Ever looked around the room during a meeting and wondered, how on earth did this group of individuals end up together? Well, chances are you recruited them. But just because you have a wide variety of personalities in your team, it doesn’t necessarily mean they won’t function well together.
What you do need to know is how to manage these various character types. Because no matter what skills your employees are trained in, their ability to deliver good results all depends on how each different person responds to your management methods. So. the key to driving your company’s performance is to adopt the right method to motivate each member of your team.
There are numerous psychometric style tests that are widely used in business. These include the Belbin assessment that can help you understand an employee’s behavioural traits, or the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) that attempts to narrow down an employee’s personality type to understand how they perceive and process information and make decisions.
Sometimes you will just know how your staff are going to react to tasks and challenges. But for those other moments when you’re surprised by them, here is a guide to five types of employees that every boss will recognise, and some vital tips on how to get the best out of each of them.
1. The Superstar (The employee you trust to do the task as well or better than you)
These types are those you regard as your strongest assets. They have your full trust and deliver the best results every time. They take responsibility and accountability for their role, they are fully engaged and they always perform to the highest standards. Often they can even outperform you. They are good for business. In ‘The War for Talent’ featured in The McKinsey Quarterly, it states that companies should be fighting for talent: ‘Superior talent will be tomorrow’s prime source of competitive advantage.’ Anyone who has worked closely with a ‘superstar’ knows that fighting for them pays dividends in the long-run.
Your management approach With ‘superstars’ you need to show them the ropes, make sure they get a good brief and have everything they need to do their job- and then you need to step back. Check in regularly, but not to micromanage them as they will take this as an insult. In his book ‘The Code of the Extraordinary Mind’, author Vishen Lakhiani spoke to Richard Branson and asked him outright the secret to his success. The answer he got was simple: ‘It’s all about finding and hiring people smarter than you, getting them to join your business and giving them good work- and getting out of their way.’
Let them know they are appreciated. Recognition for good work is a human need and will inspire loyalty in return. If they are that good, learn from them, ask for advice, give them a sense of a peer-to-peer relationship that they will relish.
Certainly, it will take a fine balance- just enough to keep them on their line. Offer them chances to take on more responsibility or larger scale work projects. Promotion and appraisal should reflect their worth when the times for this arise. If you keep increasing work but do not balance it with reward, that could make them jump ship for better terms.
2. The Token Effort (The employee who just wants to do the minimum)
Sometimes you’ll have high expectations for an employee only to be disappointed by their delivery. This is particularly relevant to people who do exactly what you asked but never go above or beyond by taking extra time and care over a task. This is about minimal effort and minimal performance- to get a job out of that in-tray. It can test the patience of bosses wanting their clients to be impressed by their staff’s work. The problem here is that they may be delivering what you asked but it just doesn’t have that bit of extra care, that shine of high quality that you would like.
Your management approach First, find out if the employee is disengaged with the company in any way and if so determine the reasons behind it. Is there a reason they do not feel they need to work to a higher standard?
We could take a lead here from Frederick Herzberg who researched the sources of employee motivation extensively in the 1950s and 60s and found that what demotivates us is not -when reversed- what motivates us. What he called ‘hygiene factors’ such as having a nice work environment and money are a problem if they are lacking but if present they are not strictly long-term motivators. An emphasis should instead be placed on ‘interesting work, challenge and increasing responsibility’ as these ‘intrinsic factors answer people’s deep-seated need for growth and achievement.’
It’s also worth exploring your briefing process because if an employee ticks all the boxes but still isn’t delivering quite what you want then it might be time to change what those boxes ask for, and push for more satisfactory results. This takes some very close management and productive two-way communication to get to the root of how it’s possible to polish up their performance.
3. The Specialist (The employee with a very narrow scope of excellence)
These people do only one thing but they do it brilliantly. It defines them, they are experts and own that specialism. They may have a deep and unique understanding of an important part of your business so they are highly valuable in that sense. However, ask them to do something that is outside this area of expertise and they refuse outright or just execute the task poorly.
