Over the course of my business career, I've dealt with a number of toxic employees at every level--even at the executive level. Some thought they were doing excellent work, but they were knee-deep in toxic behavior, like spending more time criticizing their teams and other executives than working.
Some walked into the organization already toxic. Others became toxic over time. To tell you the truth, I'm not sure there's one all-encompassing reason how or why employees start becoming harmful to an organization. Sometimes it stems from feelings of worry, insecurity, or jealousy. Other times, it's a clash of personalities or a competitiveness that's misguided. There are an infinite number of variations of what a toxic employee looks like, but in general, it's someone who is negative, blames others for their mistakes, and struggles to hold themselves accountable.
Regardless of how it happens, if not managed or corrected, a toxic employee can become dangerous to your business. And their negative mentality and bad habits will spread like wildfire.
So, here are 3 things you should do to quickly spot, manage, and (if needed) ultimately fire a toxic employee:
1. Avoid hiring toxic employees in the first place.
Part of keeping your organization toxic-free is by implementing a processes for weeding out these types of individuals at the beginning.
I share a number of these examples in my book, All In, but here's one: when it comes to hiring, managers often overlook people's negative qualities or unsettling personality traits if their talents for the job at hand seem bright and full of potential. They are willing to ignore the fact that, say, "Craig" speaks very negatively about his former employer, because "Craig" said he was the highest-performing salesperson at the organization he'd been at for the past three years. At this point, the hiring manager has to make a decision: run the risk of Craig being a bad cultural fit for the organization, but a huge value add for the company's top line? Or pass and move on to the next applicant.
Over the years, my experiences have taught me not to ignore that first part. If you get the feeling someone is going to bring a bad attitude into the company, chances are, they will. And that's hard thing to fix once they're hired, onboarded, and interacting with other employees.
2. Address the first issue that presents itself.
I know quite a few entrepreneurs who have a knack for avoiding conflict.
They hire people. They pass them off to a director or manager. And then when an issue presents itself, they avoid getting involved and just assume it'll take care of itself.
But these early instances of a new hire being the wrong fit for your company are important. They are glimpses into the future of what this person will be like over time--and if left unchecked, you can expect this behavior to start to compound on itself. One conflict will turn into two. Two arguments will turn into four. And so on, and so forth.
Especially while your company is still on the smaller side, it's vital that you (the founder) remain close to your new hires. You want to see them in action. You need to know you made the right decision, and you can trust them to add (not subtract) value to the collective. And the reason this is so imperative to do from the start is because it's far easier to fire someone month one than it is a year later.
3. The moment you get the feeling you need to fire someone, trust your gut.
A week in startup land can often times feel like a month. And a month can feel like a year.
You don't have the luxury of "waiting around" to make decisions. If someone reveals who they truly are, and it's not the right fit for your company, then you need to trust that they're not going to change and you need to make the difficult decision of letting them go. This is why the phrase "hire slow, fire fast" in business is so popular. As soon as you get the feeling they're not the right person for the job, you need to start looking for the person who will be.
Now, this is also assuming you've done everything you can to help them, teach them, and empower them. It's one thing if someone starts becoming toxic to the organization because they aren't being set up for success--then it's on you to also assess where you might be failing them. However, it's a careful balance, and if your gut is telling you to let this person go, then listen.
Otherwise, every day you let pass will only make the problem worse.