To ensure the smooth running of a team, you need to give employees the support and guidance they need to reach their full potential. For a completely cohesive team, however, you need individuals to respect their colleagues and the role of their managers.
If you've been in charge of a group of employees, whether as a project manager or as a team leader, you're likely to have worked with overconfident individuals. This cognitive bias is known as the Dunning-Krueger effect and can make employees especially difficult to manage for a number of reasons.
Employees who always think they're right can be challenging to handle because they often don't listen to guidance from senior managers, but it can also make it difficult for other professionals to work with them.
Often, these people can be among the most talented and creative individuals and this overconfidence is a manifestation of a desire to do their best. With this in mind, they are still valuable professionals, but so are the rest of your team. So how do you deal with them?
Why managers need to do something
As a manager, it can feel awkward to address performance issues with difficult employees. Direct reports who think they are perfect often have a difficult time receiving feedback and constructive criticism, which can hinder their ability to improve and grow in their role. However, failing to have these difficult conversations can lead to compounding performance issues and prevent you from fostering a culture of continuous improvement, as the employee in question will likely continue to make the same mistakes.
How overconfidence can impact the rest of the team
It's not just the difficult employee themselves who will be impacted. An employee who thinks they're perfect can have a negative impact on the rest of the team and even the entire business in many ways.
Firstly, they may have a bad attitude towards their colleagues, and may not be receptive to feedback or criticism. This can create a toxic work environment where other team members feel demotivated or undervalued as a consequence.
Secondly, overconfident and toxic employees may not be open to constructive feedback or suggestions from others. This can hinder the progress of the team and the business, as it's likely they won't be willing to learn from their mistakes or improve their performance.
Furthermore, an employee with this attitude can have a significant impact on team morale. Their arrogance and lack of humility can create a sense of resentment and hostility within the team and lead to a breakdown in communication and collaboration, resulting in poor and non-satisfactory job performance and missed opportunities.
Ignoring performance issues also sends the message that subpar work is acceptable, setting a low standard for the entire team. This can lead to decreased productivity and morale, as other employees may become frustrated by the lack of accountability.
Having difficult conversations with employees who think they are perfect can be uncomfortable, but it's necessary to address performance issues and foster a culture of continous improvement. Providing specific examples of areas where improvement is needed and offering support and resources can help employees understand where they need to grow and feel motivated to do so.
5 ways deal with employees who think they're perfect
1. Give them autonomy - but set clear boundaries
To channel strong-minded employees you need to give them a role that they can take charge of. For people that find taking orders or backing down difficult, this can be the opportunity to give them the autonomy they crave but with firm boundaries. To do this, give them a breakdown of what their responsibilities will be, but make sure you're clear about what they need to consult with you or other team members on to make a decision.
This should give them the right level of compromise between being able to follow their gut and understanding the importance of considering the views of others.
2. Be consistent with discipline
They may be talented and of high value to the company, but there must be consequences for them when they go too far. Whether this is not listening to other co-workers during projects or not taking their manager's guidance into consideration, there needs to be a disciplinary procedure in place. This shouldn't be exclusive to any certain individual, but they need to know when they've overstepped the mark.
As with most disciplinary actions, you should have stages. The first, for example, should be an informal chat, which then leads into more serious consequences like written warnings. Holding employees accountable is incredibly important to ensuring they can remain a key part of a team.
3. Keep things focused
You shouldn't allow underperforming employees to be a disruptive influence on the rest of the team. Strong-minded, overconfident individuals can take pleasure in having endless debates, hoping that people will concede and agree with them to avoid the conversation taking up any more time. The most important thing to deal with this is to ensure whoever is leading the meeting or brainstorm sticks to the schedule to keep things focused and will reign them in.
It's disrespectful to everyone else attending to allow events to overrun so have clear tactics to change the topic or draw a close to the meeting without them getting their own way.
4. Avoid reacting with emotion
When employees build themselves a reputation for being disruptive and strong-minded, it can become a self-fulfilling prophecy that they feel they have to maintain. This can mean they say or do things just to get a reaction from you or other team members. You should be careful that you don't respond with emotions but keep fixated on the goals of the meeting or discussion to avoid things spiraling.
It's also a good exercise to make sure you're not just clashing with someone's personality and dismissing their ideas, which may be of value, because it's not exactly how you'd go about it. Often, people can be jealous of younger professionals without even realizing it, so it's important that you check your own emotions and how you respond to strong-minded professionals on your team.
5. Praise them for high-quality work
Instead of simply reprimanding them in performance appraisals, another effective way to steer difficult employees in the right direction is by providing positive feedback in the form of praise. Praising overconfident employees for their strengths can help them become more self-aware and understand the areas they need to work on. Similarly, praising underperforming employees for their efforts can motivate them to continue working hard and improve their skills.
Doing this more formally during performance reviews and appraisals is a great way to keep this documented and give more concrete ways for these employees to improve - without it feeling like a personal attack.