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Dawn Shuler On Toxic And Non-Performing Employees: Their Impact And How To Handle Them [Episode 76]

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Have you ever dealt with a toxic employee?

If you have, you know how draining they can be, not only to you, but to your entire organization. You may have also encountered difficulty in letting them go. In this week’s episode, Doug C. Brown speaks about ethically handling difficult and toxic employees with Dawn Shuler, the owner of Shuler Group LLC. Doug and Dawn also discuss what makes a great team, how to build your best company culture and cultivate a healthy environment, and much more.


In this episode you will learn:


Episode’s guest – Dawn Shuler

CSS 76 | Toxic Employees

Dawn Shuler, CEO and Founder of The Shuler Group, LLC, has been working with business and communication all her life, from teaching English fresh out of college to creating a business in 2002 to assist individuals, corporations, and associations achieve more success through better leadership, systems and processes, and training. She has thousands of hours of coaching and training executives and mid-level employees at organizations like NASA, the admissions department at a national education association, non-profit foundations, and many small businesses. Dawn is also a Strengths-Performance Coach, certified through Talent2Strengths, an official partner of Gallup and home of the famous CliftonStrengths® assessment (formerly StrengthsFinder®).

Visit her website: www.TheShulerGroupLLC.com

Dawn and The Shuler Group LLC are giving listeners the opportunity to take their free Company Culture Quiz to see where your organization falls on the culture spectrum. Take the quiz here: www.CompanyCultureQuiz.com


Dawn Shuler On Toxic And Non-Performing Employees: Their Impact And How To Handle Them

I’m bringing you another great episode with an amazing guest. Her name is Dawn Shuler. She is an expert in people in organizations and creating culture. We’re going to talk about toxic people and non-conforming and non-engaged people, how to build teams and what to do and what not to do for you to get higher productivity. She owns a company called The Shuler Group LLC. It’s at TheShulerGroupLLC.com. You’re going to enjoy this. Let’s go talk to Dawnn. Here we go.

Dawn, welcome to the show. Thanks for being here. I appreciate it.

Doug, I am so excited to be here with you. We’ve had some great conversations in the past and I know now is going to be no different.

We’re going to talk about building people, teams, those toxic and non-engaged people, what kind of loss of productivity that a company has, whether it’s in their company in general or to people who are selling on the same side and working in teams. Let’s talk about building teams. Your company is an expert in this area of culture, people and things of that nature. What is a good or a great team versus an average team? What separates the two of them? Could you give people an idea of that?

It’s a very broad concept covering a whole lot of areas. What makes a good team? It could be at a very base level, they work well together. Let’s break that down. Why do they work well together? Is it culture or strengths? They’re getting to use their strengths and work in their zone of genius. Is it that they’re all collaborative and that collaborative innovative nature is very much encouraged in the organization? Is it that they’re productive? What a concept, being productive as opposed to nonproductive productive. There are all these different places where we can start to pull back the layers and look at what that means.

Is it a good idea when you build on a team to start with the end in mind, “What am I looking for on this team?”

Where we start with our clients is, “Whom do you have? What are their particular strengths?” It’s that whole, “Are you going to try to shove a square peg into a round hole or vice versa?” or do you say, “Here’s what we have. How can we maximize those? Here’s where our gaps are. How can we fill those gaps, whether it is bringing someone else on that’s maybe not being utilized to the best of their abilities?” With the end in mind, you’re thinking about a specific project, which is very valid but in general, teams work together on project after project or their tasks, initiatives or whatever it might be. We like to step back and take more of that holistic long-game approach.

I don’t think I asked the question correctly because you’re right. People or teams work on multiple projects. Let’s say I’m building a team because I know there are people here going, “I’ve got a team. They’re a little messed up like most teams. I got a great team but I want an ultra great team.” It occurred to me that when I’ve been building teams in the past sometimes I didn’t ask questions like, “What do I ultimately want in a team?” Especially when you’re in a fast-growing company or your company is growing fast, you got to fill bodies and then you get the bodies and you’re like, “This work but didn’t work out.”

