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Pulling Together: The Toxic Employee, Part 2

There are employees who undermine team dynamics and, if left unchecked, bad attitudes and sour mindsets can spread and damage the morale of the best organization.

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There are employees who undermine team dynamics and, if left unchecked, bad attitudes and sour mindsets can spread and damage the morale of the best organization.

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AutoSuccess: How do you deal with “toxic” employees — those who knowingly or unknowingly damage the group’s morale? Do you give them a chance to change?


Andrew DiFeo, GM of Hyundai of St. Augustine: It’s important to address the toxicity in the company quickly. The leader has to acknowledge they are aware of the toxicity whether it’s been a leader’s observation or from other employees. It’s important that the leader have a frank, one-on-one conversation with that employee to understand why the toxicity is occurring. If it’s because of a breakdown in processes or between departments, that’s something that can be corrected. If the leader feels it’s an issue with the employee, clear guidelines need to be drawn about what behavior is and is not acceptable in the company and that person must be held accountable for it. Let them know that if that behavior continues, they’re not the right fit for your company.


Chris Saraceno, VP and Partner of Kelly Automotive Group: One of the best things about being a leader is that you get to choose who you keep and who you lose. You get to choose who’s on the bus, who gets off the bus and where they sit on the bus. As a leader, you have that influence and authority. As Spock said, “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.” If someone is jeopardizing the team, you have to make a decision. As the leader, you also need to involve, when possible, other leaders and thought leaders of the company.


Mike Good, GM of Street Toyota: Except for the most egregious behavior, most employees deserve an opportunity to explain, learn and grow. There are many variables to consider. First, you’d better have your finger on the pulse of the dealership, and that means knowing your people’s thoughts as evidenced by their behavior — down to the very last one. That’s why you earn the “big” money. That said, whether speaking to the “knowingly or unknowingly,” I’d ask either of them to define their understanding of our culture (values, beliefs and resulting behavior), then back the conversation into the events requiring confrontation. I’d listen more than talk. Well-prepared questions would get to the core issues governing their behavior. Then and only then can the next step occur; defection or correction.


AS: What can a leader do to create an atmosphere where toxicity doesn’t have a chance to take root?

AD: Every company has a culture. Leaders need to communicate that culture through everything the company does, whether it be internal or external communications, but it really starts right at the interview process in communicating that culture and getting a feel for how this employee will align with that culture. If they do come aboard, they must become part of a team, versus working as an individual. A lot of toxicity comes from that individual mindset, rather than working as a collective for the greater good. The leader also has to walk the walk of the mindset of the culture they want to create. Actions speak louder than words

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CS: The right people are truly a company’s greatest asset, and the wrong people are your greatest nightmare. How do you do it? Through your hiring process. Make sure to hire the right people. In your vetting process, make sure you do background checks, because sometimes we get so busy that we forget to do the checks we should. When that nightmarish toxic person does get through, it’s crucial that you move quickly. Hire slow, fire fast. You fire fast when you see they’re toxic.

MG: Success is rooted in value- and beliefs-based behavior. It’s about culture, and by its very definition our industry has spent seven decades wallowing in a belief-less coma, driven by greed, selfishness and ego. We are just now awakening to the power of absolute customer satisfaction driven by a new breed of people engaging in customer-satisfying processes. Toxicity can’t survive where high-value culture rules — you stop it at the door. It’s born in the hearts of the dealer and GM and lives in the hearts of the people you hire. Stop spreading Miracle Grow on the cussing, high-fiving, dishonesty and cheating — grow some values.

Finally, get a good grill and cook for the crew. We cook for our team every Friday during spring and summer. This is not for the customers; it’s just for our employees. We also have chili contests and Thanksgiving feasts. People from different departments mingle and interact with coworkers they otherwise never would and is one of the best morale boosters I’ve ever seen; you know you’re creating a great environment when they start showing up with side dishes and swapping recipes.

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Next month, we’ll look at leading those who need guidance to achieve their potential and getting the best out of those who are superstars.

If you have questions or are a dealer who would like to be considered for the panel, please contact us at [email protected].

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