Caring For The High Maintenance/High Value Employee

How to identify greatness & generate peak performance in complex individuals.

Throughout your career you will encounter many personalities, some difficult, some easygoing, some annoying, some inspiring.  But there is one that I would describe as the most complex personality of all:  The High Maintenance/High Value Employee.  They earn that name because they require a full fledged management program to reach their peak performance, coupled with an extensive maintenance program to keep them functioning there.  It sounds like a lot of work and it is, but when it comes down to results, if you want your business to stand out above the rest, these are the people that will help get you there, make your business more competitive and create a notable reputation in your industry.

Before I explain how to care for and develop your high maintenance employee, first let’s discuss how to actively identify them on your team.  They are difficult to find, but worth your investigation.

8 Traits That Identify High Maintenance/High Value Employees

1: They are NOT great team players. They would prefer to do their own thing & make their own rules.

2: They don’t care much for company policy. They know their own value and can’t be bothered by structure.

3: They don’t like a lot of attention and public praise, for others or themselves.

They are there to work, bring value and move on.  Office cheers and high fives appear very superficial to them.

4: They are very willing to help others if asked, but do not follow up and maintain a working dialog with the individuals they’ve helped.  It is more of a one-off relationship.

5: They typically create outstanding relationships with their customers, clients, suppliers etc.

6: They have a reputation for getting away with things, going rogue, without recourse, because people are afraid of their emotional, sometimes angry, reaction.

7: They show signs of greatness & creativity, but it is inconsistent, mostly occurring when a problem is brought to them, or when they went on one of their rogue adventures.

8: They probably have notations in their performance reviews that indicate large swings of ‘outstanding’ to ‘needs improvement’.  At some point they may have been considered for termination because of it.

The 9th Trait:

Complains all the time…Yes this is number 9 on a list of 8 traits.  This is the trait that separates the high value from low value employees.  If you have an employee that exhibits all 8 traits but spends a great deal of time complaining about everything…don’t bother with this process.  You will spend all of your time focused on trying ineffectively to satisfy their complaints rather than develop their greatness.  They do not warrant your development & maintenance program; they require a disciplinary program instead.  These individuals either suffer from “Perfect Employee Syndrome” or they are “Broken Employees”.

Once you have identified a High Maintenance/High Value Employee, it is important to understand them as an individual, determine how to motivate them, & engage them on their terms.  Here are some things you can do to help them generate peak performance on a consistent basis.

5 Actions You Can Take to Generate Peak Performance In Complex Individuals

Treat Them As Your Equal

They don’t appreciate pandering, nor do they see you as being any higher up in the organization than they are.  By treating them as your equal, they will be more open to having a direct conversation with you about their performance and your expectations.  This approach should be represented in your tone, your physical presence and your words.  When you talk with them, sit across a table, not a desk.  Talk with them about your own work as if he or she were a colleague, not your employee.  Ask for their help, not to follow your command.

Be Direct With Them

Sit down with them and discuss your observations, reviewing specific examples you have identified within each of the 8 traits outlined in this article.  Start by telling them that you are very happy they are on your team because you see them as an incredibly high value employee, but with that quality comes some other issues which are very common with people of their caliber.  Go on to acknowledge that you appreciate that they don’t like the BS, all the bureaucracy, etc… Explain that because they go by their own rules sometimes they create a reputation for not wanting be part of the team, even if they go out of their way to be helpful when their assistance is needed. Make them understand that you see them for who they are and appreciate the value they can bring, and that your goal is to ensure it is utilized more consistently because both you and company need them.

Explain Your Expectations

Once they feel you are being honest and direct with them, it is important that you explain your expectations.  This does not mean that you spend any time reiterating the business rules, telling them they must abide.  Instead, set the expectations you have for them to reach their peak performance.  What does that mean? Here are some examples.

  • I want you to start consulting individuals on the team, as well as me, on what we can do to improve each of our products.  Not only recommendations, but by setting up one-on-one reviews, coaching on action plans and supporting them as actions are implemented.
  • Your approach with customers is fantastic but the rest of the organization doesn’t always keep up with your ideas.  I’d like you to set up a bi-weekly meeting or conference call with operations to review your customer discussions so everyone is informed.  This will avoid surprises allowing everyone to better support your efforts.

Each of these expectations is designed to pull strengths forward, capitalize on them and establish processes and support systems to ensure the rest of the organization can keep up.

Make A Commitment To Them

It is important that you commit to support their efforts, maintain a relationship of honesty, directness, clarity and support.  You have to make the effort here because they wont.  That means you need to call them daily or weekly, ask for reports on their progress, set up meetings with them to discuss what they need from you, etc..  If they see you are making this ongoing effort to partner with them, they will perform for you.

Be Willing To Compromise Or Make Exceptions To Rules

Once you develop a rapport that is making positive progress, it is understandable to address some of the rules and laws of your company.  Maybe it is about showing up to work on time, properly filling out expense reports, etc…  But be willing to make compromises or exceptions to some rules for this employee.  I know it sounds crazy, but if you are able to help them show their extreme value, you can justify breaking some rules.  It will be obvious to the rest of your team that your high value employee is not being defiant, but instead, enjoying privileges from their results.  It sets the stage for other employees to strive for.

Not every high value employee has the motivation or ability to drive him or herself independently.  Some require a great deal more to feel a sense of engagement before they are able to contribute to their potential.  Great managers are able to identify traits of high value employees, create a constructive dialog, develop a mutual understanding and utilize communication methods required to engage them at peak performance. It is not easy, but worth your efforts.

Good luck.

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Written by Lisa Woods, President Lisa Woods Consulting & Founder of ManagingAmericans.com

Lisa is a dynamic business leader & author located in Western New York with more than 20 years experience leading, managing and driving growth in the corporate world. Today she partners with business leaders to understand their vision, identify internal and external roadblocks, define a practical strategic path forward and guide a successful transformation. This work includes strategy definition & goal setting, organizational design, facilitating team buy-in, establishing visual metrics, internal and external research studies, business feasibility assessments, and investor insight into organizational strength, weakness & strategic opportunity. She helps business leaders drive growth & increase profits.

Strategic Consulting ǀ Management Consulting: Strategy Realized

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