Tuesday January 8, 2013
How to manage difficult employees
With ELISA DASS
TALENT can easily be one of the most overused words these days in the industry.
With almost every other company having a talent programme, those not in the programme, especially the bosses of these “talents” may find having a talent in the department can be a blessing or a curse.
Many managers take time to plan the talent programme framework, trainings, projects, remuneration and branding to make them relevant to their companies (and the best in the country).
However, most of the time, they forget a very key element to a successful implementation training and preparing the people managing the talent.
As HR focuses on hiring or identifying the right high performing and high potential candidate, the same focus needs to be given to the bosses of the talents.
Unfortunately, a usual brief introduction to the programme does not suffice. More often than not, managers eventually come to realise that the high performers/talents are of a different breed whether they'd like to admit it or not.
They may deliver more in quantity and quality, but at the same time demand more too challenging projects, attention, strategic guidance, rewards and time.
A research conducted by Profiles International with over 700 people managers reported that more than half surveyed claimed 25% of talents in their organisation was difficult to work with.
Sadly, the research revealed that 68% of the managers did not understand the behaviours of these “difficult” talents and 78% of the managers did not know how to manage these employees effectively.
I recently met a head of HR whose company had run a talent programme for almost 15 years. Amidst the positive contribution most talents have brought to the organisation, she shared with me some talent woes that are not uncommon.
These are mainly statements made about talents by their bosses and peers.
“This talent has a horrible attitude!”
“This talent is as impressive as I thought her to be!”
“The talent in my team is taking up too much of my time. It's not worth it.”
In response, let's try to understand these talents a little more so the bosses can better manage them and the talents themselves can ensure they don't fall into any of these three categories: The Diva talent, the Wallpaper talent and the Taxing talent.
The Diva/Divo talent thinks that by the very virtue that he is in the programme, it makes him a class above the rest including his boss. As such, this Diva makes it a point to ensure everyone acknowledges him as the “smartest” in the room.
He speaks arrogantly, constantly tries to prove others wrong, and almost every other sentence highlights how much he has done and how great he is.
Because he is a talent, he believes he is entitled to some unspoken privileges, such as shorter work hours, longer lunch breaks and being excused from boring routine tasks required of everyone in the team.
His best compliment is probably the unspoken intimidation or ill-perceived admiration he senses from others in the room, especially from his boss.
More often than not, this attitude stems from a lack of self-assurance that he is good enough and he needs to be reassured by constant praise. As his bad attitude deters others from praising him, he may start “announcing” his achievements repeatedly in a subtle and not-so-subtle way.
Tips for the managers of Diva/Divo talents:
Sometimes the Divas' self-perception of being better than the rest could actually be quite accurate. However, the attitude that comes with the productivity may leave a bad taste in the department and may come to a point where it needs to be addressed.
Avoid this by having a personal chat with the talent as he joins the team. The Diva/Divo talent essentially is looking for the best candidate to earn his respect. So as he joins your team, establish your role and authority in a non-threatening way.
More than that, gain his respect by showing that you are not intimidated by him and at the same time, you do not think any lesser of him.
Make it clear from the beginning that you do not tolerate bad or counter-productive attitudes in your team. If the Diva's attitude starts affecting the team, sit him down and speak to him in a firm, yet non-condescending or accusative manner.
Privately and publicly, announce his achievements and appreciate him without putting him on the pedestal.
The Wallpaper talent is also conscious that she is in an elite programme and everyone is watching! A trainer I knew once told a group of talent programme candidates this “You will be working in a fish bowl. Everyone's watching you, including those not in your department, waiting to spot a flaw.”
As such to avoid being judged negatively, the Wallpaper talent tries really hard to fit in, and hopes to go about her work without a limelight on her hoping that she can quietly impress her boss without rocking the boat with her colleagues. She befriends her colleagues and speaks their lingo.
She goes about her work excellently without wanting to look like she is trying too hard. She maintains status quo without taking on large projects.
She tries very hard not to outshine her peers though hopes that her boss will notice all the subtle extras that she is doing. Unfortunately, at some point she tries too hard and suppressed her drive for challenges and excellence that first qualified her to be in the programme.
Tips for the managers of Wallpaper talents:
If you start wondering what's so special about your talent, then it's time to revisit why you agreed to have her in your team previously. There must have been certain qualities, skills, attitude and aptitude that have resonated with you. Have a talk with your Wallpaper talent and reaffirm her of her strengths and challenge her to give her best.
Be clear and specific in what your expectations are of her in the next three to six months or even a year. Schedule periodical review and make yourself available for additional guidance if required.
Praise her in front of the team. With the wallpaper, you can shine the limelight on her, in a positive manner.
The Taxing talent demands your time and attention all the time. His performance is no longer as good as before. He strolls in late, seems disinterested with new challenges or even current work. He does enough to obtain the required performance rating.
Tips for the managers of Taxing talents:
Once again, have a one-to-one chat. This time, more as a friend instead of a boss. Your main objective is to find out why is this talent demotivated.
There are a few reasons why a talent can be demotivated:
Feels that his previous effort and time invested is not rewarded up to his expectations recognition, awards, promotion, bonus, increments.
His job is getting boring. There's no more challenge in it.
A mismatch of job or industry
In response to this, as a manager, you have a few options how to manage this talent:
Explain how rewards/remuneration are justified in your company. Set goals if he wants to gain XYZ award, what is expected of him.
Challenge him to initiate a project that interests him and if possible, reward him for it.
If there's a mismatch, be ready to allow him to move on to the next job. Help him through this time of search.
In essense, as the manager of a difficult talent, it takes a one-to-one approach with a lot of expectations management. For the talent, I think this final quote sums it up pretty well.
A friend shared this with me once. “Your talent determines what you can do. Your motivation determines how much you are willing to do. Your attitude determines how well you do it.”
Elisa was identified a high potential in a leading conglomerate in Malaysia and now works with Leaderonomics to help companies hire, identify and develop talents across all levels in their organisation. She believes that developing managers of talent is as important as developing talents for organisations to get the most out of them.