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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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Off the mark

by amcol In reply to Management Training

I don't think I've ever been involved with any organization, either via direct connection or through collegial access, that gave anyone a management job without some kind of training, either in advance of taking the position or sometime soon after.

Management is not something that just comes naturally, but training alone is insufficient. Training's required, but you can't train someone who lacks natural ability. It's a combination of the two.

The bad behavior you describe is more of a leadership failure than that of management. Two completely different things, and while one can certainly take any number of training classes in leadershp this is an area in which natural ability is absolutely a prerequisite.

People should get training for any career, but in management and leadership as in medicine and law and carpentry and plumbing a certain amount of natural ability needs to be there first. It's not one or the other...it's both.

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Toastmasters

by Stan0228 In reply to Management Training

Toastmaster training of public speaking, planning, structuring presentaitons can spill over into the daily conversation and planning what and how to say it. Have him involved in committees with a mentor.

Don't give up on him. Let him know his weak points and strong points. Have a written plan of what to attack first with miles stones and time lines.
Good luck.

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Asperger Syndrome

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

Is there any chance this person suffers from Asperger Syndrome, which is a form of autism?

Individuals with AS can exhibit a variety of characteristics and the disorder can range from mild to severe. Persons with AS show marked deficiencies in social skills, have difficulties with transitions or changes and prefer sameness. They often have obsessive routines and may be preoccupied with a particular subject of interest. They have a great deal of difficulty reading nonverbal cues (body language) and very often the individual with AS has difficulty determining proper body space. Often overly sensitive to sounds, tastes, smells, and sights, the person with AS may prefer soft clothing, certain foods, and be bothered by sounds or lights no one else seems to hear or see. It's important to remember that the person with AS perceives the world very differently. Therefore, many behaviors that seem odd or unusual are due to those neurological differences and not the result of intentional rudeness or bad behavior, and most certainly not the result of "improper parenting".

By definition, those with AS have a normal IQ and many individuals (although not all), exhibit exceptional skill or talent in a specific area. Because of their high degree of functionality and their naivet?, those with AS are often viewed as eccentric or odd and can easily become victims of teasing and bullying. While language development seems, on the surface, normal, individuals with AS often have deficits in pragmatics and prosody. Vocabularies may be extraordinarily rich and some children sound like "little professors." However, persons with AS can be extremely literal and have difficulty using language in a social context.

I have worked with at least 3 individuals over the years, which have this disorder and the person you are describing certainly has some of the symptoms.

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Glad to see this post, I was going to bring it up

by edf_pa In reply to Asperger Syndrome

Looks exactly like Asperger's. I am a parent to an AS child, fitting the above description almost perfectly. The differences in these people are subtle until they are thrust into a "spotlight" situation.
I also work with someone who fits the description of AS, but I don't know whether he's ever been diagnosed. He's advanced through IT, to the point where he is now the DBA. Although he has no directs below him, there are many dotted lines from him in this particular role. We've brought him along carefuuly, encouraging him to present in group settings, at first in small groups of people he is comfortable with, then growing the audience through time.
Soemthing off-the-wall that might be worth trying - if he is diagnosed with an Autistic Spectrum Disorder, which includes Asperger's, HR may view him differently and may make exception for him. Mention the Disabilities Act and you may get their attention.
Good luck.

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AS, comes with the territory?

by tyr67360 In reply to Asperger Syndrome

I have a son who exhibited many peculiar behaviors -
rudeness, thoughtlessness, obsession with minute
details (legos, computers, fantasy games/worlds). A
psychologist friend suggested he might have AS. I read
a few books and studied my son for two years and have
concluded he does. Funny thing though - as I was
learning about this I began to realize two of the three
employees I supervise align with these symptoms. You
mentioned that you have supervised three persons with
Asperger. It appears to me that the field of technology is
a perfect fit for those who devour and retain mundane
facts. Of the two employees I have one (webmaster)
prefers to avoid people and interaction with others. He
likes all the information given to him (spoon fed) and he
will take it from there. The other (direct Macintosh
support) is by nature required to interface. He just
wants to work with problems and equipment but finds
the best clues are usually given by the people so he is
forced to "deal with it". My Mac guy is in very much the
same perdicament as the subject of this thread.

Here is how I handle it. We have come to agree that his
people skills are lacking and in need of refinement. But
he also agrees that he has to work with people to be
effective in his role. I minimize the interruptions and
interactions by a in-house developed Help Desk. This
allows me to handle the difficult people cases,
circumvents the anger brought on by interruptions to
the task at hand and keeps some personallity and
emotion out of the communication. In addition I have
helped him to see and understand that he is great at
techincal support and expressed the reallity that he
may never be suited to a supervisory position. He has
accepted this. Now the real problem is that he wants to
move forward in the company too ( especially
financially). It has been my responsibility to raise the
percieved value of his giftedness so I can give him
financial rewards that keep him happy and employed.
The trick is in teaching HR the added value of these
people who are cream of the crop technically.
Fortunately this is not too diffiicult. Because he is
continually learning and pursuing deeper knowledge
he is at the same time become more and more
valuable. This causes me to re-evaluate his Job
Description more often than you would normally. At
each new realm of responsibility I begin gnawing away
at my boss and our HR department to recognize the
value of these new skills and repsonsibilities. I also
have the "what if he leaves" which works well in this
situation since his skills are so specialized and he is
the only one (besides myself) who can get us out of
trouble in a deadline intense environment.

