I said opportunity, as they still have to do their part.

Are you giving each team member regular feedback? Do they know if they are winning or losing?

When we help clients put these systems in place, the culture improves and the team takes on more responsibility, as the standards are much clearer.

Do you know everyone on your team well, like the names of their partner/children and what’s most important to them outside work?

Business owners and managers who show their team that they really care have better team culture with employees, who are more likely to step up when needed. Also, their best employees usually stay longer.

What’s changed?

When you first employed that team member, there must have been some traits and skills you liked. If they are a good performer initially, what changed? Did you recognise the early red flags?

Maybe something major is happening at home; their marriage might be in trouble, or a family member may be dealing with a health crisis. They could be clashing with another team member, or it could simply be the wrong job for them.

It’s important to find out early what your team members can and can’t do. Don't assume anything, especially in the 90-day trial period.

A client who runs a drainage business recently discovered some large mistakes on jobs from his foreman that cost tens of thousands of dollars to fix. Questioning him and his team confirmed suspicions that he was not leading properly and other staff were getting increasingly frustrated with the lack of direction. After further training, it became clear that this guy was not foreman material – he was in the wrong role. They are now looking at other options for him. If this was done earlier, it would have saved a lot of frustration, time and money.

Where to start?

One tool we use with clients that works well is our review process. It’s a great way to talk about the elephant in the room without the awkwardness. By the end of this process, it's really clear to both of you if they are meeting the standard and a track of what to do next.

A building client had a foreman who wasn’t leading the team well and pushing back at any constructive feedback. My client didn't like confrontation, so he let these things slide a bit too long.

Once we implemented the review process, the line was very clear on what was not acceptable. The foreman stayed for a couple of months before leaving. My client discovered some significant mistakes, which cost them a few weeks to fix, but at least they could get back on track.

It's your move!

If you have a difficult team member, they will cost you a lot more than their salary. Moving forward, there are basically two choices: carry on as you are and hope things get better (which is unlikely), or start being proactive and dealing with the issues at hand.

If you challenge underperforming staff now, they have a chance to become better. Alternatively, if they are in the wrong job, you are not doing them or you any favours by leaving them there.

Whatever happens next is up to you, but being proactive always gives you better options.

If you need some help with your team and becoming more profitable in your business then book a free 45 minute strategy session here

Trades business coach Daniel Fitzpatrick has been helping tradies increase profits and win back their weekends since 2010.

Need some help to get your team performing at the highest level? Book a free strategy chat with Next Level Tradie director Daniel Fitzpatrick here:


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