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Managing the odd man out

By angry_white_male ·
We have a programmer who's does high quality work. Problem is that his personality is a very poor fit for our department. We're a small IT organization - only 4 people (hiring 3 more this year) and he stands out like a sore thumb with his personality and dress style (paid shirt and red tie). While I can see past his little quirks that makes him very much an individual, it's his inability to accept "no" as an answer and co-exist in a structured environment where there are boundaries, coming in late, leaving early... dealing with his personal/family problems in an open office environment, treats everything like a joke, etc.

Even though his plate is very full, he'll take it upon himself to tend to helpdesk type of duties when the appropriate people aren't around. His willingness to help is appreciated - but his lack of knowledge in those areas for which we have staff for can cause more problems in the end.

When told no (or even "yes, but not right now"), or given direction contrary to his own wants, he acts like a wounded child and goes over or around me to my boss to get a ruling in his favor.

Right now, little bads are starting to add up and are beginning to outweigh the huge good that his extraordinary talents bring to our organization. He's in his late 30's and it's unlikely he'll change his ways. He comes from some big name IT companies where people like him are easily absorbed and don't stand out as much and I'm starting to doubt the decision to bring him on board in that we may be the wrong environment for him.

Like most programmers, he'll probably move on after spending a couple of years with us and this will become a moot point... but how do you handle extremely talented people who fit poorly with the company culture??

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You already know the answer

by amcol In reply to Managing the odd man out

You have three choices: accept him as he is, quirks and all; find a way to channel his "high quality work" in a very back room, non-public way; or, let him go.

First question to ask yourself is this: whose problem is this? Have any of your customers identified this guy as being anything other than rather eccentric? Has anyone complained about him, taken issue with his attitude, expressed outrage at his sartorial choices, or otherwise indicated to you that you have a problem?

If not, have you asked anyone about it?

Too often we project or anticipate problems, blowing things out of proportion. He does "huge good", has "extraordinary talents", and is "extremely talented". Who has the problem here?

You don't like his personality, his mixture of personal and professional, his pouting childishness, and his propensity to go around you to the boss ("Daddy") to get his way. I don't blame you. And you're right, you won't get him to change. But he's very smart and presumably gets good results. Can you work within that?

Of the three options I presented I might choose door number two. I know you're a small shop, but that doesn't mean everyone in it has to have a customer facing role. Lock this guy in a room, give him some real high value responsibilities and ownerships that will make him feel important and like he's contributing value (which he already is), and let 'er rip. Then find a way to ignore the nonsense. You have more control over yourself than you do over him.

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wierd

by ericl_w19 In reply to Managing the odd man out

Since you think he is wierd and you dont like his attitude.maybe you dont understand this person or how to work with him.Maybe you need to look at you own ways of doing things before condeming the man to **** because of your viewpoint of him.just because he doesnt do it your way all the time doesnt make him bad.

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Who Is In Charge?

by Wayne M. In reply to Managing the odd man out

You have the right and responsibility to manage. You need to assert that to both your superiors and your staff.

The first, immediate issue, is to stop the end run around your authority. Go talk to your boss, now, and ask to be allowed to handle the problem employee. Tell you boss that to ensure clarity in tasking, you need to be able to make the decisions. Ask him to forward any staff requests back to you. Intentionally or not, by even considering staff requests, he is undermining you. Do this now, it cannot wait.

The next step is to determine what type of work environment you are comfortable in leading. Sit down with a piece of paper and decide which things you want to enforce and which things you can leave up to the individual. Are you really concerned with a plaid shirt and red tie? If so, determine what is acceptable and write it down. If you are unconcerned, ignore it and don't raise the topic again. Consider the same thing about work hours, etc. There is no need to be overbearing, but the staff needs to adapt to your work style. Make sure you write this down; it is easy to do things mentally, but writing it down converts it to black and white.

Next, present your decision to the staff. If you are going to set rules, it is only fair to tell the staff the ruels they are to follow.

One specific piece of advice related to the helpdesk issue. Trust your staff to make the right calls, but also make them responsible for the result. If the problem guy causes a problem, make sure he helps resolve it, or is at least in attendance when the appropriate person fixes it. Without facing the consequences of his actions, your problem child will go on thinking he is doing good deeds.

Assert you authority as a manager. It is now up to your problem programmer to adjust to your style. If he fails to do so, do not wait for several years for him to move on, but let him go and find someone that you feel comfortable managing.

P.S. Talk to your boss now about establishing a chain of command.

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A word from an old code cranking monkey

by jkameleon In reply to Managing the odd man out

Quirks, manners, dress style, stuff like this: Ignore it. Weirdness comes with a turf. There's only so much gray matter in our heads, and programming occupies considerable ammount of it. Consequently, there's not much left for anything else, like culture for example. Besides, programmers shouldn't be let anywhere near customers (and vice versa) anyway.

Coming in late, leaving early: Tolerate it. 4-6 hour of exacting, quality programming work per day is as much as normal human being can give. Insist on anything more than this, and you'll need twice as much man hours for debugging.

OK, I know, that the above stuff is very irritable to the typical manager, as well as the rest of the team. Nevertheless, you should tolerate it, as long as everything gets done in correct and reasonably timely manner.


Now that's the real problem:

> Even though his plate is very full, he'll take it upon himself to tend to helpdesk type of duties when the appropriate people aren't around. His willingness to help is appreciated - but his lack of knowledge in those areas for which we have staff for can cause more problems in the end.

That's unprofessional, to say the least. You should not tolerate that.


> When told no (or even "yes, but not right now"), or given direction contrary to his own wants, he acts like a wounded child . . .

That's even more unprofessional. Acting like a wounded child on the job is an absolute no no. You should not tolerate that either. IMHE, snivellers are far less availing as they seem, no matter how talented they might be.


> . . . and goes over or around me to my boss to get a ruling in his favor.

That puts you in pretty unenviable position. In practice, you have no real competencies to match your responsibilites. You should definitely have it out with your boss, for starters.

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Odd hours

by angry_white_male In reply to A word from an old code c ...

I can appreciate odd hours... been there, done that and it's sometimes the only way you can get real work done. But he's also the person I need around when a database crashes or there's an issue with an application that he designed for us. He doesn't have a cell phone - won't carry one if we get him one. If the problem is beyond the ability of a helpdesk person or network administrator - he needs to be there to fix it... we can't wait until whenever he feels like showing up to fix it.

That he was up til 1:00 am last night doing coding (on his own free will) doesn't excuse him from showing up at 10:00 am without calling ahead saying he's late. There are business needs that he needs to adapt to. He can get his work done if he doesn't allow himself to become distracted by work outside of his scope... but he's also the 3rd/4th level support person for our databases and custom applications he designs.

I do plan on having the sit-down with my boss and sharing my thoughts on the issue.

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