To summarize: you may not ever (with good conscience
) be able to recommend your employee for a
supervisory position. However, remember people skills
are just that skills and they can be learned. So if you
have someone who is teachable you may be able to
work with them. If you do not have someone who can/
will learn people skills you need a come to Jesus
meeting where you tell them the truth about what their
prospect of management is. Of course you could shelter
them by giving them more things to manage and less
people interaction. In any case as their supervisor you
need to tell them the "truth in love". Commit to them to
help them grow if they are willing to do the work. If they
are not willing to do the hard job - change - then
explain that is why they are limited in their ability to
grow in the company.

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Some Speculation that...

by GSG In reply to AS, comes with the territ ...

There has been some speculation that Bill Gates has Asperger's syndrome. I read an article about this recently. Apparently, he's admitted that he has issues with some social situations, and, whether you are a Microsoft, Linux, Mac, or whatever devotee, you have to admit, the man is brilliant. It does seem that the tech industry does seem to grab these apparently eccentric people.

Also, coming from this guy's point of view. I was in his situation, and felt I had to take a supervisory role to make more money. I was terrible at it. Luckily, I had a manager that realized I was terribly unhappy, and she helped me to transition in another direction. Namely, into IT. Since then I've been quite happy, and have trained myself to be more comfortable in some of these social situations, and am better able to deal with some of the interpersonal relationships that I have to have as a Project Manager. Be frank with this guy and tell him that you've noticed that he feels uncomfortable in meetings, and ask him what you can do to help. It could be that he's just an extreme introvert and by trying to fit in and become less so, he's inappropriate.

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It's possible

by Hagrinas In reply to Asperger Syndrome

AS is an autistic spectrum disorder, and has many common characteristics with autism, but is not technically a form of autism even though that's an easy way to put it. It's a pervasive developmental disorder, and is very closely related to autism with a lot of overlap.

It's also a medical diagnosis, so I personally wouldn't go there (neither would any doctor) without much more information. But you may be right.

Many necessary aspects of AS were not mentioned, so they may or may not be there. But there are other things that could cause those symptoms ranging from ADD to simply being expected consequences of being brilliant. I covered that in another post.

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change of tact

by rrgilmore_2001 In reply to Help managing a very bril ...

IT sounds like you are not reinforcing the good with the bad.... In other words say something when he does something good not only when it is bad.... How old is this guy? young under 25? I think you have to not care how he reacts when you get on his case. Just let him have it... I would call him to my office tell him we have to talk and you are going to listen.... **** either get the point or he won't and if that is the case he still needs to grow up and that is that..

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more background

by RobRoyNJ In reply to change of tact

there are currently three levels for non-management IT in my company and he has received 2 promotions in 2 years and cannot move up formally. He's received great reviews and deserved them. He knows he's good and he knows he's appreciated. In fact, I sometimes wish he wasn't so secure with his current position but he is central to all sorts of major projects and is the resource of last resort for many other people in the department.

He is in his late 20's and was one of those guys that was doing consulting all the way through college so he has lots of hands on experience. He worked with a start-up that went belly up before coming to my company. I suspect but don't know that he made a good bit of $$ as the bubble was inflating.

You're point is a good one. I'm best as a manager with people that are more receptive to coaching. I don't like to ride employees and this might be a time where I need to do just that. He's very enchanted with becoming a manager and I won't promote him simply to keep him.

Thanks to everyone that has offered suggestions. Very helpful for the new ideas and the reinforcement.

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Focus on Wrong Employee

by Wayne M. In reply to more background

I may be reading between the lines too much, but I would suggest the underlying problem is with the remaining staff. Why have you let a single individual become "central to all sorts of major projects and is the resource of last resort for many other people in the department"?

How does the referenced employee relate to his peers? If his interactions in meetings are an indication, he may be well intimidating the others and keeping them down so that he can shine. The first order of business is to get him to hand over responsibility for some of his current tasks to his peers. Pick one task and one team member to take over. Meet individually with both and brief them separately, then have a kickoff meeting with both. Get updates on progress during weekly staff meetings. If the individual is not able to train and turnover a task to a peer, he will be unable to delegate as a manager.

I assume your staff has weekly staff meetings. You need to maintain control of the meeting. If the individual is quiet (common among technical staff), ask for his recommendations. If he makes inappropriate jokes or comments, immediately cut him off and state publicly that you find the comment inappropriate or offensive, don't wait until after the meeting, do it immediately.

You may want to recommend Toastmasters (find them on the web) to the individual. The dues are cheap, but the set up is pretty much learn by doing. He should at least learn some meeting etiquette, though some people find their rah-rah nature a little bit grating.

Focus on the remainder of your staff. Let the individual in question know you are looking at staff improvement and ask for his help. Only after this person shows some ability to work with his peers should you consider any additional promotion to management or a newly defined track. If he is unable to work well with his peers, you need to slowly ease him out of key roles.

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