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Heather Townsend

The Excedia Group


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Trainer’s tip: How to manage your firm’s dysfunctional star


Do you have a maverick in your midst in the office? Is there someone you work with who refuses to toe the line but whose ability to get the results you need is undeniable? Heather Townsend has a tip or two for you...

Every firm has one. You know, the person whose potential/rain-making skills/client relationship management is such that they are talked about in reverent hushed tones. But they are a b*gger to work with, and you've been given the short straw and told to manage them. Already a few people have come up to you and said, 'good luck' you are going to need it managing that one...

Yep, you've got the job of  ironing out the rather large kinks in their personality whilst making sure that you don't annoy them too much - 'as they are very valuable to the success of this firm'.

The problem is their strengths, such as a large and profitable client portfolio, is masking some rather nasty behavioural problems. I've seen this quite a few times with absolutely brilliant partners who are just about managing to avoid being taken to an employment tribunal for discrimination of some kind. Or it's the long-timer in the firm who has so much firm-wide knowledge that 'the firm would fall apart without them', but is not doing the job you now need them to do. I remember when I used to work with a financial services company. If a fee earner was bringing in fees over three times their salary, it didn't matter how they behaved to others. They became 'off-limits'.

"Before you start managing the person, you need to get senior management's agreement to the consequences of the person not making the change."

The danger is if you ignore the problem, it doesn't go away. In fact it often gets worse, and their behaviour gets accepted as the norm - and the more junior members of staff believe that the firm is OK with poor behaviour or attitudes. You know... 'as long as you are bringing in the work, it doesn't matter how you behave'. This makes it increasingly difficult for managers in the firm to reinforce the importance of living within the firm values.

So what's the solution? You have to manage the whole person, warts and all. Almost definitely the star's behavioural issues have been ignored, because they are 'so good' in other areas. This means that they often don't realise their impact on others, or the extent of the problem. The longer you let the problem fester the worse it will become. Before you start managing the person, you need to get senior management's agreement to the consequences of the person not making the change.

The first step to managing the person, is to help them understand their strengths, weaknesses - and particularly how this impacts on others - and if they changed their behaviour how it would benefit them personally.

Step two is to 'coach' the star to find the personal motivation to make the change.

Step three is to spend time with the star to help them make the change

Ultimately, if the 'star' is not changing, then you have to enact the consequences of not changing. Sometimes, this may mean exiting them.

Heather Townsend is the Chief Coach at The Efficiency Coach, and Founding Elder of ‘the executive village’. The Efficiency Coach, an award-winning business, works with professional advisors and business owners to help them achieve better business results for less effort

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Heather Townsend


Read more from Heather Townsend

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