Talk about counter-intuitive. Yesterday I wrote about the notion of breaking rules in the workplace, particularly in terms of paying more attention to your star employees. Today I want you to think about your high-maintenance employees. What’s the first thing that comes to mind? According to Katherine Graham Leviss, a business coach and author of High-Maintenance Employees: Why Your Best People Will Also Be Your Most Difficult . . . and What You Can Do About It, high-maintenance employees could be your secret weapon and your "most creative, driven, innovative, and best-performing workers." Huh?
"High-maintenance employees will achieve their goals, often before they are expected to achieve them," she says. "Creating an environment that encourages the strengths of high-maintenance employees is like striking gold. They are the change agents and the creative problem-solvers always looking for ways to make things better. They will forge ahead implementing and executing new ideas and new ways of thinking."
But how do you harness such gold and maintain your company´s momentum? How do you manage resentment that may arise among your more staid employees who like to get their work done with little fanfare? Indeed, how do you develop high maintenance?
First, put aside the negative connotations. Yes, high-maintenance people are a LOT of work. And yes, they can be unpredictable. But consider their energy, their perseverance, and their commitments. Graham Leviss learned about her high-maintenance personality by accident. She overheard some teachers talking about her as she was about to enter a classroom. This wasn´t last year, folks. She was in high school! Actually, her story reminds me of a little bird I know, but that´s another story. Anyway, it wasn´t welcome news, but she decided early on that in order for her to get things done, she´d need to make her high-maintenance personality work for and not against her. And that´s what you can do for your high-maintenance people. Who knows? Maybe you have a little (or a lot) of high-maintenance traits yourself.
Here´s a little test: Graham Leviss provides some fairly startling and sobering descriptions of high-maintenance people. If you recognize just an iota of the traits she describes, you might squirm some. But that´s a good thing. Discomfort can often lead to change and we all know how change can improve the workplace. So here goes . . .
Do you and/or employees ever behave disrespectfully? Be honest here. Can they be intimidating? Are they emotional and uncooperative? Does any of this resonate? Are they defiant, unable to keep their cool? Is their behavior erratic? And the kicker: do they want to succeed?
I´ll make things easier-take a Post-It and list these behaviors: disrespect, intimidating, emotional, uncooperative, defiant, erratic, driven to succeed. For about week, keep the Post-It where you can see it and try to connect these behaviors with people in the office. As you´re doing this, link these behaviors with projects and determine if these behaviors are helping the projects or hindering the work. Next week, I´ll return to Graham Leviss´s premise and offer some ways for you to turn these seemingly negative characteristics into gold, the kind that will make them and your company shine.