Basic business functions must be kept in balance to ensure profitability and success. But the working interactions between employees also must be kept in balance for an enjoyable, productive environment.

Your team could be happy and productive one day, tense the next. One reason for this might be what Tom Riggs, president of Riggs Construction Co., in Kirkwood, Mo., calls “an employee going south,” which can cause havoc within the team.

Riggs tries to avoid this type of employee from the start. When hiring, he holds in-depth interviews during which he asks the candidate to describe his or her best and worst bosses. “I learn a great deal about their attitude toward authority,” he says.

PAY ATTENTION For an existing team, pay attention to individuals' attitude changes. Riggs says, “If suddenly someone is quiet when they used to be boisterous, or argumentative when they used to be laid back, it's time for a talk.”

Other indications include using negative tones or facial expressions that show disagreement or disapproval even though concerns aren't voiced. “The first few times it happens, I let it ride,” Riggs says. “But if it keeps happening, it's time for a talk in my office.”

During this meeting, Riggs tells the employee he's noticed a change in attitude and he gives examples of what he's noticed. He then asks if there's anything he can do to help, and continues to gently probe for information about the employee's work situation and home life to try to uncover the problem. “I feel it's my responsibility to find out what's wrong,” Riggs says. In one instance, a key employee who wasn't producing the results expected became dissatisfied. This attitude was evident in every contact. Riggs discovered that the employee was unfamiliar with a critical software program and was spending long, unproductive hours trying to use it. “We sent him to training, and now he's happy as a lark and highly effective with the software,” Riggs says.

TAKE ACTION The last step is a documented discussion of what can be done to get back on track. Riggs and the employee discuss solutions and agree on a plan of action. A day or two later the employee is invited back to review the documentation. Once agreement is reached, both parties sign the document and it goes in the employee's file. They then set a follow-up meeting for four weeks later to discuss the action plan and whether the employee's behavior demonstrates that he or she is on the company bus once again.

“You can't always fix it,” Riggs says, “but by hiring smart, immediately addressing problems, treating employees like human beings, and doing what we can to help, we can stop bad attitudes before they affect the team, and have employees who want to be here and be part of our company.” — Victoria Downing is president of Remodelers Advantage, a national consulting firm specializing in the challenges of running a remodeling company, and home of Remodelers Advantage Roundtables. 301.490.5620;