Also, people who like outsourcing teams, when they’re building a tea in an outsourced capacity. What occurred to me was maybe I never stepped back and said, “What’s the big picture play here of building a team?” That’s why I asked that question in the manner that I asked. The question that I’ll reform is if I’m starting from zero or scratch and I want to build up a sales team in my capacity, should I step back and say, “What’s the grand mission of this sales or software team?” It seems logical to me but I don’t think a lot of people do it. That’s why I’m asking the question.

One place to start, leaders need to do this and many leaders don’t, is what’s that vision and strategic plan? There can be quarterly goals going back to your example of the sales team or quotas that they have to meet, quarterly revenue goals or those kinds of things. That helps with that strategic plan, “What’s the strategic plan? Is it a percentage of growth over X number of years? What is succession planning? Is it we’re building this to be here 100 years from now or to give it to my sons and daughters?” There is that bigger picture. When it comes down to it, there is that bottom-line goal. We want to be profitable.

“What does that look like?” Too often the problem comes and it’s easy to do. Let’s look at what we need, “We need someone who has great sales skills or experience.” You’re looking at someone’s resume. They have highlighted all these great things they’ve done. You bring them in but it doesn’t work. This is getting to the heart of your bigger question. It’s because there’s more to what a person can do or does. It is about that fit, culture and how they’re all going to work together.

There's more to what a person can do or does. It is about that fit and the culture and how they're all going to work together. Share on X

The cultural point is very important for people. This is another thing that people don’t give consideration to. The greatest companies that have built the great teams that I’ve seen look at culture. Do they fit? You could have the greatest sales closer in the world but they could be the most disruptive person to the organization. How do you advise companies on building their culture? Where do they start, even if they’re involved and want to change their company culture? Those are two different questions. Let’s start with, “Where do they start if they want to build a culture?”

One of the things we tell our clients and the world, in general, is, “Your organization may not be the one you intended but there’s a culture there.” It’s stepping back and taking that look, “What is the culture?” In some organizations, what the leader thinks the culture is usually based on what he or she wants, “We’re like family. We all work toward a common goal,” because that’s what the leader wants.

When you come down to it, “Is that the culture you have?” Not to you be self-promotive but that’s what our company climate inventory does. It’s from the employee’s point of view. They’re going to tell you what’s going on and whether you use a tool like that or decide, “We’re going to care about culture.” You then start having those conversations at all levels in an organization, from leadership to the people on the front lines.

What do you want? We’ve got The Great Resignation going on. Some people believe in it and some people don’t. Some people say, “Too bad. They should be happy to work.” At a base level, what do people want? Not just during what’s been happening over the last couple of years but these are questions people should have been asking for 100 years, “What do you want out of life, your job, this company and organization?

You’re saying that we should start with our lives first and what kind of life we want first, build a business and culture around that or is it something different?

It’s sort of that but a little different. I have an 8-foot stuffed dragon. It’s to remind myself and others that you have humans working in your organization. We shouldn’t just shut who we are off and come to work, even if it’s remote work. We are people. The best organizations and the most successful companies are the ones who recognize they have humans working for them and they don’t ignore the human side. It’s, “What kind of culture do we want?”

CSS 76 | Toxic Employees
Toxic Employees: The best organizations, the most successful companies are the ones who recognize they have humans working for them and they don’t ignore the human side.


My culture and organization tend to be quirky. “I want to know the real you, even those quirky pieces. The fact that you love purple or Shenandoah National Park is one of your favorite places to go to. I want to know you as a human.” You have that, “Here’s what’s the culture that I want,” then you need to fit in. Somebody who’s very straight-laced and buttoned up is not going to fit in a culture like that. They may be great at what they do but they’re not going to fit. It’s what culture we want and who’s the person behind the skills and the abilities.

