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5 Ways to Tell the Difference Between a Difficult Employee and an Innovator

Hiring, Human Resources, Leadership...

When it comes to human resource management, a critical skill is the ability to recognize talent within your organization.  In every team, there are star performers; individuals who do a good job of showcasing their productivity and abilities.  Management teams can be challenged however by individuals with high performance indicators, and lower agreeability, in terms of relating to and working within a team environment.

Natural leaders and performance oriented individuals may not always act in compliance with the norms of a work environment.  In fact, they appear on the surface as noncompliant, disruptive and sometimes argumentative.  Intuitive managers should be ready to evaluate an unconventional employee from a possibility perspective instead; is the professional deliberately subordinate, or are they the kind of creative thinker, visionary and implementer that your organization needs to continue to innovate within your industry?

For seasoned recruiters and hiring professionals, there are many indicators that may identify a highly driven, and talented employee.  Are you overlooking some of the innate skills and leadership potential within your own organization?  We share five accurate ways to recognize the difference between a difficult employee, and an innovator.

1. They Challenge the Status Quo

An innovator will always ask questions, and drill down to understand much more than the minimum operational requirement for his or her role.   They are also unlikely to adopt the same style as a predecessor, when it comes to procedures and organizational methods.   The rationale is simple; they have big ideas, and they are confident that they can do it better with a modified approach.

Innovators at their core, are brilliant social scientists, and unconventional thinkers. If one method has worked successfully in the past, they are unlikely to adopt that method, but will instead review, learn and master the role by trying new ways of doing things.  For a bureaucratic work environment (one that rewards conventionalism) the employee can appear to be insubordinate for not following instructions.

2. They Are Passionate About Their Performance

Innovators are unlikely to be silent about their accomplishments.  Often gregarious and outspoken, they enjoy making others aware of their achievements.  But this does not always come from an intention to appear boastful or rude.  Rather, the commitment and drive they must succeed is fed and rewarded by exceeding expectations, and receiving praise.   It matters deeply to them, and when provided by an organization, it fosters continuous improvement and engagement from the employee(s).

3. They May Conflict Frequently with Other Employees

Creating a harmonious work environment means mutual respect between management and subordinates, and between employees and their colleagues.  At a professional level, everyone is expected to simply get along, even when we know that avoiding conflict in the workplace is virtually impossible.  People will, from time to time, express hostility toward each other, whether due to competitive or personal emotional triggers.

Sub-performing employees will dislike an innovator, because they threaten the comfortable status quo of the team dynamic and work environment.  Nothing is quite as threatening as a new all-star on the team, and whether subliminal or deliberate, lower performing employees can (and frequently do) reject high performing innovators, and colleagues with a strong leadership bent.

The problem put simply, is not that the innovative employee is unable to get along with others, but frequently that his or her colleagues feel threatened by their performance.

4. They Don’t Always Follow the Rules

It can be frustrating and personally challenging for manager to lead employees who have a disregard for established rules.  While some rules are non-negotiable, including moral conduct, does your organization provide opportunities for modifying rules and procedures, if an alternative method is proposed?

At the root of most challenging situations, where an employee simply refuses to follow the rules, is an observation frequently missed by managers.  The individual may manifest significant leadership and critical thinking skills; friction is natural between one or more leadership personalities, but intuitive managers find a way to provide acknowledgement and even expanded responsibilities, to employees who demonstrate solid leadership skills.

5. They Are Expressive About Problems, Obstacles and Solutions

You want people who are willing to confront problems in systems, software or management. As much as it can be uncomfortable to have problems diagnosed openly, managers and corporate leadership should be ready to accept constructive feedback, as it leads to problem solving and solutions that can have measurable impacts on cost and profitability.

While every team is unique, unengaged workers are less likely to be open about problems that may impact their performance, or that of the division or department they work in. Innately, some workers feel threatened by the idea of change, and managers can count on those employees to say very little, if anything at all, when queried about performance improvement.

Team members that are willing to figuratively ‘stick their neck out’ and talk frankly about needed improvements, can be your most loyal and activated employees.  It is never comfortable for any employee to say, “this isn’t working well”, but the ones that muster the courage and conviction to do so, tend to be deeply committed to the organization.  They want to stay, but they need to share what they know to help the business make improvements.

Expressive employees who are eager to share ideas, and identify problems, are often labeled as ‘negative’ or interpersonally difficult to deal with.  Look past the presentation toward what is motivating that employee.  If they are a high performer, understand that they are sharing as an innovator, with a sincere intention to see improvements realized.  If they are disliked by some long-term colleagues, consider the possibility that they may be setting the achievement bar much higher than their co-workers are comfortable with.

While constantly looking for new talent to add to your organization, don’t forget to do an inventory of underutilized talent from within, and train managers to identify and effectively communicate with innovators, to support the success and growth of your company.