February 4, 2014

9 Difficult Types of Employees (and how to handle them) Part 1

Satisfied overweight man in the officeNo matter the size or type of your business, and no matter how smooth and streamlined your talent management processes you will come across difficult employees. By difficult I don’t mean a chronically bad employee, because from a philosophical perspective, they are easy to handle, that is, they need to improve or move on.

When I say difficult, I mean those talented employees who are perhaps being held back from realizing their full potential due to some difficult aspect of their behavior. In these situations you need to harness or minimize the difficult behavior so they can reach their full potential and make maximum contribution to the business.

To that end I have outlined nine types of difficult employees based around the negative aspects of Belbin’s team roles – and described techniques to handle them. The first four are below and the next five will appear in a follow up article.

1. Mad Scientist: This is Belbin’s creative ‘plant’ gone wrong. The upside of ‘plants’ is that they are creative, imaginative and can solve very difficult problems, but the downside is that they can be unorthodox, forgetful and may find it harder to knuckle down and focus on more routine tasks when this is required. They can quickly become ineffective and fail to produce or get things done.

How to handle: Creative types certainly need space to think, so why not allow them 10 percent time to work on new ideas that will deliver a return to your business? But, remind them that they are not Michelangelo painting the Sistine Chapel; they need to produce now, not in four years, and even Michelangelo had to deliver an ROI. So, to harness and focus their creativity, set and document goals for coming up with creative ideas that could generate more revenue, profits and customers. Make sure to bonus them if these ideas work, but be accepting of mistakes or you will stifle creativity.

Having harnessed their creativity, make sure to set them projects/goals around the routine work with individual project milestones and a deadline to help them focus more on the routine aspects. This should make them more effective and productive by showing them what’s needed and by quantifying shortcomings, e.g. project slippage and delayed revenue.

2. Mozart: This is the Belbin ‘completer finisher’ gone wrong. We know these perfectionist types are conscientious, painstaking and deliver on time, but they can also take their perfectionism to extremes, which has its own problems. They may struggle to delegate, can be impatient or hypercritical of others, and may focus on the last 2 percent obsessively when 98 percent is good enough. Excessive levels of perfectionism can cost your business time, money and team harmony.

How to handle: Perfectionists may not make the best managers as they may be hypercritical of staff. They may struggle with being in charge of big, complicated projects as their perfectionism, inability to delegate and impatience may demoralize the team and slow the project. Try to focus them in on jobs requiring attention to detail.

3. Clean Hand Luke: This is a Belbin ‘coordinator’ taken to the extreme. They are mature, confident and great team leaders, they clarify goals, encourage decision making and delegate well. Dream employee? What can go wrong? Well, these employees may have fallen out of love with getting their hands dirty and might overly delegate leaving themselves with little work to do, and leaving you with an under-utilized resource.

How to handle: If your management culture expects coordinators to muck in when necessary, lead from the top. If things need doing, yet subordinates are fully utilized and some managers seem to be sitting back and not mucking in, lead by example and role up your sleeves and start mucking in too. Show them that if it’s not too menial a task for the director or CEO, it’s certainly not to big task for a team leader. This should embarrass them into action and help to change the culture.

4. Four Weddings: This is Belbin’s ‘team worker’ gone wrong. Ordinarily the team worker is a great asset; they are cooperative, mild, perceptive and diplomatic but they can be prone to indecision when unpopular decisions need to be made.

How to handle: Might not be suited to leadership positions without coaching on decision making processes. If they are in leadership positions, this is in some way fixable by coaching in developing a decision-making process. Coach them on how to establish facts, gather opinions, develop a rationale  to make an informed decision. Assign a business mentor who they can confide in and bounce their ideas off.

If you found these tips for dealing with difficult new hires helpful, be sure to tune in for part two of this article to discover more.

Read more in Talent Management

Kazim Ladimeji is a Chartered Member of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, and has been a practicing HR professional for 14 years. Kazim is the Director of The Career Cafe: a resource for start-ups, small business and job seekers.