Let’s say we’re a hospital, for example, and we are promoting how client-focused and comfortable we make people feel, then we bring in doctors, nurses or other technicians who are a little or a lot abrasive with their personalities and people. That’s where I find that you’ll find a lot of negative customer reviews. We had this happen. We went to an Italian restaurant and we were all excited because the Italian food there is good. They were having some challenges with their people. They were hiring new people.

The server didn’t care. It was very obvious from the beginning that that person was there to collect the money for the job. We’re waiting for 40 minutes for our salad to come out. We are like, “Hey.” She’s like, “I’m busy.” She’s doing that thing. I pulled someone else aside and said, “Can you help us? I like this restaurant. I’ve been here several times.” We got this person that’s there and she goes, “I’m sorry you have her. If I could, I would throw her out the door. She’s a hassle to work with. She’s no fun and no this. She’s just going off on this.”

I’m sitting here going, “Why am I in this restaurant?” I’ve been to this restaurant several times. The culture that I initially came into brought somebody in who didn’t fit that culture. Quite frankly, I’ve never been back to that restaurant again. What you say is, “When you create a culture, make sure there’s a fit for the people coming in.” In this case, the lady wasn’t. They could be the most talented server on the planet but they make people feel terrible. That’s not the way people want to feel when they’re going out to a family dinner.

They want to have bonding and feelings. We have a manufacturing company and in our culture, we’re on time every day, every time, no person is left behind and we hire somebody that doesn’t have that particular fit. If they let the clients sit for fifteen days and their machines are down, that’s not going to be a good cultural fit nor will it turn out to be a good opportunity for referrals, additional business or anything.

The manufacturing example, on time, good customer service and taking care of the customer, my question would be to that company, “Do you communicate that to your employees? Is that something that you say, ‘This is part of our value. This is part of why our customers choose us because we’re on time and we take care of them?’” The next question would be, “When you’re hiring someone, do you communicate that? ‘One of our values is that we are on time. We take care of the customer.’ What’s your take on that? How would you help us do that even better?” You could ask that of a frontline assembly line worker up to a VP of whatever. Ask those questions beyond the, “I’m looking at your resume and it looks like you have fifteen years of experience in manufacturing. Great, let’s hire you.” That is a mistake that a lot of organizations make.

I’d like to add something to that, which is, “Let’s test them before we hire them.” You’re talking to the person. If we test them before, we can figure out whether or not they do. I loved Zappos. I don’t know if they still do it but they were known for high-quality customer service and all that stuff. They used to hire people and then they’d start them on the warehouse and bring them all the way through, even if they were going to be for president of sales or something. They’d get them all the way through, get them to the place and then would offer them a buyout to leave the company.

It was part of their job onboarding process because they wanted to know that people were heavily invested in that culture and fit for the company. That seems intuitive to a lot of people like, “Why would I train this person and then get rid of them?” Long-term, it was far less costly to do that for a company than it is to have somebody in there wreaking havoc in the culture. You have a quiz on our website that will test for culture.

It’s going to take you under three minutes. It’s going to, based on your answers, tell you if your organization is on this spectrum of spinning in place or a teeter-totter or a legacy organization. This is from the one person’s viewpoint taking the quiz. It gives you an idea of perhaps what that culture is that you might have and maybe some things that you can do to improve it no matter where you are on that spectrum.

I want to talk about toxic people and organizations. I’ll share a client that I had one time. Somebody asked me to take a look at their company and I did. They wanted me to help them with their sales. I looked at their sales team but in doing the process of doing the company’s due diligence and audit on the company, I discovered they had an 82% turnover of their employee base every year. It was huge. It wasn’t just one year. It was a year over year. The almost exact number is 82%. When I got there, I approached the CEO and said, “Why?” He goes, “I don’t know.” They just turn over.

As I started going through this process, the company was in a decline mode at this point. They declined from $50 million to $48 million. What I found was there was one particular employee who was “one of their best, longest salespeople” at the organization. He was going in their weekend havoc with the people in the organization. He was demeaning people. To them, he was abrupt. When I talked to the clients, they were like, “I haven’t heard from this guy in six months. I’m sitting here.”

