How should I deal with a staff member who seems great, but has been the subject of complaints from several clients?
Seems great to whom? Not your clients, who have raised their concerns with you.
Sometimes people behave very differently in different circumstances. Work by management theorist Meredith Belbin and others shows that individuals can play a number of different roles in teams. This suggests that personality, which drives behaviour, is multi-faceted. Your employee, who seems so good to you and might always be meeting his deadlines, contributing to team spirit and demonstrating his intelligence, might come across as remote or unconfident when out there on his own.
First, gather evidence. What is it about his attitude that concerns your clients? You'll need to get concrete examples and try to identify common patterns. If you're still not sure what the problem is, you could enlist expert advice, maybe from someone who knows about personality profiling. Sooner or later, a picture is likely to emerge.
Talk the issues through with the employee. If he's as good as you think he is, you'll want to keep him, and presumably he wants to stay. Maybe he'll be able to offer an explanation, and he should be amenable to seeking improvement. You can probably help him in most instances through training, one-to-one support and perhaps reorganising his workload to enable him to grow in confidence.
But it could just be that he's in the wrong job, and his dislike of the role or his lack of confidence in carrying it out is rubbing off on the beneficiaries. If this is the case, you need to consider a more radical approach. If there's a chance that the situation can be turned around, maybe it's worth investing in a long-term strategy for improvement. In the meantime, take him out of the firing line.
If there's no reasonable prospect of success down that road, you are facing a case of incompetence, at least in a key part of his work. You could then consider invoking your capability procedure, a step-by-step process of target-setting, reviews and warnings about future performance. If all that doesn't produce the results, you could consider redeploying him to where his talents are better suited, or even dismissing him - after due process, of course. Harsh, but ultimately fair.
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