Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Herding Cats 3: Boss Wannabe & Social Butterfly

This blog post is the third in my continuing “Herding Cats” series (see also Herding Cats: The Art of “Managing” Knowledge Workers and Herding Cats 2: Problem Child & Elitist Bastard) (see also Herding Cats 4, Herding Cats 5, and Herding Cats 6) that addresses some management challenges in the form of specific knowledge worker (see Knowledge Is Power!) personality types, and approaches that may be helpful in “managing” them.  Clearly, every knowledge worker is an individual, with characteristics that are unique.  The personality types that are described here are purposely more extreme than will normally be the case, and will emphasize one specific set of characteristics, whereas most people have a variety of personality characteristics.  Every situation is unique, and should be treated in a unique fashion.  Further, every manager has his or her own approach, and what I describe is just one person’s view, mine.

The Boss Wannabe: 
The Challenge:  While he/she does not have the responsibility or the authority, the Boss Wannabe tries to tell everyone else what to do, and what is wrong or right about what they are doing.  He/she may act this way out of noble motives of trying to help the team by providing motivation or showing leadership that may be otherwise lacking and is needed.  He/she may be taking on a natural leadership position that has been earned by demonstrating superior knowledge, judgment, and expertise.  Or, he/she may be on a power trip that makes him/her feel superior and more powerful than peers and coworkers.  In any case, without the blessings and specific authorization of the manager, this can foster resentment and frustration; the Boss Wannabe can make others feel that they now have to answer to two bosses, their real boss and a pretend boss.  In the long run, this usually won’t work well (unless the real boss is so dysfunctional that people are starved for leadership and welcome the leadership of a pretend boss).

The Management Approach:  You must first get a gauge of the Boss Wannabe from him/her directly and from others in the group.  Is this person’s behavior welcome or resented?  Does the Boss Wannabe help or disrupt smooth operations.  Are others in the group saying, “You’re not the Boss of me!” to him/her?  

If the Boss Wannabe is viewed as a net positive, then you may want to formalize this person’s position as a Project or Program Leader or similar title and publicly acknowledge that role.  Before taking this step, you should gather info regarding concerns and issues that such a role may create.  It is critical that you state the limits of this new role (e.g. this person can provide technical leadership and guidance, but not administrative or management leadership or guidance), and make sure that this person and others in the group understand the new role and its limitations.  

If the Boss Wannabe is viewed as a net negative, then you need to sit down with this person in a private one-on-one session to discuss the problem.  If the problem is mild, then only mild action is required, which generally consists of letting the person know what problems his/her behavior is causing, and what he/she must do to correct them (e.g. this person must be careful about trying to impose his/her will on others in the group without advance clearance from you).  If the problem is indeed mild, this should be all that’s required.  If the problem is severe, then more forceful action is required.  The Boss Wannabe must be told that his/her behavior is unacceptable and disruptive and must be corrected immediately.  This person must understand that he/she is not the boss and does not have the responsibility or authority to lead or manage the group.  You should tell this person that this behavior will be monitored, and if it does not change immediately, there will be severe consequences up to and including dismissal.

The Challenge:  The Social Butterfly flits from place to place checking on what’s going on socially in the organization, making arrangements for birthdays, anniversaries, weddings, holidays, luncheons, celebrations, and any and all other social activities.  Arranging the social calendar of the organization often becomes the primary goal of the Social Butterfly, ahead of the work she or he (and it is usually a she) has been hired to carry out.  While such activities can be helpful and even morale boosting, they often come at the expense of that person’s assigned work responsibilities, leaving that work undone, poorly done, or shifted to others who shouldn’t have to do it.  This can delay critical work, or adversely impact the quality of the work, or put undue burdens on others, and that is simply unfair.

The Management Approach:  You need to sit down with this person in a private one-on-one session to discuss the problem.  The Social Butterfly needs to understand that she was not hired to arrange the social calendar of the organization, but to carry out the assignments she has been given.  While this activity can be of value to the organization, it cannot come at the expense of her work.  She will be judged in her performance review on performance against the goals of the job, not for the social arrangements made.  Further, she must understand that her performance or non-performance directly affects others’ performance as well as her own; she surely does not want to negatively impact the performance of others.  If such activities can be carried out without impact on the work, then that is fine; you don’t want to suppress this person’s desire to help others and you recognize the benefit such activities can bring.  BUT, this cannot be done at the expense of the work.  This person must understand that you will be monitoring her work, and if her performance is affected by such social activities, then you will immediately bring this to her attention.  If corrective action is not taken, then it will have consequences during performance and salary reviews.  This is usually enough to temper this behavior without snuffing out a positive attitude.

These are just two more of many personality types that you will come across in knowledge worker-based (and other) organizations.  I will get into more in subsequent "Herding Cats" blog posts.  The key is to recognize the various personality types as early as possible, and work to address the problems or opportunities that they may bring.  You don’t want to destroy individuality or mold everyone into an automaton.   At the same time, you don’t want certain individual behaviors to destroy team morale.  You must walk a fine line, and find what works best for your organization using a style that fits you.

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