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Passion, People and Principles

The indecisive employee

post # 539 — April 30, 2008 — a Managing, Strategy, Strategy and the Fat Smoker post

A reader from Russia wrote in with this:

After reading Strategy and the Fat Smoker, I made a research in our company to find out the types of people who work with me. It was very positive because I found out that we have:

  • 75% of employees with long term and team motivation
  • 15% – wolf pack
  • 5% – individualist
  • 5% – spider

It was funny that after this research two managers-individualists left the service at once and other employees were very happy about it.

I have one question to you: how can we determine the type of person if he can’t clearly answer the questions about his motivation, for example:

1. He wants to be motivated 50% by team result and 50% by individual result

2. He wants to invest time to have long term result but don’t want to lose money in short term period


I’d suggest taking him out to dinner and pointing out that he cannot get what he wants in life if he doesn’t make choices! If he continues to go back and forward, I’d point out that he won’t be comfortable with with the rerst of the team, and they won’t be comfortable with him. It might be time to move on.

What do the rest of you think? Would you be more “accomodating”? Does everyone have to be oriented the same way?


Jo said:

Huh? The solution is in the contradiction?? The person is saying to the leader there is the rock, there is the hard place, can you see the path in between.

The leader is the person who puts the first foot on the path which allows everyone to move forward together. And then the next foot . .

posted on April 30, 2008

Richard Cantin said:

I conceptually agree that there are some people who are toxic to an organization and the best course of action, after trying to resolve the behaviour, is to remove them.

I must say though, that the advice to tell him “he cannot get what he wants in life if he cannot make choices! reeks of the “fool’s choice” discussed in Kerry Patterson’s “Crucial Conversations” audio book. Life is not always about choosing A or B; it is often about finding the best of A and combining it with the best of B to create the best overall solution.

The discomfort I feel is not unlike the reaction I have to some of the questions used in Personality Profiling / Assessment questionnaires where they ask me to choose between two extremes, neither of which reflect my values or opinions. I understand the purpose of a forced choice for assessments, but to give someone that advice under the guise of life coaching is flawed.

We do not always live in a black and white world.

As I grow and learn, I often find myself appreciating the opinions of others – including those who do not agree with me – because they have experiences and perspectives that I have not had. Stating absolutely that A is better than B gets progressively harder when all factors are considered.

I do believe there are some absolutes. As an example, I do not believe in using physical violence or intimidation to get my point across. And yes, as I say this, I do realize there will be some who will point out times when force is a necessary response and I would agree with some of them.

However, in the normal, everyday, ebb and flow of life, purely binary choices are the exception, not the rule by which to live.

Granted, I try to hire and like to work with people who are oriented to doing what is best for the team, not just the individual. But this “group think” also has disadvantages: being too conservative in business and never “rocking the boat” – even if the boat is a risk of sinking, preserving what has always been done even if a better way exists that may disadvantage some / many of the existing participants, … . An organization needs balance between individual and team motivation / accountability so that each individual is doing the best they can – within the strategy / vision of the organization.

As for the short term / long term paradox, what leader is not faced with the balancing act required in this choice. Too much focus on the long term may create a situation where the company is not around to enjoy the long term because it goes bankrupt before getting there. How many great technical innovations have we seen crash and burn when the business ignored the necessity of the short term to chase a lofty vision? And the corollary is also true. Paying exclusive attention to the short term, as we have seen many stock-market-driven-executives do recently, has potentially disastrous results as well. Once again, that BALANCE word comes to mind, not the binary choice scenario suggested.

Let me end by reinforcing again my agreement with the principle of removing from an organization those people whose toxic behaviour drags them and their co-workers down. But the way of dealing with those discussions and processes is not as simple or black-and-white as was presented and I would encourage anyone as a leader in this situation to do a few things:

  • Check first that your reaction to the person is not just one of difference. Having different perspectives on a team is not only helpful, but necessary for success in my mind.
  • Focus on the values being reflected by the behaviour – the values must align with the corporate values or there will be problems
  • In the discussions, talk about the behaviours you see that you THINK demonstrate a misalignment of values and be prepared to hear a different interpretation
  • If it turns out the values are misaligned, remove the person. I think it is wrong to try to convince someone to leave. That is your choice as leader.

Richard Cantin



posted on April 30, 2008

David (Maister) said:

Thanks, Richard. Am I allowed to observe that your balanced, considerate, understanding remarks. Are very Canadian?

posted on April 30, 2008

Marjorie Vincent, Harrison and Star said:

PI think 50/50 is OK. Not everyone has to be squarely one type or another. There’s room for people who are team players and work well with their teams (collaborators and consensus builders), but who also have some individualism and competitive spirit in them. We’ve found at our agency (where collaboration is one of our core values) that it can be the competitive types who push for the highest quality work and keep us striving to be better.

posted on April 30, 2008

David Kirk said:

Myers-Briggs, as an example of a still widely used personality profiling tool, has been criticised because it does not clearly delineate personality types. Respondent aren’t generally clustered around specific personality types, but rather are spread all over the continuum of types.

MB, and others, can be informative and useful in better understanding ourselves and others, but as real platonic forms they fall down rapidly.

Having said that, I think the real issue is not one of choosing between A and B, but rather of recognising that there are trade-offs and YOU CAN’T HAVE IT ALL. No matter what Freddie Mercury and Queen want. However, before I incur the wrath of other readers, I’m also not implying that all choices are zero sum games. Sometimes the best solution will be only A, sometimes part A and part B, and sometimes C. Not recognising that finding the best (or even a good) solution requires more work than wanting it all, supersized.

In my experience, this extends beyond neat technical optimisation problems (the kind I am most familiar with) but to broader strategic choices and people management.

I know a guy who cannot deal with conflict – wants to please everybody all the time. Result? Displeases most people most of the time.

Recognising the existence of difficult choices and trade-offs is step one. Creative solutions, win-win, positive sum games, getting on with it, getting the right people on the bus, shooting the pigeon and making choices comes next.

posted on May 1, 2008