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Help managing a very brilliant employee

By RobRoyNJ ·
I have a person on my staff that is easily the most talented IT guy I've work with. He seemingly can do it all and can do it quickly and without supervision. I've been working hard to get this guy more exposure, more money, etc. and he is really at the peak of our company pay scale for someone that is not a manager of other employees.

He's expressed an interest in doing more and making more and I would like him to do this with my company and on my larger team.

The problem: In group settings the guy is a train wreck. He will either shrink quietly into a corner and defer to anyone else in the room or he will annoyingly finish everyone's sentances, make really bad (sometimes offensive) jokes, etc. A bit of a Jeckel and Hyde... I've talked to him about this and he is very sensative and doesn't react well. Still, he wants to manage people and get more freedom and interesting projects. These aren't good traits for a manager of others.

I don't want this guy to leave my company (we need more people like him and frankly, it only helps me as a manager to have others really kick butt on my team.) How can I approach him with this constructive criticism and help him get what he and I want?

I'm pursuing the creation of a new position in our new fiscal year but I don't have high hopes that this will happen as HR is very much against this kind of deal.

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A few things

by jmgarvin In reply to Help managing a very bril ...

1) First of all, he probably hasn't had much exposure to dealing with people in a corporate setting. I'd (god I loath to say this) send him to a sensitivity class.

2) Put him in charge of something, but with no reports. You can promote him, but he doesn't have to have any reports. Create a position like Lead System Administator of Project X. Then let him go nuts.

3) If he doesn't do well in meetings, just give him the minutes and let him continue to work during the meeting.

4) Sometimes the best thing to do is NOT let people manage. You can put him on other projects, but some people just can't lead/manage others. So don't put a square peg in a round hole.

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Round and Square

by MIA1BXA In reply to A few things

Mucho good points here jmgarvin!
Efficient workers often dont make good managers. A good worker will always be a good worker, and if he's exceptional then pay him what he's worth or risk loosing him.
This is what is going wrong with our corporate America. Promote who's right, not who you like or feel sorry for. Why must we Americans manage our companies with our hearts on our sleeves? Stop feeling sorry for the guy and just give him a raise according to his merit.
Manage and promote according to merit, not feelings.

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Concentrate on his strengths

by ciscoguyinkc In reply to Round and Square

In my opinion, it is a waste of time and energy to hone soft-skills. The only way a person will ever fix soft-skill problems is if the person WANTS to fix them. Then he will approach you for help. But that type of change comes from within, not an outside source. Spend 80% of your efforts improving his strengths. Manage around his weaknesses. Sure, at review time you need to address his weaknesses, but spend the majority of the time discussing his strengths, and give him opportunities to improve them, and to really shine. He'll make a bigger impact on the success of your projects, he can make more money and he won't feel bad.
Now, some people never really shine at communication until they are in a leadership role. How would you ever find out whyhen dealing with this type of person? Maybe one of the following will work?
Make him a project-leader for an important project. He'll have tracking, reporting and consultative responsibilities. While he is not in charge of people, he is the go-to guy when someone needs help. Remember how good it feels when someone "needs" your strengths? It gets the guy used to working with others as a leader. You can also start taking him and your team on some team-building (I HATE that term) functions at your local Chamber of Commerce networking functions. He'll be exposed to a lot of people, a lot of executives, a lot of sales people. In short, a lot of professional networkers with various communications tool-kits. He might look at them and say "WOW! How do they do that?" He might not. Bottom line, however, you worked on his communication skills without insulting him.

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Management Responsibilty

by jharrell In reply to Round and Square

If this is a good employee, them mentor him. His problem could be a simple as not being prepared for meetings. Unfortunately many individuals that call a meeting do not provide an agenda before hand. Have you provided feedback to him during one-on-one conversations? Some people do lack meeting etiquette but they need to be informed of their shortcomings. I have seen many ?managers? that did not have any technical expertise but they had an MBA. These are the individuals that ?shoot from the hip? without any idea of the possible ramifications of there decision. In short it is every managers responsibility to provide both positive and negative feedback, provide an acceptable career path, determine how to get the most out of their direct reports. Maybe, as you instill these positive management traits, they will rub off on him as well as others.

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I agree, and you can do more

by BlueKnight In reply to Management Responsibilty

As jharrell stated, if this is truly a good employee, it is up to you, his manager, to mentor him and "groom" him for advancement. While you're doing so, continually evaluate his progress (or lack thereof) and include your observations in his performance reviews. Watch for traits/behavior that might tell you that no matter how good this guy is "in the trenches," he won't make a decent manager -- you don't want to short him on mentoring/training, but you also don't want to waste your valuable time after a point if it won't pay off in the future. Also, be up front with the employee... tell him honestly, that you think he is top notch and you'd like to help him move up. While you're at it, tactfully let him know where he needs improvement, and why - give specific examples so he has no doubt as to what you mean.

One more thing that jharrell made note of... if an upcoming meeting is yours, make sure you send out an agenda beforehand. Prior to the meeting, review the agenda with the "problematic" employee so he'll be prepared. This may help keep him from shrinking into a corner as you put it. He may also give you some additional ideas for the meeting. After your meetings, debrief with the employee so you can 1) get his feedback (which may give you insight as to why he said/did something you disliked, and 2) provide feedback to him so he knows that his participation was valuable, or that something in particular he said was off-color. I think most of us at one time or another make "shoot from the hip" comments, and most of us know where the line is that makes comments off-color or offensive. Others, like this employee, need help locating that line -- some never find it.

Best of luck to you both.

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Management's Real Responsibility

by Workin4$$$ In reply to I agree, and you can do m ...

The only responisbility Managers (and this guy's a VP) have is to their shareholders.