Your management approach Leverage that specialist knowledge. ‘In an economy where the only certainty is uncertainty, one sure source of lasting competitive advantage is knowledge’ -this is according to a paper in the Journal of Knowledge Management Practice. In short, value this person’s contribution to that specific part of the business- and treat them well.
As an ongoing part of your business, try to tap further into their specialist knowledge, learn from it and where possible transfer that knowledge to other team members. Someone like this is an asset to the company for their knowledge – if they leave they take it with them. And if their specialism sets you apart as a business, make sure it is not hidden away – make it part of the selling point of your brand.
4. The Ego-Driven Achiever (The smart employee who is a bit too opinionated)
This person may be your biggest challenge to manage. They are intelligent but their opinions and contributions can often be driven by ego. Now, sometimes ego is a good thing and sometimes it’s a bad thing. Champions usually have big egos- it can come with the territory of determination to succeed.
The problem comes when an articulate individual decides to speak their mind at every turn and disrupt progress just because they want their own way of doing things. They will challenge processes just because they can and slow down tasks that are regular everyday bits of work. When this occurs in a team meeting the ripple effect can spread to other team members who begin to question everything and before you know it you may be arguing over a leadership point.
Your management approach There are a number of ways to deal with people who are disruptively opinionated. You could politely exit those moments to stay on point, and explain what is up for discussion and what is not. If the behaviour of the employee is confrontational it’s worth having a private meeting with them to discuss and set boundaries. If it persists- a warning will be appropriate.
The book Power Struggles – Successful Techniques for Educators is aimed at teachers but contains a great phrase for us all: "Preventing a storm begins with teachers telling their students what to expect before the bad weather hits." As a manager, it is more effective to take preventative measures in the form of one-on-one chats, informal advice and by setting the scene of what’s expected and what’s not tolerated. Avoid the storm.
It has been proven time and again in studies that people desire control over their lives and want to influence and to make meaningful decisions about direction. This is healthy, but not when those decisions pull away from the team. If you can get them to channel that energy the right way, you might turn a problem person into a problem solver.
5. The ‘All Or Nothing’ Worker (The employee who is inconsistent in their delivery)
This is the worker who will one day light up your world with the high quality of their delivery, but then the next time dip well below par. This variance can keep you on your toes as their manager. The problem could be one of many things. Perhaps they have a particular pace of work so when they are under pressure they under deliver. Maybe it’s connected to mood or maybe as with the "specialist," they are very good at certain tasks but less so at others. It could be as simple as sometimes they can be bothered and other times they can’t.
Your management approach If this is simply about them not being bothered then as soon as you see the quality drop, you come down quite heavy, reminding this person that their efforts feed into the overall output of the company and by dropping the quality they can slow up processes and harm the entire brand. This needs to be framed in terms of "effort" not "ability" as you may be in danger of unintentionally reinforcing someone’s negative self-perception.
A survey of around 20,000 employees was conducted by The Energy Project and Harvard Business Review to assess what influences productivity and engagement at work. These included the "physical"- opportunities to renew and recharge at work; the emotional- feeling valued for that work; the "mental"- having the chance to do important tasks and having flexibility in working; and finally, the "spiritual"- getting a sense of enjoyment linked to a higher purpose.
You need to set their benchmark for them, explain what was good about work they did and how that should be the standard going forward. Understand what they enjoy, how they feel connected to work. If there is a reason they give you that does make sense for that drop in quality it’s then time to look at any solution available to alleviate the problem.
Working towards the ideal workforce
The reality is that as a manager you will need to cope with a diverse range of personalities, abilities and levels of work ethic. If you choose not to manage unproductive employees, it can cost your business as much as three months of working time per person per year according to a report by Global Corporate Challenges (GCC).
But at best, ensuring each member of your team is properly engaged in their work can make a dramatic increase to the bottom line. We often invest in technology, marketing and our products, but putting funds into improving employee engagement pays dividends.
Take the time to get to know your team members. If you want to manage them, you need to know who they are, what drives them, and what interests them. Then when you look around the meeting room you may still see an interesting mix of different personalities, but there will be a jigsaw puzzle-style logic in how they all fit together to achieve an overall aim.
Related: What Real Discipline Looks Like