Managing employees with difficult personalities is one of the greatest challenges that leaders face...across every industry and function. Whether it is the opinionated sales executive, the customer service uber know-it-all, the employee relations person with no people skills, the genius software engineer or the prickly analyst, sometimes we can't live with these people; but, particularly if they are top performers, we feel we can't live without them. So, how can leaders bring out the best in these people while minimizing the negative impact they have on their co-workers and the organizational climate?
Research conducted by Profiles International shows that today's workplaces are overrun with "divas" and "jerks". I'm willing to bet we all have one in our business! Profiles' research was tasked with understanding the best ways to manage "difficult" workers. The study, which involved over 700 participants, uncovered some interesting findings, which included:
- More than half surveyed claimed 25% of top performers in their organization were difficult to work with
- Sales and Operations were identified as the departments with the highest numbers of difficult top performers
- 72% disagreed that it is okay for managers to give special treatment to difficult characters just because they are high performers
- A shocking 49% of managers could not identify what makes high performers successful
- 68% of managers did not understand why "difficult" high performers behave the way they do
- 78% of managers did not know how to manage these employees effectively
Despite these issues not going unnoticed, managers are reluctant to do anything about it because they either thought it would be too costly...not taking into consideration the high cost of allowing the situation to continue...or didn't have the tools to address the situation successfully. Sixty-two percent of participants agreed with this statement.
Many of the managers surveyed claimed they do not use assessments to work with difficult employees. Yet, these tools can be very useful in identifying not only high performers and how well the person will fit the job but, just as importantly, who will be difficult to work with and core incumbent traits that currently point towards difficulties. Having this information will help you manage and coach difficult people.
For all executives, business owners and managers dealing with Jerks, Prima Donnas and Hot Heads, here are some thoughts on managing these difficult people:
- Have a one-on-one conversation with the employee in private. Embarrassing the individual in front of others never works and reflects poorly on you
- Consult with those in a position to understand your concerns and offer some solutions: your peers, your boss, an external consultant
- Provide the employee with outside training. Often, people who are difficult can be motivated to change direction if they are provided with opportunities for growth and job satisfaction. Offering training sends a message of respect and support
- Make yourself available to the employee for additional training. Informal training between manager and employee is a wonderful way to get your objectives across and build on the relationship
- Be sure to outline clear guidelines of conduct for the employee. If people aren't fully aware of expectations in their role and in the organization overall, it gives them license to do as they please
- Have a discussion about the issue at a meeting with the employees involved. I'm a firm believer in getting issues on the table. Don't allow concerns to fester and escalate. If necessary, schedule a formal employee review, even if one is not due
- Request that the employee submit reports about how he or she is seeking to change their behavior.
- Put the employee on probation for an appropriate amount of time
- For more serious problems, terminate the employee immediately, explain cause and provide pay for any hours worked
This discussion would not be complete without considering a thoughtful self-analysis, along with these suggestions. It can be very helpful to understand ourselves better as we strive to manage others.
How do you relate to your direct reports?
- Are you unwittingly creating a climate that engenders misunderstandings and difficulty?
- Are you a reasonable manager who understands how to work successfully with different personalities and behavioral tendencies?
- Do you understand how your own personality can affect your communication with staff in a potentially demotivating way?
Finally, if all efforts don't seem to be creating the desired result and the individual goes too far, permitting the employee to remain employed could seriously damage staff morale. Do not be too hesitant to let someone go even if a high performer. It is not worth the risk of affecting your remaining staff...they are the backbone of your company!