Can a technically clever misfit be managed effectively?

Man straightening tie
How mining industry leaders can manage talented but difficult employees.

Here's how managers in the mining industry in Australia can deal with talented but difficult employees.

Every manager in the mining industry in Australia has encountered them at one stage or another — the high-performing “bad apple”.

Such an employee might be technically brilliant at their job, but they have a bad attitude, are uncooperative, or frequently cross swords with their colleagues. Mining industry recruitment can be a hard task, so you want the pick of the bunch.

Difficult employees who do great work, particularly if they perform specialised or technically demanding mining jobs, can pose a significant challenge to their long-suffering managers. You perhaps can’t afford to let them go, but their behaviour impacts negatively on their colleagues and team.

So, can these troublemakers be managed effectively? Here are some strategies for dealing with them.

Make them aware

As a manager you must tackle the issue as soon as possible. Failing to take action early on means you’re letting the individual embed their behaviour, and you’re letting down their colleagues. You need to make sure the person is aware of their behaviour and its impact on the rest of the team. It may be that they are unaware of the problems they are causing in the workplace, in which case, the problem might be easily solved.

Be specific about the behaviours that are falling short, what you expect them to change and why it is an important requirement for their role. You want to see a marked improvement and you want to see that happen soon.

Give them feedback

Once you’ve met with the difficult employee and set out your concerns, you need to keep track of their performance and ensure they’re making progress. You need to give them regular feedback — both positive and negative — and follow that up with  regular reviews. This should help you improve the employee’s performance in both the short and long terms, and reinforces the fact that you are taking the issues seriously.

Good and consistent communication is key to keeping a troublesome employee on track. If your employee does as you have asked and shows improvement, make sure to praise their efforts. Positive reinforcement should encourage more progress.

Be consistent

If you say that certain behaviours are unacceptable, then don’t accept them or turn a blind eye. Your other employees will be watching to see that you are taking the issue seriously and following through. Set the standards you are willing to uphold and stick to them. A one-off chat, in all likelihood, will not solve anything. Remember, the behavior you walk past is the one you willingly accept. If a tricky employee continues to behave badly with no consequences, then why would they change that behaviour?

Think about the tasks you set them

As far as possible, give them tasks and projects that really exploit their best skills. If they are challenged and engaged, they are less likely to cause trouble. If they have difficulty working with others, then give them solo tasks. There is no point trying to shoehorn them into roles and responsibilities that they are ill-suited for, such as leading a team of people. Substantive, challenging assignments that fully utilise and stretch their skills can bring out the best in them.

Give them team-related goals

While the first choice is to give them opportunities to work alone, or with limited team interaction, that’s not always possible. If they do have to work as part of a team, try and refocus them from thinking purely about themselves. Set team-oriented goals and impress upon them the need for successful collaboration to achieve targets. It might not always work, but if they are generally goal-oriented, then that could help modify their behaviour in team environments.

Set consequences if things don’t change

If, despite your best efforts, things still aren’t improving, then you need to be specific. Lay out for them the very real consequences of their continued difficult behaviour, such as reassignment, or worst-case scenario, dismissal. There comes a point when no matter how brilliant they are at their job, a bad apple jeopardises the welfare and success of the company and its employees. Then it’s definitely time to let them go.

Taking action could turn things around

As a mining industry manager, you’ll most likely encounter a number of high-performing bad apples during your career, so you need to know how to tackle them and give them opportunities to improve. If you can turn them around and keep them on board, then you’ve hit a home run for your organisation.

Lindsay McPhee
Mining People International