How to manage a maverick

What do you do if your agency has some big characters? Mary Budd, HR Knowledge Course Coordinator, looks at the ways HR can help get the most out of life's mavericks.

Giles is an account director, and a very good one. Always immaculately dressed, he is utterly charming to clients and colleagues alike, and is a popular regular on the agency pub outings. He manages a couple of junior account staff who speak highly of his mentoring. His clients know that he’s totally reliable. If he says that something will happen, it does. When everything is going well, he is the life and soul of the agency, with a timely good word for everyone...

Giles, however, has an extremely low boredom threshold. He hates admin and is always the last to turn in his timesheets and expense claims. He likes to get his own way, too, and has had to be pulled up a couple of times by senior management for manipulating others into doing the “boring” stuff that he doesn’t want to do. Needless to say, he’s rather less popular with the people who need him to deliver his paperwork on time.

So how do you get Giles to do his appraisals? How do you persuade a maverick to do something that he sees as a dull form-filling exercise?

Our industry is full of big characters, some of them truly exceptional. One of the challenges for agency managers, and particularly for HR, is to find the levers that switch people on and motivate them to do the stuff that doesn't come naturally. HR people are rarely in a position to issue orders. So how do you get the best result? 

The key is having the skills to be able to analyse what makes someone tick, and the ability to apply a range of motivation techniques that are right for different people. To do that, it’s helpful to be familiar with some of the tried and tested personality frameworks available. Even if you don’t want to use psychometric testing for making decisions about people, it can be a brilliant way to promote self-awareness and help to build optimal teams. These tools can also give us the right language for talking about the variations between people, which are often subtle. And that can be hugely useful for finding the right way to motivate them.

In Giles’ case, this means encouraging his instinct for teaching and mentoring. Although he would hate to think of himself as a “type”, he’s a classic ENFJ (Extraversion, Intuition, Feeling, Judgement), using the Myers-Briggs Type Inventory. Make sure that he understands that the appraisals are not just a tedious bit of bureaucracy, but another tool for helping his juniors become the best they can be. Engage him in the process: ask him for suggestions on how to make the system more streamlined and easier to use. Emphasise that the important part of the appraisal is the discussion – which he enjoys – and not the form-filling. He thrives on praise and may well not be as super-confident as he appears. He needs to get positive feedback from all concerned when the work gets done: from his team, his boss, and from you. On the plus side, if you can help him to see the benefits of appraisal and how it helps the people that he manages, he might even become a persuasive champion.

This is just one of the exercises covered in the IPA's HR Knowledge course, which starts on Wednesday 14th February at 5pm. Over six three-hour sessions, you will learn all the basics for successful people – and maverick – management.