Employees are replaceable. All of them. Management is as well.

Employees are necessary to meet company objectives and satisfy the pockets of the shareholders. Nothing more.

Employees who are management material will make themselves known, and if they are ready, they can be promoted. Some people never have the hope of becoming managers, and anyone who thinks mentoring helps is wrong in my opinion.

When I was an employee, I felt that I deserved to be a manager. I bought into the rhetoric that is pandered about how everyone can be a manager, and that my manager's responsibility is to coach me to be one.

I became a manager 3-months after I shunned this approach and decided the only way to become a manager was to not rely on my manager to manage my own psychology and career. I took into into my own hands. 1-year after making manager I made director. 5-years later, I made VP.

The only way to advance an employee is have them come to this decision of their own accord. I cannot provide petty means of motivation to all of my employees. I reward the successful ones, and discipline the unsuccessful ones.

It's the only logical way. People are a commodity in any organization. If a company could by without them, they would.

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People are a commodity?

by jakaiju1 In reply to Management's Real Respons ...

Although I agree with the gist of your response, one cannot seriously assert that "people are a commodity in any orginization." By describing employees as "managed material" is simply de-huminizing, and is an opinion that is (thank God) not shared by all managers.

I have managed employees in a lesser capacity, but have not been in your position. However, since you are an upper-level manager, you should know that employees [as people] are still human, and like it or not, bring in the human condition to any job. What I mean is that people cannot simply turn off being people and change into efficient, money-making machines as soon as the work day starts.

Granted that employee behavior, as well as performance, is dictated by company guidelines, there remains a certain amount of behavioral margin for people to function in and still be efficient at helping the company make money. The way you seem to want employees to behave is to be like robots -- completely stoic and without a soul.

Yes, good performance should be rewarded and bad performance deserves discipline, but are you considering the effects of employee morale to overall production? It seems that your not really concerned about this aspect and if you treat all of the company "commodities" as something less than human, then your going to have a lot of declining morale, and subsequently less productivity and greater resentment towards you and the company. The opposite is true also -- a manager providing a little motivation to an employee now and then can be a good thing.

Somewhere I read or heard a quote from a successful business person who stated that a company's employees are it's greatest asset. When you think about, that's true because the employees are the ones running the whole operation (even the managers). The employees are the ones who interact and deal with other people, especially the customers, who make the decisions and who operate the business machines (not the other way around).

Maybe your position doesn't require you to be a good people manager so all this doesn't matter to you. However, you stated, "when I was an employee," don't you mean that you are STILL an employee of the same company even after reaching your VP position? Unless you are actually the owner/CEO of the company, you are technically still an employee -- one who is, in your terms, "managed material" by others who are higher up. Even your user name, "Working4$$$," indicates where your real values lie (as in the dillusional idea that the acquisition of lots of money and material things are the only true measure of success).

Your stance towards people in your organization makes you seem a little resentful. I wonder, could that have been because your were treated with disdain by managers in your climb to the top?

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We all are working for Money

by Workin4$$$ In reply to People are a commodity?

Tell me different and you're lying. Sure, you get to do something you may like, but take away the money and you'll leave pretty fast.

Yes, I'm still an employee. I report to a pair of CEO's and a Board of Directors. I'm not in the same company I started out in though. I tend to be brought into organizations when they're having morale problems to get them fixed. (that's a joke)

Do some of my employees suffer from demotivation? Of course they do. Empowerment is up to themselves.

Do my CEO's and board care if I'm having a bad day/month/year? That my cat just died?

Of course not. They're concerned that I produce. They still don't want to see me cry in front of them. I don't mis-treat my employees. I use them as tools for the companies productivity. If a robot could do their job, I'd buy one. I don't have to educate a robot. I don't have to coach one either.

I didn't mean I can buy and sell people as commodities. I meant that they have their uses, and when the day is done, if they're management material, they will get noticed by me and promoted where appropriate.

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Right, yet wrong again.

by darinhamer In reply to People are a commodity?

Take away the money. I'm gone. I've got a family I have to support. But I'm not JUST working for money. That's the point in my earlier post. You don't have to just be doing one thing. I'm working for money. I'm working for career advancement. I'm working for personal satisfaction. I'm working so that I can do some good. It isn't all about money. And the "use them, then dispose of them" mentality is deplorable. Of course, you're the VP. I'm sure you know better than I do. The day will come, though, when you will be the one who is used up. And I wonder if you will feel the same way.

Good luck to you.

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So right, yet so horribly wrong!

by darinhamer In reply to Management's Real Respons ...

Some of the things that Workin4$$$ says are true. Not everyone is management material. Employees should be replaceable and a company should never allow itself to get in a situation where someone is irreplaceable. If you find you're in that situation, figure out a way to get out of it quickly. And, ONE of the responsibilities IS to put money in the pockets of the shareholders.

But understand that managers and especially VPs have obligations to others besides the shareholders. The data and research--and common sense--on management all show that it is not only possible to seek profit as well as higher ideals, but it essential to do so. One of those ideals is to do some succession planning. Good companies don't see their employees as a commodity input, but as a resource that, if invested in properly, can help make a profit. Yes, the labor is a commodity input, but the employees are part of the company's assets.

Companies that have values like you have expressed have no soul, no character. They don't add much value to our society and while they can be financially successful for awhile, they tend to be short-lived in the whole scheme of things. The long-lasting, visionary companies have a reason for existing other than to just make a profit, and I think they would applaud this guy's efforts to help his employee achieve his personal goals while adding value to the company.

It is rather smug to make it to VP, but to turn your back on others who might also like to be there some day. But then if all you're doing is working for $$$, I guess that point will be lost on you.

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