The employee from Mars

I managed a large production team for ten years at a company that produced computer software how-to guides for end-users. Some of the team members were IT people, some were graphic artists, and some were copy editors. Due to the fact that this particular company liked to reorg what seemed like every three days, the personnel of my team would shift pretty often. One month I would be managing people a, b, and c and in the next reshuffle, I would be managing people x, y, and z. It could be crazy but it was like a personnel management boot camp and I never got complacent.

One memorable management interlude happened after I hired a guy who was technically brilliant. In fact, I was so impressed with his knowledge at the interview that I somehow failed to notice that he had also apparently been raised by wolves.

It took him roughly a nanosecond to alienate himself from everyone within a two-mile radius. He wasn't rude or nasty but just terribly "unsocialized." The first thing he did was install his own Mr. Coffee pot at his desk. (I explained to him about fire hazards and how there was free coffee just down the hall.) He always accepted these instructions good-naturedly, but the strange behaviors never seemed to stop. Teeth-brushing at the sink in the communal kitchen/break room. Toenail clipping at his desk. Once I explained to him that a behavior wasn't appropriate that particular would stop. But then some other bizarre one would take its place.

After a while, and I don't think I'm imagining this, I started to get strange looks from other managers and employees who had to work with the guy. Looks that said, "Are you kidding me? You actually hired this guy?" However, none his behavior was actually affecting his productivity or the quality of his work. What could I do? Send him to charm school? At what point does a manager step in and at what point is it none of her business?

Ultimately, I kept him on. One reason is because of the sheer earnestness in his approach to his job. He was always eager to do what was asked of him. The other reason is that I realized that sometimes genius comes at a sacrifice. He could be exasperating, but he could also be innovative. He could be perplexing but he could also write better than most of the other people on staff. He was not the "norm," but then how boring would like be if everyone fit into that category?