Every leader/manager, if they are honest, has A, B, and C employees. The “A” employees are high potential, self-motivated and rare. The “B” employees are solid performers, who do good work. The “C” employees can range from needing too much direction to being disruptive, and they are the ones who may not make it in an organization – often a cause for a leader’s frustration and sleepless nights.
It’s good to spend time working with your A and B employees, coaching, encouraging and developing them. Yet I often find that a manager will write off the C employees, ignoring, avoiding and constantly critiquing. Eventually they get fired or leave the organization.
Is it hard to believe that the C employee could be your next A or B employee if given a chance? Consider the energy it takes to find, hire, and assimilate a new employee or promote and existing one (not to mention the cost!) when you lose a C. What do you have to lose if you spend that energy for a few weeks paying attention to that seemingly unmotivated, needy, or disruptive employee?
Is it worth a shot? Then prepare to be amazed as you:
Stay with them and find a comfortable cadence of interaction and relationship development. Yes, it might be more awkward than you’d like in the beginning. But stick with it and see if you can find unexpected potential. Look for a bright spot, something that you didn’t know that tells you that this person has surprising talent that you might put to good use (or that someone else in your organization might put to good use).
Ask what they need to use their talent and be at their best. Now that you have discovered that, don’t assume you know how they can use it. You might be surprised to learn that they’ve been thinking about this all along and have some ideas on how you can help them, but the relationship between the two of you wasn’t ready for that until now. Be willing to brainstorm with them and be willing to admit that you might have been wrong about them all along.
Listen well without judgment. Let what they have to offer sink in, and as long as there isn’t any big hurry, “sleep on it” just as you would sleep on other important business or personal decisions you have to make. Your brain needs time to adjust to this person who is different from the one you thought you knew. Continue the discussion with them without making a final decision about where their talents fit in your organization.
Stay open about this person and the possibilities for them. Yes, they may have some bad habits (which, with your expert coaching and feedback may be moderated or replaced with good habits). As you develop this relationship, you’ll find that you have more freedom to say what’s on your mind at the right time for them to listen to it.
You just might be amazed at how that C employee turns around into one of your better employees when you pay attention to them.
More From Mary Jo Asmus
Mary Jo Asmus is an executive/leadership coach whose work spans decades of making a difference in the lives of hundreds of executives, leaders and teams in Fortune 500, mid- and small- sized business, governments and nonprofits. She focuses on facilitating individuals and teams from first-line supervisor to the C-suite to create, develop, and influence the relationships that can make them extraordinary.