Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Drama (A Work-Related Post)


So in a recent* leadership training day, they used "Would you rathers" to transition between sessions. One of them was "Would you rather have a 'Drama King/Queen' who was a high performer or a low performer who didn't make waves?"

Most of the class raised their hands for the low performers. I quickly and enthusiastically raised my hands for the high performer. Of course, they quickly said "Ok, James, why did you choose the Drama King/Queen?"

That was so easy and hopefully I changed some people's minds that day because I felt anyone that went for the person who didn't make waves was selling themselves and the organization short. That's right - if your preference is the low-performer, you're doing everyone a disservice.

I have some experience managing people -- close to 7 years now between WVUS and WB directly supervising direct reports (plus dotted-line staff and consulting/mentoring) and additional time at UTV and LAC where I supervised volunteers and interns (not to mention pretending to be a manager at Blockbuster and Little Caesar's early in life.) I also have plenty of experience being managed. Furthermore, I can be a Drama King. (I am so glad they've changed that title.)

Simply put, if you have a Drama King/Queen who is a high performer, you have a high performer.

In rare cases, they may have the coping mechanisms that allow them to survive the employment jungle, but it may have come with a high price. They will be frustrated, feel like others just don't get it (or them) or that others don't care as much as they do and it will cause them to become stuck, burn out, act out, or simply be overlooked by someone wanting to avoid conflict.

Most likely the more extroverted they are, the more confident they will appear, but they will still struggle internally. The more extroverted will probably job hop, thinking their unease is not having found the right fit, becoming increasingly frustrated with each new encounter with a bad fit.

However, in many cases, until the right mixture of grace, discipline, empathy and patience are applied, they will struggle without knowing why.

It is your responsibility as their manager to help them cease to be a Drama King/Queen.

Drama stems from a few basic things:



  • Sense of Responsibility without Sense of Power (aka "Stress")
  • Lack of Clear Priorities
  • Lack of Confidence in One's Own Abilities (fear of being discovered to be a fraud)

Let's take that last one first. The DKQ is actually very competent.

They are looking beyond their assigned job, they are trying to understand the bigger picture, they are trying to see where they fit in now and in the future. They care passionately about the job and no matter what it is, they see it as a mission or a crusade, even if they can't verbalize it. Your job as their manager (their leader) is to help them build confidence in their ability to make the right decisions, to act autonomously and to better understand where and why they truly do have areas of concern or areas for improvement.

There is a danger they will try to effect change outside of their area. That can go badly for them, especially if they are so new that people question whether they appreciate the nuances of the particular environment or respect those who they appear to be trying to boss around. This ends up looking like insubordination, disrespect or not being a team player.

Often they may have self-doubt, brought on by a bad previous experience, such as an inconsistent leader or a micro-manager or a truly ineffective supervisor. You must be clear in your direction, you must be consistent in your decisions and you must explain your thought process. They will not ask for an explanation on their own, you must willingly offer it up.

Eventually your charge should be able to accurately answer "What would James do?" You will see the change over time: first they will ask "What should I do?" and then they will switch to "I think I should do x or y. What do you think?" and finally "I should do x and here's why."

Lack of Clear Priorities - this is a situation in which your staff member doesn't know what to do next. It can manifest itself as fear, churn, paralysis or stress. It is your job to help them to learn how to manage up. This isn't a directive issued: "Peterson, you need to start managing up." This is taking the time to sit with the employee and talk about what they believe is expected of them -- have them make a list -- and then prioritizing it for them. If you do this practice regularly over a period of time and are consistent in your response, and if you explain your rationale, in time they will be able to trust that they can do some prioritization on on their own. It will be a gradual process that leads them to a new level of confidence.

Sense of Responsibility without a Sense of Power - when I heard this definition for stress, I thought it was absolutely beautiful, so poetic. As I mentioned earlier, your DKQ is concerned with the bigger picture. They want to fit in, they want to do well, they want everyone to be successful. Typically they'll wrap a lot of self-worth into their jobs.

But because they care so much and because they tend to see the bigger picture, they will see things beyond their control, things that could be better, whether it's a missed opportunity by your organization, a place where your organization is wasteful, etc. and they will feel powerless to stop it (or they'll hurt themselves trying to change it). And because the stress is ongoing, it may ultimately erupt or manifest itself in ways that reflect badly on the employee or maybe even the entire organization. Sadly, they ironically may even make a CLM (Career-Limiting Move).

You must provide a regular release valve for these employees, allow an opportunity to vent. But, that cannot be the end of it. If they are expressing a perceived problem, they must be able to offer some kind of solution or idea that would work towards improving the situation.

Your DQK comes with an several added benefits as well, just waiting to be tapped into to the benefit of the organization:

First, the "worst-case scenario" imagination. This is not a bad thing. In the beginning, you will have to teach them how to peer over the edge from a safe distance, but having the WCS gives you an outer-marker to plan within. Recognize it and then have them move on to survey all the area this side of the cliff. They will discover other scenarios that are not so scary and will help you find that acceptable level of risk. Without it, you may over-engineer or under-engineer a solution, both of which can come back to bite you. While not a sure-fire solution, when you know where the edges are, you can start to figure out the middle of the puzzle.

Secondly, the big picture thinking.  They will have ideas and look at things in new ways.  Find a way for them to express and share their ideas in a way that will be received, even if it's just to you.  This may require you to work with them to refine ideas.  You can filter on the right ideas at the right time, just so long as those you pass them on to know where to give credit.

You are responsible for your employees. You are their leader, their guide, a buffer between them and things that would disrupt their work. You set vision, direction and priority. You help them to see how they matter and how their efforts impact the bigger piece. You track their day-to-day performance and you hold their long-term best interests and desires in your mind, even if they don't ultimately involve the company. Their success is not theirs alone, but your responsibility as well.

If you have a high performing employee, it is probably worth a little extra investment in time to help them with the rough edges. You can try night and day to improve a low-performing employee, but it's going to be like pulling teeth, they aren't motivated and you could end up distrusting them or making them feel distrusted. But a high performing employee? Help them to soar.

If they're a low performer and a DKQ, cut them loose quickly.  You don't need that kind of mess.

But that's not what we're talking about here.  Congratulations on your high performer. Win them over with clarity, consistency and a disciplined approach and those unwanted behaviors will fade and you will have a highly dedicated, highly motivated, passionate employee and brand advocate with a long and successful career at your company. Fail to do so at not only their peril but yours as well.


*Late Oct. 2012. This has been sitting unfinished in my draft folder for awhile.
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