You know him (or her). He is the irrational employee. The irrational employee is usually a good producer or an essential person. Here is how to manage him, instead of letting him manage you.
Rewarded for bad behavior
Irrational employees learn that by behaving badly, they can intimidate others and get what they want. Essentially, they are bullies. They have hair triggers and strong personalities. People walk on eggshells around them, hoping they will not be set off. Instead of a smoothly functioning team, a team with an irrational employee becomes dysfunctional. Everything is tilted because of one person.
Bad behavior is observed by everyone else
Not only is everyone worried about setting off the irrational employee, but everyone is watching how you handle him. They wonder why you let him get away with his behavior. They tell each other that the irrational employee “must have photos or something.” They don’t get it and it affects their loyalty.
Other employees pick up on signals and likewise start to behave irrationally to get what they want. When this happens, you have a company where the owner worries about implementing needed changes because all of the plumbers will leave or the essential office person will quit. The inmates are running the asylum.
When your business is process-driven, the system drives performance, not the players.
Bring back the sanity
Dealing with the irrational employee is a test of your management fortitude and leadership abilities. If you cannot manage it, you will either lose control of your company or end up with little company left and have to start over. The latter is not the worst outcome, but only if you learn and prevent a recurrence. Here are the steps you should take to reduce the influence, impact, and disruptions that comes from an irrational employee.
Run your company by processes
When your business is process-driven, the system drives performance, not the players. Sure, top performers are still top performers. That is always the case. In a process driven business, weaker players produce at higher levels because the system supports them. This reduces dependence on the superstars.
Too many contractors feel they are unable to risk the departure of a key person because there is no, “next man up.” They do not have a pipeline for talent. Recruiting is not something that is done to fill a hole, it is something done continuously. Work on it every week. Always think of people you are developing or can bring in who could step up if necessary and replace a vacancy.
Define the playing field
Irrational employees who learn boundaries can become excellent team players. The problem is it is unlikely anyone has ever given them boundaries. Define the field of play for everyone. Say, “This is how we do it here. Do it differently and you are choosing to leave.”
The boundaries define the playing field. Within the boundaries, employees are free to operate. Step out of bounds and they are not.
Rule him out of bounds
When the irrational employee steps out of bounds, you must call him out. Keep it from being personal. Irrational employees thrive on making everything personal. Instead, refer to the boundaries, which are black and white. You showed up late, you cannot enter the meeting. You do not attend the meeting and you get sent home for the day. You are not making the choice, the employee made the choice and you are merely enforcing the policy.
Seeing that you are serious for the first time, the irrational employee might come around. Conversely, he might continue to test you. You should be prepared for that and if necessary accept his self-termination.
The game continues
You probably worry about the impact of the irrational employee exiting the field of play. The rest of your team will wonder why it took so long. The rest of the team will perform better. Teams always perform better when there is structure and discipline and execution. Once you see the impact (or lack thereof) of the irrational employee’s departure, you will wonder why it took you so long.