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Management Tips for Dealing with Difficult Employees

Closeup portrait young annoyed angry woman with bad attitude giving talk to hand gesture with palm outward isolated grey wall background. Negative human emotion face expression feeling body languageTo be effective, managers have to learn to oversee many different types of people. Some employees are easy to manage, while others prove to be a bit more challenging. 

One type of personality type many professionals find difficult to manage is that of the talented employee. While often they contribute greatly to the company, talent employees respond poorly to more traditional management styles. In other words, they simply don’t want to be managed the same way or similarly as their peers.

Depending on your level of experience, leadership style or the culture of your organization, there isn't always a crystal clear solution to managing talented but challenging employees. One thing is clear however, and that is given the greater mobility of candidates, understanding how to nurture this workforce population is critical. After all, you don’t want to lose them to your competitors do you?


Why Talented Employees Are Difficult to Manage

A study on the motivation of talented people by Galpin and Skinner in 2004 provided some good insights into what is important to talented people. Their study concluded that talented people:

  • Have a particularly strong desire to be in a position of authority and control
  • Their main concerns were about working to the best of their ability and making efforts to master new skills
  • They were more motivated by competition with themselves than by competition with others
  • They were no more motivated by the desire for material and financial rewards than the general population

Furthermore, there are six common characteristics talented people have that make them difficult to manage. These can include one or more of the following: 

  • They know their worth to the organization
  • They are organizationally and politically savvy
  • They have little respect for hierarchy
  • They are demanding and often expect instant access to management and the resources they need
  • They network well and while this is of value to the organization, it also allows them to move on easily if they are not happy and motivated at work
  • They do not see any need for a manager (this is why managing them is so hard!)

Motivational Management

So how can you manage someone who doesn’t want to be managed and doesn’t see any need for you? The key is to understand what they are looking for from their work. Talented people need to be “managed” in a way that allows them to feel independent and special: if you try to push them, you will end up driving them away. Talented people respond particularly well to a coaching style of management. As their manager you need to adopt the approach of the benevolent guardian, rather than the traditional authoritarian boss. 

Encourage Talented Employees

You also need to provide a stimulating environment for them so that they can experiment and learn - and even (sometimes) fail. Beware of limiting access to opportunities by actively looking for ways to place your talented employees in positions where new capabilities are required. Provide them with a high challenge but supportive environment and they will thrive. Give them responsibility for projects and tasks by using effective delegation.

You should also involve your talented people in strategic planning and emphasize their role in the future success of achieving these plans. You will need to provide them with clear goals, targets and standards but then give them the freedom to work on their own. Focusing on results rather than actions helps to stop you mismanaging your talented individuals.

Managed in this way, and with appropriate recognition and reward, your talented people will become easy for you to manage.


About the Author: Tracy Tappenden is a Course Director at Spearhead Training, which is a UK based training center. Tracy joined the Spearhead Training Group in 2000 as a course tutor, and was promoted to Course Director in 2005, becoming responsible for coordinating the design and delivery of management training for Spearhead’s in-company clients. Her strength is working closely with managers at all levels in the clients' organization to ensure that management training is effectively implemented. Connect with Tracy on Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn.

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