April 4, 2016

The Pros and Cons of Hiring ‘Challenging’ Employees


Today, sixty percent of workers are asked to take workplace assessments by their employers. This means more managers than ever have insights into how their employees work in a given team and what to expect when a new hire walks into the office on their first day.

These insights can be exciting when we’re talking about the “fun” traits, like creativity and extroversion – but what about those traits that scare the heck out of managers? What about those challenging employees, also known as “challengers”?

First off, remember that there are no “good” or “bad” traits. Everyone falls somewhere on a spectrum of personality traits and work values. Still, when you hear the word “challenger,” there’s a good chance that it brings up negative thoughts.

However, being a challenger isn’t necessarily a bad trait. Challengers can be important to your teams. They can be potential managers and internal motivators – as long as you know how to manage them properly, that is.

With that in mind, let’s explore the pros and cons of challenging employees and how to best manage this strong personality type.

What Is a Challenger?

Challengers do exactly what it says on the tin: They challenge. Employees who score more on the challenger end of the personality spectrum tend to be more opinionated, direct, skeptical, and critical.

The Pros of Hiring Challengers

Challengers can be a bit skeptical, meaning they are less vulnerable to groupthink and very unlikely to be managerial sycophants. These types of employees won’t fall for just anything or be pushed around. They’ll stay guarded and may need a little more convincing than the average employee.

While it can be frustrating to be challenged at every turn by a direct report, it can also keep managers and fellow employees from falling into creative ruts or bad habits. Challengers can also keep the moral and ethical atmosphere of the office in tip-top shape and call management and executives out on promises unkept. Challengers are naturals when it comes to law, sales negotiation, and fields where specific parameters must be adhered to.

SunsetBecause challengers are not gullible, they are more apt to think outside of the box. They don’t generally fall in line with the status quo.

Beneficial Ways to Leverage Your Challenger:

  1. Bring them to proposal meetings. Challengers often do well when negotiating proposals and justifying specific line items or costs.
  2. Ask them to vet vendors. Your challenger will happily poke holes in a vendor’s pricing, pitch, and proposal, saving you time and probably money.
  3. Let them research new processes. Challengers are open to changing things up, as long as there is a good reason to do so. Let them find the newest and best ways to improve your work processes!
  4. Have them train new employees. To build resilience in your new employees, pair them with challenger employees. Challengers will rarely accept excuses. They’ll keep new employees on strict schedules – but also help them fit into the workplace and find solutions to problems when necessary.

The Cons of Hiring Challengers

Research from Connectria Hosting found that 65 percent workers say they have “dreaded” going to work because of a colleague. Challengers have the potential to be the employees who make their colleagues dread the office.

Challengers can come across as bullies from time to time, but that’s rarely intentional. Their strong personalities can cause tension with other employees in the office. They may seem constantly hostile toward or opposed to things, people, and ideas.

Situations to Avoid With Challengers:

  1. Don’t put your challenger on a large, slow-moving team. They may feel stifled or frustrated.
  2. Avoid making your challenger initiate sales. Challengers aren’t built for the “yes-man” role required by many direct sales positions.
  3. Don’t pair your challenger with another very strong personality. Both employees will wrestle with another for control, and very little will get done.

The reality is that you will probably have a challenger employee on your team at some point. While challengers can be very beneficial to your business, it depends on where you place them in the organization.

Challengers respond to the situations they are placed in. If a challenger becomes disruptive or disrespectful, it’s not because they want to be difficult – it’s because they want to change the situation for the better. When a challenger’s behavior gets out of hand, your best bet is to have a conversation with them about why their actions are not helping. Challengers may be skeptics, but if you tell them why their behavior isn’t logical or helpful, they’ll often rein it in.

A version of this article originally appeared on the Vitru blog.

Read more in Management Styles

Ryan Mead is the CEO and founder of Vitru, an employee assessment tool that provides recruiters, hiring professionals, coaches, and managers with the insights they need to manage their teams and make better hiring decisions. Powered by science, yet practical and easy to use for a variety of teams, Vitru works for organizations of all sizes. Want to learn more? Visit our blog or sign up for a free team-building personality test account to assess your team today! Tweet me at @GoVitru