Give “Bad” Employees The VIP Treatment

By Peter Jeff
The Leadership Mints Guy

Here’s an idea to help keep talented employees engaged . Reading time: 6:37.

           The retail clerk energetically raced into work and eagerly awaited taking charge of his cash register.

           He couldn’t wait to start serving his customers with a personal banter that turned the tedious jobs of both the shopper and the cashier into something more fun. He was good at what he did and everyone around him – his bosses, his peers, and his customers—knew it.

         Business was slow on this early Sunday morning. His cash register would remain silent—at least for now. His magic wand – the scanning device—would not dazzle anyone right now.

        With no customers in sight, he began sweeping and cleaning his cashier’s station. But there wasn’t any magic in that and he got bored.  He needed something to do. His boss noticed.

       The boss asked his star performer to abandon his cashier role and serve as a greeter at the main entrance. There were still no customers to greet but at least he would have a chance to interact with everyone who came into the store. And maybe create some magic.

           The roll-your-up-sleeves and get busy type retail clerk again got bored.  In desperation, he reached into his large pocket in his store-issued colored vest and pulled out a small pocket-book that he read during breaks and lunch. “Ah, at last I have something to do,” he said to himself, as he stood guard at the entrance while reading his book.

        His boss saw that red book cover from a distance and like an enraged bull charged the retail clerk from half away across the store. Now within inches of his face, the boss screamed at the stunned employee: “You can’t read on the job like that!”

        “Yes I can,” boomed the star performer in an uncharacteristic bombastic tone. “Oh, yes I can.”

         “No, no, no….” the boss retorted, walking away in utter disgust. The boss was on the verge of firing an employee who had always been a star performer. And the star performer was on the verge of quitting. The star-performing employee was so defiant, the boss ordered him to “go face (straighten) the soup cans (on the shelf).”

        The seething employee bolted out of his greeter’s role, eager to be doing something –anything—other than just standing around aimlessly and staring blankly into the isolation of the store on this raw morning.

        The boss and the employee hardly spoke the rest of the day. The magic was gone. The employee worked with less vim and vigor for the rest of the day. His wand seemed to run out of magic for the rest of the day.

       Indeed the magic was gone. The flare-up hurt. The business lost the full services of a high-performing employee. The boss lost any rapport or respect he had earned from the employee. And the star employee felt de-valued – as if his more than 14-months of previous stellar service counted for nothing.

  Give ’em The VIP Treatment

        There has to be a better way of correcting the behavior of good employees who do bad things. Let’s face it: Reading a book while you are on the job, as a greeter of customers, isn’t exactly staying customer focused. The star employee was definitely wrong. Could it be the leader was wrong too? But what was a leader to do? How would a leader rein in the employee without raining on the employee’s pride and parade of previous high performance?

          A leader would have given the offending employee the V-I-P treatment — where the offending employee is treated much more comprehensively, much more holistically than just as a Very Important Person.

        V-I-P is a three-step process that a leader “in mint condition” would use to turn an ordinary “Fire ‘em” solution into an extraordinary “Fire ‘em Up” resolution. V-I-P stands for Validating, Interpreting, and Preserving.

        In Validating, a leader acknowledges the star performer’s reputation.

        In Interpreting, the leader assesses the situation and defines the value of an employee’s skill sets that have contributed to his reputation for productive behavior.

       In Preserving, a leader reminds the employee of his star performing reputation and provides him a link to preserve that performance even when the working conditions change (such as a slow day in the store). Here’s the VIP Treatment in action: A high performing employee is reading a book while serving as greeter at the door of a retail store. His boss approaches the employee and says:


        “Joe, you always are highly productive  and even now when it’s slow you find a way to stay busy, reading. I think of you as the ultimate multi-tasker. I wonder though if you could be tarnishing your reputation for the way you always anticipate the needs of our customers, even  if you aren’t able to gain immediate eye contact as they enter the store.


         “I know it’s boring standing here when few customers come through the door. But I like to think of myself  as the captain of the ship when I have door duty. I am welcoming people on board this ship. And I am not sure my customers coming on board would think the best of me as their captain if I were reading.


           “Joe you are the captain of this ship right now in your greeter’s role and your passengers – your customers—need what you give them so well day in and day out at your register just as much here at the door: your undivided attention.

           “You’ve always been a great example to the other employees on being a top performer. It will get busier soon and then you will be going back to your cash register. But right now, Captain, we need you to read the eyes of our customers like you do so well and save the reading of those pages in that book for later. ”

          Joe shoved the book back in his pocket and smiled proudly. Soon the store got busier and Joe returned to his first love – cashiering – with even more energy and enthusiasm.  And even more magic in his wand.


Before you fire ‘em, fire ‘em up – with the V-I-P treatment– to keep your leadership thinking in mint condition.

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