Getting the best from difficult people


Most teams, most groups of people have one member who is a little different from the rest. It might be the way they dress, or their sense of humour, or perhaps they have a particular set of interests that lets us, the normal ones, apply the tag “Maverick”.

In a business environment they can be disruptive and disturb their colleagues but we will often tolerate their behaviour as they can be outstandingly productive and efficient.

There is a management challenge to make sure that in “cutting them enough slack” you are not treating the “ordinary” members of your team unfairly. If you have a maverick who is a poor time-keeper (that’s not at all unusual) you will find it difficult if not impossible to enforce time keeping rules on the rest of the team.

In one business we had a maverick in the technical team. You can picture him – ponytail, loud shirts and calf-length boots. He was brilliant at solving customer challenges, but awful at time and record keeping. We almost felt the need to hide him away when we had visitors in the building!

His behaviour when it came to timekeeping became worse and worse. In a nearby area of the open plan office were the customer services team, who manned the phones and had to be on time every day.

I needed to address the growing conflict; I started by trying to appeal to his better nature, pointing out how the customer services team felt they were being unfairly treated. That worked for a little while, but soon he was back to his old ways.

Talking to him I recognised his need to be different and to stand out from his peers. That was a part of his personality and was reflected in the way he dressed, and was in part responsible for the poor timekeeping. That made him the centre of attention.

We fed that need. We realised that he had so much product knowledge we could get him to share and educate the rest of the teams. We held a weekly “get to know your products” session that he ran, with the first attendees coming from the customer services team.

Over the next few weeks, the customer services team began to regard him with more and more respect.

There was far less hostility, much more interaction and a much nicer office to work in.

Over the next couple of months, another change took place. The dress code calmed down, the timekeeping got better and better.

Later still, the pony tail went – a sponsored charity sacrifice that raised a decent amount of money – but it wasn’t grown back.

The maverick came back to the herd. It can be done – you just have to find the right buttons to push.




Sometime ago we learned that the banks have specialist recovery divisions for clients who appear to be in trouble. Amongst them was RBS, who have been accused of causing their clients to collapse by commissioning property valuations that came in too low support the borrowing. The recovery division claimed the assets and sold them off above the valuation through the bank’s own property business.

I’ve no doubt someone has stepped over the line, but I do wonder what they were thinking about when they created their own property business. If the objective of the RBS property arm is to make money (or as RBS would have it, rather coyly, minimise losses) then it’s not such a big step to the point where they see a customer struggling and think “We could make that project work”

My neighbour is a keen golfer, and these days uses a small electric buggy as he is getting on a bit. He’s been having some trouble with it running out of battery, and the manufacturers finally realised one of the brakes was out of alignment. The buggy has been wasting energy, fighting itself.

One of my clients had a problem with their collections; very long days outstanding, and it was not getting any better. When we drilled into it, the credit control team were doing their best but sometimes had to go back to the customer service team for more information.

The customer service team’s incentives were all around speed of customer response and satisfaction and had nothing to do with credit control, so of course the requests for help from the credit controllers were very low priority.
We made the credit control team a “customer” for the objectives of the customer service team; many of the problems were cleared up and the debtor days were greatly reduced.

How well aligned are the pieces of your business? How much energy do they waste in friction with each other?