I went to the CEO of the company and said, “You got a challenge with this person. That’s causing a bit of this turnover. It’s also causing a lot of your challenges here, financially. I’d like to either move him to a new mountain and put him out in the pasture. He can still work for your company but keep him separated from everything and everybody you can or let him go.” The CEO says, “Let him go.” I promptly let him go.

Here’s the crazy part. Improvement started in the company but the CEO and this guy were lifetime friends. He goes back to the CEO and says, “I’ll change. I’ll do whatever.” The CEO hires him back immediately and declines started happening within the 1st week to 2 weeks again. We went through three cycles of this. I finally said, “If you hire him back, I quit. Take your pick.” The reason I’m bringing this up is that this company ended up getting into a legal matter with the United States Government after I had left. It was eighteen months after I quit because he hired him back the third time. They shut the company down. They fine the company $120 million.

The crazy part is they built up using the system that I put in there from $48 million to $110 million before the government came in and shut them down. Here’s my question for you. How quickly should we remove toxic people from an organization? What do we do with toxic people? In almost every company I’ve ever talked to, even if there’s a family-run business, the sister is coming in at 11:00 AM, leaving at 2:00 PM, running marketing, nothing’s happening and the family’s upset but they’re keeping her on to keep the family together or whatever it might be. What would you recommend to people when they have toxic people in the organization?

This is going to sound heartless but get rid of them immediately. Do not pass. Go straight to getting rid of them. You have a great example. They’re not going to change. It’s not because they’re a bad person. It’s because they are not a fit for all sorts of reasons. The example I have, which is on the good side of when you do get rid of the toxic employee and don’t bring them back, is we worked with a firm. Through our company climate inventory and audit process, we found what you did. You’ve got a toxic employee. Ours is anonymous. We didn’t know who. It sounds like you know who because you were working with the sales team.

Get rid of toxic employees immediately. Share on X

We met with the leadership team and said, “We have a toxic employee. It was three of them.” They said, “Let’s write down the name.” They didn’t want to say it out loud because the walls were there. They write down the names of the three of them. We uncover the papers and there are two different names. They look at that and all three of them said, “We’re good with letting them go, both of them.”

They didn’t need to have a consensus. They fired them within two weeks. 1 person had been there for 11 years and 1 person had been there for 15 years. One of the people was considered the office bully. We found this out later. The other person, when they’d see him coming down the hall, they’d close the doors to the office because he would waste their time and all that. They got rid of these two employees. We followed up with the client a couple of weeks or a month later. He said, “Frankly, I’m irritated. Everybody’s acting like it’s a party around here. They’re happy, pleasant and smiling. I had to fire two people.”

I’m like, “It’s because there’s this relief. It’s almost like PTSD. They’ve been dealing with these people for over a decade.” He is like, “I guess that makes sense.” There’s that piece. That’s happy. The bottom line piece is they didn’t replace either of those two positions. The work got easily absorbed by other people. He said, “There’s no strain. Nobody’s having to take on all this extra work. I should have done this years ago.” They saved salary, got more productive and saved some client accounts like your example with the one guy who hadn’t been in touch for months. That’s like, “What’s he been doing?” It all works out if you get rid of the people and don’t bring them back.

Don’t be surprised if it’s like the Wizard of Oz when the wicked witch of the East was knocked off by Dorothy and the town comes out and rejoices. That’s a normal part of the process. That’s what happened the first time I let this first-person go. Some people had filed their termination notes and they were like, “I’m done.” They had filed to leave for other companies. When I let this person go, they rescinded that and said, “I’d like to stay here if we’re going to change the culture.”

I had to go in and also explain what we were doing once I fired this person like, “We’re rebuilding this.” They said, “I’ll stick around. I’ve been here for two years. I couldn’t take it anymore.” Your advice is so sound. Let them go. Hire slow and fire fast. What about non-engaged people? Why don’t you tell people what you do?

