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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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maybe he will

by Hagrinas In reply to This guy is not going to ...

The problem with broad generalizations is that they are never true. Many people can't change, but it does happen.

I once worked for a VP with extreme problems relating to people. He was overbearing and anti motivational. He ignored what others said, and often did not give them the chance to state their reasons for anything. Instead he would tell them how he could have done the entire project by himself in a few hours so there's no excuse. Sometimes he left during meetings since he had other more important things to do. I'm talking about meetings with him and a single employee who was called to his office.

Then one day, he changed. It seemed to happen overnight. He somehow found out that the way he acted was not effective or conducive to business. After that, he always heard people out before he told them why he was right. He no longer berated people and became more of a social butterfly.

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You're solving the wrong problem

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

I'm going to take a contrarian view on this one, based on all the previous responses. I think you should promote him to a management position, and I think you (and everyone else) have misidentified the problem.

There's a huge difference between management and leadership. This guy strikes me as having authority related issues, which means he's probably a lousy leader. He fails miserably in a group setting because he's intimidated at being a member of a group. OK, fine...but how is he one on one?

If he's the same way when dealing with people one at a time, then you do indeed have someone who can't be promoted at all. Based on your description of the situation I'd be willing to bet he does pretty well in a one on one situation, which is one of the critical skills for an entry level manager.

Test the waters. Before you give him a promotion give him overall responsibility for a discreet project and assign him a single resource. Make it clear that the reporting relationship is dotted line, that he's responsible for his resource's work assignments but not for administration. He has no hire/fire authority, but he is expected to write and deliver his resource's performance review.

Then sit back and see what happens. Don't be entirely disengaged, of course, but resist the urge to step in the moment things go a little south. Let him work it out on his own, only getting involved if things are going completely to ****.

I've got a nickel that says he'll thrive under the challenge and learn something about himself in the process. As you watch him grow and become more emotionally mature and sure of himself you can officially promote him and change the reporting relationship to solid line, adding more resources one at a time very carefully and very slowly so as not to overwhelm him. You may have a diamond in the rough here, and the only way you'll know that is to spend some time and energy polishing him.

Of course, if what you really have is just some iron pyrite you haven't lost anything by trying.

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sounds like

by Jaqui In reply to You're solving the wrong ...

you are suggesting he be made project lead.
head the team developing a project.

that would be my own recommendation.
a small team, of decently qualified people, each doing well in different aspects. let him make all the decisions about task assignments, scheduleing, reviews etc.

if he does well, give him a larger project.

if still does well, two small projects at same time.

at that point you know if he has what it takes to actually be a full manager, or if project lead is where he is best suited.

but, definately, never just promote to level of incompetence. that is nothing but trouble.

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Good to see you out here again

by Too Old For IT In reply to You're solving the wrong ...

Just wondering what your view is of parallel tracks? One that heads off into management (sales, business facing, etc) and one that is purely technical (keeps the servers, LAN, WAN, NOC, backbone etc up ... but the office is the last door on the left, out of the way).

Kinda like the technical rates in the navy. You become the acknowledged expert at say fire control, you don't ever get to the Pentagon, but you still get paid the same.

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Good to be seen

by amcol In reply to Good to see you out here ...

I was out of the country for a while, and things in the office have gotten very busy, so I haven't had too many opportunities to participate in discussions. Thanks for the thought.

I think parallel tracks are a great idea under the right set of circumstances. Early in my own career I was working in the consulting arm of a Fortune 500 financial services company and had the opportunity to spend a couple of years in sales. I was so good at it that it's lucky I was allowed to return to my technical roots, but that's another story. Actually, it did turn out to be my ticket into management...the technical skills and knowledge coupled with the sales experience made me a candidate for a technical management spot, and things went on from there.

In this particular case I'm not sure it's appropriate, however, at least not just yet. The employee in question seems to have some baggage to deal with, and putting him in another department having nothing to do with IT might be the worst thing for him. I base that assessment on the fact that the baggage seems to have a lot to do with interpersonal communication issues. The best chance this person has to improve and overcome his limitations is with his current manager, who knows him best...and seems to care what happens to him, more to the point.

After a year or two of success at addressing his underlying issues then, yes, I think it would be a great idea to move him around and get him some other more varied experience. It's a great career management technique for anyone.

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Moving around a bit (or a lot)

by Too Old For IT In reply to Good to be seen

You remind me of the consulting bit I did at a major truck manufacturer.

As a management trainee, you spent some time in every department, niche, nook and cranny of the place. Now, rarely did you actually DO work, due to the union contracts, but if you gained the respect of the line workers (or maintenance, or whatever) they would let you watch real closly, and maybe put a hand to it yourself.

(When I or a management trainee did "work", we had to make sure that a union employee was on the clock, but idle at the time ... hands in the pockets idle. Sometimes we had to call an "extra" over, just to make sure we had someone who was idle, so we couldn't be accused of taking "work" away from a represented employee.)

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Parallel tracks ... NOT

by OneShotStop In reply to Good to see you out here ...

The problem with the parallel tracks is that they are not parallel. The technical side rarely matches the pay scale of the management side. Yes, it is a much better place for the no social skills tech geek (myself included), but the rewards are not as rich.

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Still subordinate

by DCreader In reply to Parallel tracks ... NOT

It's not just about the money, either. Parallel tracks still put the techies who understand the details under the managers who understand the big picture (if only that were really possible without understanding the details).

I get the idea that people are pidgeonholed as detail-oriented, just because they can work with details. The rest of the people are automatically assigned "big picture" jobs, even though they may have no capabilities at all.

Somehow social skills are the key to getting the "big picture" in one's mind across to others. Often average managers just dumb everything down to the point where it's no longer true, just to make a paletable presentation.

There's nothing really parallel about it.

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Therein lies the problem

by Too Old For IT In reply to Parallel tracks ... NOT

Rather than management-or-out, most companies would be better served if someone tacked the CFO, and figured out a promotion and pay track for techies that equalled management (or sales or whomever).

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Management Training

by Diana O In reply to You're solving the wrong ...

Why oh why does everyone assume that management skill is somehow just "inborn"? Yes, being an extrovert or an introvert is, but not being a manager. I have worked with and for more people who are managers, and behave inappropriately in their role (can you say "gossip about her/his employees to everyone else in the department" and "speculate on who's getting laid off in the middle of the floor in a loud voice"?).

Anyone who manages people needs management training to start and at regular intervals thereafter. And it's not just about people skills, there are laws that have to be followed (state and federal) when you supervise others.

My management training gave me lots of confidence because I knew what to do in most situations, and where to go for help when I didn't.

Get the guy some training. Ask him to read some things (such as Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace), and walk through some better ways to handle things without being critical. (My boss says, "That was good, but let's try to improve on it. What could you do next time?"

Of course, not everyone is cut out to manage others. If that is the case, and he doesn't want to do it, see if you can get HR to add a "grade" or senior version of his current position so he has a career path and a target to shoot for for more money and responsibility.

Good luck, and I hope he realizes what a good mentor you are!!

Diana O

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