William’s resume was impressive. He came highly recommended and based on his interviews, seemed to be a good cultural fit for my friend’s company. They had recently undergone some certifications that required some massive overhauls retooling of code, so a good developer was sorely needed.
At first, everything seemed to go well. He was given a few smaller projects to get him up to speed. Everyone liked William, and his skills were showing why he had such an impressive resume.
That changed a couple weeks into William’s employment, when my friend tasked him on the big code overhaul project. It didn’t take long for William’s manager to realize he was more work than anyone else on the team. Almost overnight, William became a barrage of questions and constant interruptions. He came to every discussion with more problems than solutions, and before long the entire team was falling behind.
After a month, the project William had been hired to help move forward was stalling. As I was chatting with my friend about the situation in his company, he explained that William’s manager was frustrated. He was losing patience. My friend suggested the only solution he could think of was to let William go.
William was a needy employee. He was sapping the life out of his team, and something needed to happen. If hearing William’s story hasn’t conjured up the image of someone similar at your company already, you may not have a needy employee. When you do, though, the challenge becomes how to handle someone like William.
Here’s how I’d do it.
Set the expectations up front
Anger and frustration are nothing more than a mismatch in expectations. In William’s case, his manager expected William to hit the ground running and help them push the project forward. When that didn’t happen, he got frustrated. No doubt William was getting frustrated on the other end, too.
From day one, clarify your expectations for each employee. This includes quality standards you expect from your people and getting cultural buy-in on your company’s core values. It also includes an understanding of what is unacceptable behavior.
For example, at my company, one of our core values is respect. That includes respecting other’s time. If William worked for me and he was taking up enough of other’s time that it was hurting their work, it’d be time to clarify those expectations. A good solution could be to give William the freedom to figure out the answers to his questions instead of asking for input.
Get to know them better
Each person comes with previous experiences that influence their behavior at your company. As the saying goes, old habits die hard. Before dismissing your needy employee as, well, a needy employee, consider that maybe they’re merely doing what they think you want.
It’s possible William’s previous manager micromanaged him to the point of requiring constant status updates. Maybe the constant questions were his way of over-communicating. Before getting upset at someone’s behavior, take the time to understand the why behind what they’re doing.
Once you know where they’re coming from, you can help point them toward the correct route to align their behavior with the expectations at your company.
Offer constant coaching
Your job as a leader is to help your people be successful. When you’re working with a needy employee, expect it to take time. That’s alright. Be patient. Instead of trying for a single, sweeping change, you’ll have more success with smaller, constant improvements.
Going back to William’s situation, my first step would be to have everyone involved run through the Listening as an Act of Affirmation activity. Without effective communication, any coaching efforts will be wasted. So, step one is helping everyone understand you’re working together to find solutions instead of having everyone talk over each other.
Put extra effort into BAM
It’s human nature to second guess ourselves. People are often insecure in their role. Imposter syndrome is real. The research proves it. Studies suggest an astonishing 70% of people experience imposter syndrome. While everyone needs some belonging, affirmation, and meaning (BAM) at work, needy employees may need a little extra.
When we second guess our work, we start to question what we’re doing. Is that what was happening to William? Maybe. Maybe not. In either case, going above and beyond to help him feel BAM would go a long way to help him start to build the confidence he needs to start coming up with the solutions instead of questions.
Give them some wins
Like William, when we hire someone at our company, we’re usually doing it to fill a much-needed role. In other words, on their first day, they’re already behind in their work.
Or we throw them into the role they’re hired for and then wonder why they’re struggling to keep their head above water. It’s easy to get frustrated when you’re slipping a little further behind with each passing day.
William’s manager did a good thing to start him off with some smaller projects to give him some wins. I’d go even further, though, and keep sprinkling those into his workload. Keep giving him some smaller projects to give him some wins. This’ll help him feel a sense of accomplishment and get affirmation from those around him for a job well done.
Help build up his confidence and slowly grow the scope of the projects they’re taking on.
For William’s story, it was a shift in roles that had him flourish. My friend ended up putting him in charge of a new initiative, where William knew the standards inside and out because he created them.
The road to helping a needy employee isn’t a sprint. When they’re a good cultural fit, it’s worth the effort to help them stand on their own. Are they in the right role or can you move them somewhere they’ll be more effective? Use the GROW model to help everyone understand the goal of where you want them to be and the current reality.
Be patient. Bad habits can be ingrained over years won’t be solved in a short period of time. Of course, throughout it all, your business still needs to be successful. Hopefully, you’ll start to see positive changes. Realistically, that doesn’t always happen as quickly as a successful business needs it to.
When you’ve exhausted your avenues and aren’t getting anywhere, it may be time to start thinking about how to fire them the right way.