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If I were to come to work for you, and you told me to show up at 8:00 a.m., I would show up at 8:05 a.m. Just to see what you would do. Just to see if you have any integrity at all. Because, I am a troublemaking, fence-testing, pain-in-the-butt employee.

This may be why I currently own my own business. However, I don’t have to be the queen of everything. I will align myself with someone else’s game if it is a game worth playing. Otherwise, I will play my own game. Not surprisingly, I have been fired a few times. And I have quit lots of other jobs. On a few bright occasions, I became a superstar employee.

What about you? Is there a troublemaker at your company? Maybe you’ve already gotten rid of them. That may be the best move for you, and for them. However, I like fence-testers. I relate! And you may be able to channel their energy into a mutually beneficial action. Energy is everything! It’s easier to harness lightning than to try and manufacture it.

Here are 5 Tips for Transforming a Troublemaker Employee into a Superstar

It starts from the moment you meet a prospective employee. A difficult employee usually chooses bad behavior after he or she has given up on you. You might avoid trouble if you …

  1. Are Selective. As a plumber I know, a Superstar employee for the company he works for, was filling his truck with fuel. A competitor’s truck pulled into the gas station, the driver hopped out and ran over to him. “Man, come work for us.  We are desperate. I will pay you $2 more per hour than you are making now.” Mr. Superstar  said, “No thanks.” When I asked him about it, he said, “That guy didn’t know the first thing about me. Why would I want to work for a company who would take anybody?”
  2. Draw the Line. When I started a new job, I would corner an employee and ask, “What does the manager go to the wall about?  What will get me fired?” Note, I wouldn’t ask the manager. My experience with managers was that they would say one thing and enforce rules in mysterious ways. Instead, make it clear what your non-negotiable standards are. Start with “Clean, sober, on-time and dressed right.” These are easy to uphold and not subject to opinion. But you choose. What’s important to you? Not everything is a have to. Make it clear from the start what will NOT fly and what is optional.
  3. Play a Big Game. It’s not what your company does. It’s why. It’s how you do it. It’s possible to elevate ordinary, mundane tasks – like plumbing, like selling t-shirts, like cleaning vent hoods – into a meaningful movement. One of my greatest bosses and mentors was a woman named Jackie, who owned and operated a coffee shop. I  worked for her at the height of my trouble times. Jackie would have none of it. She told me, “We do things the right way, we keep the place spit-spot clean and we serve customers with love.” I wanted to make her proud of me because it meant something. 
  4. Work Elbow to Elbow for the First Two Weeks. If you spend time with team members a few wonderful things happen. One, you get to know each other. Some people are into monster trucks, others are into classical music. Everyone has a story. Time together builds friendship and respect. You can determine if the new hire is capable of doing the work that is required. Note that the better your training program, the lower the skill level required. More importantly, you want to learn if they are willing to do what you want done. Can you engage this person in your vision? Now’s the time to share your philosophy. Magic happens when you get a fence-tester to say, “I’ll play.” They may not say it out loud, by the way. You will know if they don’t test you by crossing the line. (See above.) It’s OK to fire someone. You’ll know if you are good for each other when you spend quality time elbow to elbow. What isn’t OK is to give up on them, complain about them, and continue to pay them.
  5. Load ’em Up. Boredom breeds trouble. Keep team members busy. Ask, “How can we solve this problem? What would you do if you were me?” When they respond with great ideas, green-light them. Put a bounty on a tough project completed.  Play honorable games and offer sales bonuses for “above and beyond” performance. A “fizzy” and focused team member can use energy to make things better, not cause headaches for you.

Troublemakers. Takes one to love one.

I wonder … were you a fence-tester? Is that why you started your own business? I have lots more to share on this hot topic. Check out my upcoming online webinar How to Recruit, Hire and Retain Great Employees. Or reach me at and @ellenrohr.

About Ellen Rohr

Ellen Rohr teaches business basics. As a small business expert, she specializes in helping business owners put simple business plan together, how to make more money and how to stay focused and profitable. Ellen helps make ordinarily dry-as-dust business planning powerful, easy-to-do and fast-to-cash. You can create a profitable business – and you can do it in a weekend.. Find Ellen on Facebook, Google+, or visit the contact us page at Bare Bones Biz or call (877) 629-7647.

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  • Ellen Rohr

    Love AllBusiness! Came to see my blog…spent an hour checking out others’!! A+ to the article about excuses for NOT starting your business. Thanks! xo$

  • Lewis LaLanne – NoteTakingNerd

    #1 on your list Ellen made me think of this hiring guideline I learned from my mentor, Eben Pagan, who’s sold over $100 million dollars worth of information products and seminars and coaching programs.

    He recommends that you . . .

    Only Hire Super Stars With A Proven Track Record For Getting Things Done

    “Superstars work for impact, not for money.”

    This is what Eben Pagan learned from Eric Schmidt, the bazillionaire from Google.

    Money is not a superstar’s ultimate consideration. Superstars want to affect change and watch something incredible blossom from their effort.

    Steve Ballmer, the mega bazillionaire from Microsoft told Eben Pagan that when hiring, he looks for passion and a proven track record for driving projects to completion.

    Before you even hire someone, one of the ways to figure if someone is passionate or not about the work they’d be doing with you is to ask them, “Why are you interested in this position? What aspirations do you have working in this field?”

    Then, to figure out about their track record with projects, ask them about
    projects they’ve overseen, projects they’ve initiated themselves and ask whether or not any of them they mentioned were driven to completion – if they’ve never completed a project before, it’s highly unlikely they’ll complete one for you for the first time.

    When hiring, you want to hunker down and start settling for only the best – the DRIVERS who welcome the idea of taking responsibility and cherish the idea of delivering results.

    This is COMPLETELY different from the person who just wants to get through their day and is seeking work just so they don’t end up being homeless.

    Beware of smooth talkers.

    Smooth talkers are not usually smooth doers and smooth doers are not usually smooth talkers.

    Eben Pagan has found that the charismatic, polished person with a silver tongue who says all the right things is all over the map in regards to actually delivering results.

    He believes charming people have figured out how to use their personality and their mouth to wow people in hopes that this will amaze people and this will prevent them from digging into their past.

    They get you to love them first so that when they disappoint you by failing, you’re in love with them and you can more easily overlook their shitty performance.


    It might take longer for you to find a super star to hire but it will pay off in not having to un-train bad habits and bad beliefs.

    Another key recommendation he gave me was to always . . .

    Have New Team Members Give You A 5 Minute Breakdown Of Their Results, Challenges and Questions They Have

    With this, you ask your new talent to take 5 minutes at the end of the day, shouldn’t take them longer than this, to cover in an email what results they got today, what problems they ran into and any questions they have for you.

    This serves the purpose of having people focused during the day on assessing their performance and either wanting to get things done so that they can give you an impressive breakdown at the end of the day so that they get love from you or . . . get things done so that you don’t yell at them.

    If you get back an email that you can tell took them 30 minutes, write back to them and remind them that it should only take 5 minutes and there should at most be only a few things for each topic – just WHAT HAPPENED – STATS, PROBLEMS, AND QUESTIONS.

    Some people will easily do this, some won’t. Whether they do or don’t is very telling as to what is going on for this person.

    When you get a person who does the update every single day, just the way you asked them to you will have an awesome indicator that you’re dealing with a superstar or not.