Makarios Consulting Blog

9 Essential Questions to Help Tackle Tough People Issues

People issues plague business. As a leader, you have the primary responsibility to deal with them – and deal with them you must, because such issues never resolve on their own!

People problems come in various stripes. There are the toxic superstars: people who produce phenomenally for your company, yet are abrasive to work with. There are the well-meaning non-performers: people who are giving it a go, but don’t seem to get anywhere. Then there are the crazy-makers: people who, when confronted about performance or behavior, change their ways just long enough to convince you that the problem is solved, then snap back to their old patterns. And the list goes on.

Whatever tough people issues are causing your stomach to churn, here are nine questions to ask to help you tackle the matter and get your business back on track!

1. Does the person embrace and do their very best to live your company’s core values?

If the answer is “Yes,” you can move on to the next question. If the answer is “No,” then let the person go. Someone who does not uphold your core values has no place in your organization.

2. Does the person “GWC” their seat?

The GWC™ tool from the Entrepreneurial Operating System® (EOS®) has three parts:

  • Does the person Get It? A person who “gets it” understands the nature of the role, how it fits into the larger organization, and what is required in the seat.
  • Does the person Want It? Does the person enjoy their job? Are they excited about what they do? If not, don’t think you can convince or cajole them into wanting or liking the position.
  • Does the person have the Capacity to do it? Capacity refers to the demonstrated ability to do the job at a high level of execution every day.

3. Do you need to process your feelings before talking with the person?

If you can honestly say that the person gets it, wants it, and has the capacity to do it, then it’s time to roll up your sleeves and get to work. But before you engage with the person, take time to engage with yourself. It is counterproductive if you go into a conversation with an employee while you are angry – as you may well be if the issue has gone on for a substantial amount of time. Erupting like Mount Vesuvius is never helpful to resolving a people problem.

Therefore, be sure to process your own emotions “off-stage” with a spouse, friend, coach, or colleague. Only when you are calm and able to have a respectful business-focused discussion should you proceed with any dialogue.

4. Have you clearly defined what “success” looks like?

What does “success” look like for this person and their role? Do you know? Do they? Don’t rush past this question with a breezy, “Of course!” Be practical: did you discuss the metrics you would be looking at to assess progress and results? Did you work together to establish SMART goals? And – of critical importance – did you make sure that the person understood what was expected?

You might have been clear in your own mind as to what you wanted to see, but if you did not communicate it to the person, then you cannot hold them solely responsible for not delivering – you also played a part in how the situation has unfolded. If that is the case, then meet with the person, admit that you did not do a good job defining success, and start afresh.

5. What assumptions have you made?

We all make assumptions from time to time that trip us up. Consider whether you may have made assumptions that contributed to your people issue. For example, did you assume that the person would automatically know what was expected of them? Did you assume that their previous experience would provide all the skills and capabilities and breadth of understanding necessary for their current role? Did you assume that knowledge in one area of the company translated into knowledge in another area? Be open to sitting down with the person to discuss your assumptions to assess their validity and to take action where your assumptions may have been mistaken.

6. Have you offered meaningful, clear feedback?

If the person embraces your core values, GWCs their seat, knows what success means, and has not been left out on a limb because of mistaken assumptions, it is time to ask the question that usually results in leaders looking sheepishly at their toes: “Have you actually given feedback to the person?”

When we coach leaders through people issues and put this question to them, the answer is usually an embarrassed, “Well, no … not exactly…” To which we reply, “Let’s get this straight. You have been stewing about this situation for weeks or months. You are angry and frustrated. You have (most likely) vented and expressed your displeasure to your family, friends, and work colleagues. But you have not actually talked to the person in question to let him or her know specifically what needs to change? How is that supposed to work?”

Feedback is much more than just saying to someone, “You need to improve your productivity” or “You need to get on the ball.” What does that mean? What are they doing that they shouldn’t be doing, or not doing that they should be doing? Generic feedback is, in a word, useless.

Instead, for feedback to be effective, it must be specific, clear, detailed, and action-oriented. That means that you:

  • Step 1: Give a clear descriptive feedback statement.
  • Step 2: Ask why the person acted in the way that they did.
  • Step 3: Indicate the effect or impact of the behavior on the organization.
  • Step 4: Seek a solution together.
  • Step 5: Develop an action plan.
  • Step 6: Agree on a follow-up procedure.
  • Step 7: Encourage the employee.

For a detailed discussion and example on these seven steps to giving re-directing feedback, look here.

7. How has the person responded?

Follow up is an integral part of feedback – otherwise, the feedback simply floats into the ether and is lost. As you follow up with the person, gauge their response:

  • Are they making a good faith effort to make the desired change? If so, excellent. Change does not happen overnight, but if they are applying themselves and rising to the challenge, then matters are moving forward. Keep following up regularly until the new behaviors/results are the norm.
  • Are they trying to wait you out? There are some people who figure that “if I wait long enough, my boss will forget about this.” They smile and nod and agree with everything that is said during the feedback conversation, but do not actually do anything differently. If you sense that the person is foot-dragging, make that part of your next feedback conversation. Make it clear that change is both requested and expected.
  • Are they refusing to change? Some people will flat out refuse to change their behaviors. Make certain they understand the consequences of their resistance; if they remain adamant, let them go. Period.

8. What can you do to help the person succeed?

If the person has responded well to the feedback, don’t sit back and consider your job done. See what you can do to help their forward progress. Do they need additional skills training or mentoring? Are there obstacles you can remove? Resources you can access for them? One thing is certain: they need to know that you have their back and are there to encourage them as they make changes.

9. Are you ready to replace the person?

If the person is not responding to the feedback you have provided or cannot make the cut even though they are trying, are you ready to replace them? If yes, when? If no, what is holding you back? Remember: when you say “no” to replacing someone who should be replaced, you are saying “yes” to the impact that person will continue to have on you, your team, your business, and your clients.


Working through these nine questions will move your tough people issues toward resolution every time. Why wait any longer? The issues won’t go away by waiting – but they will when you take action!