Dysfunctional Misfits and More…

Oct 20, 2003

I was at a management seminar recently where I am convinced that fully 15 or 20% of the attendees were there only because their firms told them to go. And my guess is that a few of those who were there because their firms MADE them go were there because their employers are trying to turn them around. These are the dysfunctional team members, who, while perhaps very capable people on some level and already in a management position, have a lot to learn. You know who I am talking about— the ones who blurt out inappropriate stuff. Maybe they have a chip on their shoulder. They may be bad team players. Or perhaps they have such poor communication skills that it’s really hurting them. Or maybe some of these misfits are people who ignore all management duties and only do technical work. There are a lot of these people out there. We’ve all seen them and we all probably have one or more of ‘em working for us today. But in some cases, you really have to wonder… is it possible to make someone a better manager just by sending them to a seminar? I don’t know. Maybe you can make a difference. Beyond management seminars, here are some of the other methods I have seen used to turn around these dysfunctional misfits: Heavy mentoring. By “heavy” mentoring I am talking about the misfit’s immediate supervisor taking on the challenge of turning around the misfit and giving it his or her all. This usually requires a lot of time… many hours of one-on-one— during and after work hours— to get the misfit to see the errors of his or her ways. It also takes a supervisor who is willing to be completely honest about the perceptions of and ramifications of the misfit’s behavior. In my experience, this is the best course IF you have a supervisor who is an extremely good communicator and a misfit who has experienced some of the downside resulting from his or her behavior (lost promotion, negative feedback in public, etc.). Most supervisors really aren’t equipped to handle this so it rarely works. Shadowing. This is even more intense than heavy mentoring. It basically requires that the supervisor sit with and follow the employee around through their entire day, in some cases for weeks at a time. Every interaction with others is discussed and critiqued and the employee is given continuous feedback, good and bad, on his or her behavior. This, too, is difficult to pull off, as there are few people with the skills required to deliver this kind of feedback and fewer still who can or will block out this much time to save someone else. Most supervisors will throw the towel in much earlier. Personal coaching. This is similar to method numbers 1 and 2, except that an outsider is hired to do it. This can be effective... however, just as with supervisors, there aren’t many personal coaches who have what it takes to turn someone around. Plus, it is expensive. Companies who want to turn around a misfit can spend anywhere from $5,000 to $50,000 or more on a coach to work with a single individual. But maybe it’s worth it. Maybe this person is a star performer but a misfit nevertheless. When you think of downtime costs, lost revenues, and setbacks in building critical business units, it may be worth a well thought-out gamble to turn the misfit around and hire a personal coach. Change their manager. Sometimes a combination of two people just doesn’t work. Call it “personality conflict” (not that I am a big believer in that, by the way!) or call it whatever you’d like. Or maybe the supervisor has too close of a personal relationship such that he or she can’t be honest in dealing with the misfit. Or maybe there is some other reason the misfit’s manager cannot turn the misfit around. Regardless, there may be someone else who is better equipped for the project than the current manager so sometimes it makes sense to consider a change. An all-new role for the misfit. This is another option and another way to give the misfit a new manager. Perhaps there is a role that allows the misfit’s skills to be used yet minimizes the misfit’s negative qualities? Isolating the misfit. Isolation is one step away from firing but may allow the firm to get ready for the misfit’s departure and therefore may be a worthwhile step to take. Put the misfit in a job where he or she has no one reporting to him or her and yet a place where the misfit can still make a positive contribution to the enterprise. Often, in A/E firms, these are full-time business development jobs. Or perhaps the role is some sort of technical or design guru (though the problem with these jobs is, if the person is going to be useful to the firm, they will inevitably still be required to interact with others). Firing. Many times the conclusion of management is that in spite of the misfit’s good qualities there just isn’t enough time or money to turn them around. The key here is the departure takes place on the company’s terms and not on the misfit’s terms to minimize damage to morale and client relationships. If the parting is inevitable then recruitment for the misfit’s replacement should begin immediately and all other potential liabilities from the parting of ways considered and prepared for. Originally published 10/20/03

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