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How to Deal with the Troublemaker in Your Shop

By SueCanyon | September 13, 2007

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been hired to fire the troublemaker… and how few times I actually end up firing someone, because the system is usually at fault for faulty employee performance.

W. Edwards Deming, the “father of quality”, was as fond of saying, as I am of repeating, “95% of the problems you have with people, are problems with the system within which you make them work.”

I once got into an intense disagreement with one of my professors in business school. The subject was something like ‘group dynamics’, and he stated flatly that one in any group of ten members should be ignored! He described this one ignorable individual as someone like the character, Cliff on the late sitcom, Cheers ─ a person who seems to know everything, and will tell you, but has little practical experience in any of it.

My objection was that, in business, a person would not encounter one ‘Cliff’ in every ten people… that we would more likely encounter one such ignorable person in perhaps one-hundred! We finally agreed, however, that there is often one unhappy person in the group, the one-in-ten that seems to be a ‘trouble-maker’, and that rather than ignoring this person, they especially should be heard.

It has been my experience that the supposed ‘trouble-maker’ often understands more about the problem than everyone else in the group combined. In fact, in my practice, I seek out these disgruntled workers to find out what they’re disgruntled about. Most of the time I find that these people are reluctant to talk. I almost have to trick them into talking to me.

Why? Because they’ve already talked until they’ve earned the label of trouble-maker, and still no one listens. So, in their view, I’ve probably been hired to fire them.

You see, they may want to upset your system, but your system may be broken, and they have the solution. They get frustrated because no one will listen when they have, not always THE answer, but at least AN answer, or part of the answer to a problem that you may not even see.

If you don’t listen to them, you’ll soon lose them. “GREAT!” you say. But the problem that you would not see, will still be there right in the middle of your pocket book. (Read that last sentence again.) Your job as a manager of people is to get the rocks out of their way so they can perform outstanding feats for you. Listen to all your people. And if someone has a particular problem, listen… quiet your mind and listen… until you finally understand the problem from their point of view.

Within Tom Peters and Bob Waterman’s infamous work, “In Search of Excellence”, lies two of my favorite passages with regard to this subject. One, a quote from James Brian Quinn:

“Most corporations fail to tolerate the creative fanatic…”, “He is regarded as ‘not a serious person’, ‘embarrassing,’ or ‘disruptive.'”

Harvard’s Theodore Levitt goes on to say:

“The fact that you can put a dozen inexperienced people in a room and conduct a brainstorming session that produces exciting new ideas shows how little relative importance ideas themselves have… Idea men constantly pepper everybody with proposals and memorandums that are just brief enough to get attention, to intrigue and sustain interest ─ but too short to include any responsible suggestions for implementation. The scarce people are the ones who have the know-how, energy, daring, and staying power to implement ideas… Since business is a ‘get-things-done’ institution, creativity without action-oriented follow-through is a barren form of behavior.”

I’m suggesting that these ‘disruptive’ and ‘embarrassing’ people who work for you, may have the answer to the problem you’ve been wrestling with for some time. You may have to regain their trust, but these could possibly be your best champions, your best cost reduction leaders, your best quality improvement technicians.

Quite often, once these thinkers understand that you’re listening… really listening… it is entirely possible that they will become the best, happiest, most productive employees you ever had.

And it is not necessary that you respond to every idea or suggestion that they have. Truly, some ideas that employees (or owners or spouses for that matter) have are not worth pursuing. However, there are sparks of genius floating around in your people that you don’t want to discourage under any circumstances. So it is crucial to listen to each one.

If an idea is truly not a good one, explain why and move on. Ah… there’s the rub! Most of the time, as we reject ideas that we have not truly understood, we don’t know why they are not good enough to consider. Challenge yourself to understand what your employees have to say well enough that you can explain to them… to their satisfaction… why the idea is not suitable for your business. As you attempt to discover why it won’t work, you may learn why it will… or why it must! And then watch your productivity skyrocket and your turnover plummet.

Until next time, remember… you deserve to get paid!

© Business is Booming! llc

Topics: For Your Employees, Other Mistakes | No Comments »

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