We look at three different things. The right people are in the right seats doing the right things and at their top performance. We’re not a hiring or recruiting firm. We look at, “What is your culture? Do you have engaged employees? Are you developing your people? How’s your leadership and management program?” That’s where the right people in the right seats come in. Is it clear what their roles are? Do you have some blurry lines like, “I’m not sure who’s responsible for this. Is it me, her or him? What is it?”

Helping to clarify so that everybody is on the same track. We use that metaphor of everybody rowing the boat in the same direction as opposed to rowing in the opposite direction or the non-engaged employees not rowing at all. As a metaphor, what we do is help an organization get everybody rowing in the same direction.

CSS 76 | Toxic Employees
Toxic Employees: What we do is we help an organization get everybody rowing in the same direction.


That’s a great metaphor because I’ve been in a boat with multiple people where we’ve been rowing and one person is like, “This is going fine.” I’ll pull my aura out of the water and enjoy the ride. That’s the non-engaged one of what you’re telling. Back then, there were a bunch of guys that we were in the boat together rowing. Your best friend is like, “Doug’s doing it. Let me screw him up. I’ll stick my aura in the water and push back the other way.” That’s the toxic one when it comes down to it. Some people have non-engaged people. It does happen. Life, things, deaths and divorce happens. What do we do about non-engaged people? Can we train them out of it? Do we need to let them go? How do you handle that if you have a non-engaged person?

I do a workshop called got to Build Your Team With Rockstars Not Rocks. You have your A, B and C players. Those A players are the ones that want to row the boat in the right direction. The B players are the ones who are like, “When you tell me to, I will.” The C players are the ones going, “Screw this. I’m going to do it the opposite way.” I always get the question, “What about your B players in your organization? Can they become A players,” which is what you’re asking. My answer is, “It depends.”

It goes back to that culture, “What’s your culture? Are they a fit for the culture? Are they maybe the right person, which means they’re a fit for the culture but they’re in the wrong seat?” You put them in this frontline marketing, sales and they’re much happier. Put them in a cubicle where they can wear their headphones and they can code all day. They’re happy as a clam and vice versa. That’s the, “It depends,” part. For lots of reasons, some people say, “People get lazier. They don’t want to work,”, especially this young generation. I disagree. Part of it is because I have two grown daughters.

I’m a hard mama. I’m a loving mama but I can be objective about my daughters. They are hard-working kids. I don’t think it’s a generational thing. They’re more vocal about what they want. What do they want? Is your organization giving them what they want? Have you even cared to find out? Does your organization have a way for them to develop, whether it is they want to advance up the proverbial ladder or other ways? One of our clients is a nonprofit and nonprofits, in this particular realm, typically, are fairly flat. There’s not a very vertical way for people to advance.

If you work at a nonprofit, you might accept that. Are there other ways to develop? Are there skills? Is there training or mentoring? That’s where I go to, “Ask them what they want out of life work. Work is a part of life.” It’s not just, “Do you want to sit on a beach drinking Piña Coladas all day as far as what you want out of life?” “What kind of fulfillment do you want from your work?”

Ask them what they want out of life and work. Work is a part of life. Share on X

I would love to drink Piña Coladas more often but I don’t do that because I’m allergic to alcohol. Virgin Piña Coladas are good. I liken this to dating. When we date people, in the original proportion of that, we ask a lot of questions, “What are you looking for in life? What would you like to do? How would you like your life to be?” Maybe not directly in those specific questions but we do ask those questions and have the capacity to understand and learn about this person to see if we want to progress the relationship to the next level.

I don’t think that when they hire people, they look at it that way. They go, “Joe is going to be the Operations Director.” The Operations Director says, “This is your skillset that is needed and this is the job you do.” Very few companies ask Joe, “Is this what you want to do long-term? What else would you like to have out of this opportunity that we have within the company?” That limits the growth of a lot of companies.

I’ll be a little braggadocious about myself at this moment. I went into a company one time and I was their top salesperson out of 315 salespeople. One day I discovered something that I wanted to figure out if it will work and I figured it would work. I went out and sold it to six major companies. I created a product that we didn’t own. The engineers were not happy with me at all.

