Not the worst employee. Most really bad employees know they’re doing a crappy job. Not your superstars, despite their high maintenance. No, the hardest employees to manage are the ones who have zero self-awareness about their own strengths and weaknesses.
Like most things, I learned about the challenges of clueless people the hard way. In my case, it was Larry. Larry was a solid B/B- player who thought he was a rock star. Larry worked for me early in my career so I had no clue how to deal with conversations like:
Me: “Larry, one of your clients called and they complained about the way you handled his follow up”.
Larry: “ He’s wrong.”
Me: stuttering and taken aback, “But that’s what he said.”
Larry: “ I don’t care, he’s wrong.”
There were many conversations like this. When I tried to deliver ongoing feedback, his standard response was, “ I don’t agree with you.”. Every conversation was excruciating. Since Larry felt I failed to see his real value, he ultimately quit. But my experience with him taught me that there is simply no one harder to manage than someone who never sees themselves the way others see them. When dealing with these challenging types, here’s what I learned:
- Be prepared. It’s never good enough to provide general feedback. If you want to coach the clueless, you need to give him or her very specific examples- in writing. With the customer above, I should have documented the phone call with exactly what follow up was lacking and what the client expected. Opinions have no meaning to this person, as their own opinion is what matters most to them.
- Don’t argue. Stupidly, I would let Larry push me into a he said/she said kind of conversation that would last way too long. My frustration would result in a screaming match that was unprofessional and disruptive. Just state the facts that you’ve gathered above and say, “I’m sorry you don’t agree with me.” And leave it at that.
- Document the conversations. Ultimately, I think what finally got Larry to look for another job was when I started documenting our conversations. I used a pretty simple counseling form to formalize the feedback I had received from clients and internal partners. I outlined very specific action steps and dates. He vehemently disagreed with everything on the form, and refused to sign it and resigned instead.
The sad thing about the clueless is that they’re really never terrible at the job and with good coaching and feedback, they’d actually be pretty good. But when someone has an over inflated sense of their own abilities, managing them can be like death by a thousand cuts.