update: managing a high-performing, high-drama employee

Remember the manager asking about a high-performing but high-drama employee? Here’s the update.

I took the advice of several of the writers to do a debrief. So at our next regular monthly meeting, we talked through one of these stressful scenarios in great detail: what happened, how she felt, how others on the team were affected and what led to the project eventually getting completed on time.

We came out of that meeting with some good talking points. When stressful situations have arisen since, I’ve been able to point her back to that discussion, which helps her refocus.

Additionally, in that meeting she mentioned that she was feeling a lot of stress from a side-project which she didn’t feel well-suited for. I was able to take that task off her plate. And I think that went a long way in relieving her current stress level.

What I took away was the importance of really talking through these difficult situations, even if it is after the fact.

Although I wouldn’t call this a solved problem, I think it’s opened the door for us to communicate better about these issues. I don’t know if taking the side-project off her plate was the right call necessarily, but it gave me better insight into what she was thinking and feeling. And in the future when I need to delegate something similar to her, I’ll be more aware of how it might affect her and can be more proactive about addressing those potential issues.

{ 9 comments… read them below }

  1. The Editor

    What a great update. As a manager myself, I love stories like this because they show how much of an impact good management can have on the macro and micro levels.

    Hopefully things keep improving!

  2. Contessa

    I love to hear stories about good managers who pay attention to the issues raised by their employees–I now know it’s possible, if I can just find myself a manager like that. If you want people to do their jobs well and with a minimum of drama, listen to what they tell you they need in order to do it. It’s that simple, and it sounds like you figured that out, OP. I’m kind of jealous of your employees.

  3. Jamie

    This is a great update and the OP did a great job managing…and it goes to show what good management and an employee who is open to taking direction and improving can do.

    Because as excellent as the management was, if the employee was too wrapped up emotionally to change it would still be the same mess. Nice work all the way around.

  4. Soni

    This whole update reads like the perfect answer to an interviewer’s “Tell me about a time when you handled a difficult problem” question.

  5. Editor

    In addition to the comments of people above, who’ve hit points I agree with — good job — I would add that this brings up the importance of fine-tuning workloads.

    By removing a side project that the employee possibly could have handled but either resented or thought she couldn’t cope with, you managed to make the situation work better for everyone. While some employees have skill deficits that are a different sort of problem, aligning work tasks with comfort levels sometimes improves work flow. Having inflexible job descriptions can undermine a manager’s options. Hope things keep improving.

  6. Working Girl

    You sound like a good manager to me. Finally, a manager that listens to the employee, even when they feel the employee is causing grief. People don’t act in their normal way when they are under stress -ever meet someone getting divorced and then meet them after they are divorced – hardly the same person other than they look the same. Having a stressful workload and then a project you can’t complete successfully would cause a lot of havoc on a person. Congrats to you for taking this initiative.

  7. EngineerGirl

    Many times a high performing employee will get loaded up with additional tasks to the point where they feel they can’t give everything the attention and quality it deserves. Stress is the normal byproduct, as you are expecting the high performer to lower their standards and produce a shoddy (for them) product.

    Another thing that happens is that a high performer makes things look easy, when they are in fact quite difficult. Loading them up with extra work distracts them and keeps them from giving the difficult project the focus it needs. Again, another source of stress.

    Good for you for offloading the side project. And keep an eye out for the complexity levels of the jobs you are assigning. You could be loading her down more than you realize. The discussions you are having are a great way to check in on things.

  8. S3

    I’m the OP. Thanks everyone for your encouraging comments.
    This is one of those situations where I need to remind myself that management is a balancing act.

  9. Marcy

    I just stumbled across the web site looking up Employee of the Month programs and haven’t been able to stop reading. I read this posting with great interest and more than a little trepidation that a long term solution has truly been accomplished with this overly dramatic employee. I say that because she sounds like she may have a neurotic personality disorder, in particular the desire for personal achievement, which often borders on the desperate. These people are known to be “moving against others,” in a way that makes her look good to her supervisors (for a while, at least), but does not endear her to her peers. I’d encourage the manager to do some reading on Karen Horney’s Theory of Neuroses.

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