Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 19 June 2019

Workplace doctor: High performer is also high maintenance

Often talented employees are high maintenance but ground rules can be set with articulate communication

Swiss tennis player Roger Federer is a great example of converting real talent into excellence. Fiona Hamilton/Reuters
Swiss tennis player Roger Federer is a great example of converting real talent into excellence. Fiona Hamilton/Reuters

I work in a creative agency where the pressure to produce effectively is pretty intense. One of my team members is a high performer but also very high maintenance. The individual dominates meetings, demands a lot of one-on-one time and is constantly pushing pet projects, voicing opinions frequently, which all adds up to requiring a great deal of my time. How can this best be managed? AC, Sharjah

Having talented, high performers in your team is something all leaders strive for; however, this can come at a price as these individuals can exhibit challenging and difficult behaviours. They can – as you are experiencing – be opinionated, impatient, disrupt the status quo and be preoccupied with their own agendas. At times, they are unaware of their effect on colleagues and fellow team members; often being perceived by others as entitled, arrogant or demanding.

Effectively managing these behaviours can demand a lot of time, energy and attention but given their talent and contribution, they are worth persevering with and finding ways to negate these tensions. The transition of Roger Federer from an impetuous, volatile young tennis player into a gracious ambassador of his sport is a great example of converting real talent into excellence. Going beyond his talent to exceed and reach his full potential, required Federer to be aware of himself, his effect on others and being able to control his interactions.

The combination of high maintenance and high performance, in general, results in employees that are not the best team players.

They tend to be visionary and results-driven, potentially

disregarding processes and policies in their drive to achieve. For them, structure tends to be less of a concern and they may be seen to get away with things as others are cautious of their emotional and unpredictable reactions. They are usually focused on work and want to add value; typically creating strong relationships with customers and suppliers alike.


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To successfully manage these employees is a real skill, as they require constant attention without taking focus away from managing the rest of your team. Often, high maintenance employees have unmet needs which exacerbates their behaviour, so good communication to better understand what they need from you or the organisation is necessary.

Perhaps the person requires a different level of direction, structure or freedom?

Similarly, they may not feel they thrive in their current environment, feel sufficiently challenged or be clear about their goals? It is really important to fully engage this person with appropriately challenging projects. Try to gain an understanding of this individual’s expectations so you are able to manage them effectively.

Moving forward, it is vital that the employee is made aware of the effect they are having in the workplace and on those around them. Specify the behaviours that are disruptive to the work environment rather than getting personal about the person’s character. Be sure to articulate the resultant issues as accurately as possible and support these with examples where you can.

When giving this person feedback, highlight the qualities that you do appreciate about him/her and their work. Equally, it is essential that you create clear boundaries around how much time can be spent on their personal agendas and unnecessary, counter-productive activities.

Long-term management of this employee will entail tailored interactions to continue to meet this person’s individual needs and motivations. Connecting with what this individual finds motivating and adapting your approach accordingly can have a powerful effect on the way he/she engages at work. Provide regular one-on-one meetings where you are able to give this person your undivided attention.

Doctor’s prescription:

In order to remain effective as a manager across the board, be mindful to not let this person pre-occupy you and your time. As these employees are often passionate individuals, do not get drawn into the drama that may accompany some interactions – instead, remain calm and professional. Identify the traits that makes this employee valuable, and through constructive discussions and establishing ground rules, develop a level of understanding that engages them to perform at their peak, while limiting the negative effect they have on others and their work environment.

Yolande Basson is an executive coach and consultant at Ashridge Executive Education – Middle East

Updated: February 5, 2018 12:49 PM