The CEO eventually was very happy with me because they made tens of millions of dollars off this. What I didn’t have in that organization was an ability to be expressive and grow in that capacity of being creative because I was slotted in as a major account executive for this company, which was fine. I got paid well and all that other but I eventually left that company to go start my company because I couldn’t find that creativity any longer within the company.

If I haven’t found that, I might have still been there because I liked the people and the company. Everything was good. This is the point I want to make. When I was leaving, they offered me triple my salary and compensation. I was doing about $160,000 a year and they offered me $450,000 a year to stay at the company. I still left because of that.

The message I’m trying to get across that support what you’re saying is you got to ask people what they want if you want them to be there long-term. If you want them to turn over in 1 or 2 years, that’s fine because that’s what will happen. Dawn, any closing parting thoughts that I didn’t get to? We could talk all day and I love talking with you but the readers are like, “Get onto something else.” Anything maybe I should have asked you that I didn’t or did we cover everything in a great way?

We covered a lot of ground. I hope that the readers are finding some nuggets and things that they can apply. The last thing that I would leave everybody with is to ask people what they want. The other side of that is people crave feedback. They want to know how they’re doing. Sometimes part of the problem is how we might give feedback. There’s the critical improvement or, “You’re doing a great job.” It goes hand in hand. Have conversations. Talk to these people. They’re humans but we all have our dreams and aspirations even if it’s to sit on the beach and drink Virgin Piña Coladas. “Why? What is it about that?” Ask questions, give feedback and have real conversations. Remember that these are humans that we’re dealing with and we are human as well.

CSS 76 | Toxic Employees
Toxic Employees: Ask people what they want.


I appreciate that. I’m very grateful you’re here. I love to have you back again sometime if you’d like to come. Thanks for being here.

It’s been great. We could do this all day long. It’s been a blast. I’m sad it’s over but I appreciate the opportunity. Thanks, everybody, for reading.

I took a bunch of notes. I don’t know about you. When it comes to toxic and non-performing people, if you can’t isolate them, you must release them. It’s for the better of the organization and them as well because if they’re not living life at their full potential, you keep them on and you’re bringing them forth to be able to do that, they’ll continue on their ways and maybe it’s not the most healthy thing for them nor their family, the people that they love or around them. If you can train non-performing people, train them. You don’t have to release those types of people.

Sometimes, you must relocate either toxic or non-performing people to different job roles where they become what you want them to be and what they want to be all in the same capacity. I loved what she said. You got to communicate and ask people what they want. We don’t look a little bit long-term here when we’re hiring people. People will turn over and it’s very expensive. It can be 150% to 250% of even base salary depending on who they are, where they come from and what role they’re in. We don’t want to turn these people over and over again.

We want them to fit into the culture. What is your culture? How do you look at your culture? How do other people look at your culture? If you don’t know what your culture is, ask the people within, who are your customers and whom you’re thinking about doing business with. They will give you what the culture is. Remember, culture is part of your brand. That brand is, “What’s there when you are not and people are thinking about you?”

If you love the subject matter, you want to know more about the certain subject matter and you think it would be great for a particular episode, reach out to us at YouMatter@CEOSalesStrategies.com because you do matter to us. If you think you’d be a great guest on this show and you have something to bring, let us know what it is. We’ll be happy to review both and figure out, “Will it work?” If so, we’ll invite you on. We’ll have a great show together.

If you love this show, please give it a five-star review. Tell people about this. The more people that know and read, the more people we can help. If you want help with yourself, somebody within your company, someone you know or your whole team and you want to help them get to the top 1% in their sales capacity and earnings, reach out to me at Doug@CEOSalesStrategies.com or you can hit me up on LinkedIn at @DougBrown123. Go out. Sell something. Sell a lot of it. Sell it profitably. Do it legitimately. Play win-win. Make someone happy. To your success.


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