Toxic Employees, Motivating Teams, Micromanaging: Solving the Biggest Challenges of Management

by Jason Evanish, CEO Get Lighthouse, Inc.

What do you consider the biggest challenges of management? Where are you struggling to apply the lessons from the Lighthouse blog and other sources?

Welcome to part two of our new blog series called, "Ask Lighthouse.” Each week, Jason Evanish, the CEO and founder of Lighthouse, and other leaders will share their suggestions for overcoming your biggest challenges based on their experience and lessons learned helping others.

The goal is to provide nuance and detail that you can't find in our long-form posts that try to be more generally applicable. 

You can send in your questions for next week here: Submit Your Questions for Next Week Here

This Week's Ask Lighthouse: The No-A**hole Rule, Fresh Approaches to Motivation, Avoiding Micromanaging

Our second post in this series focuses on the following three challenges you may be experiencing, too:

Let's dive into the questions and how you can overcome them.

toxic employees are one of the biggest challenges of management

Are high-performing jerks on your team really worth it? 

Question #1:

"I have a person on my team who's miles ahead of the others in terms of talent but has an attitude problem. Her behavior is not good for team morale, but we can't afford to lose her. What can we do?”

If everyone is noticing her effect on morale, then you simply can't afford to keep her. The thing with toxic team members is, it's not just about their own performance -  they often demotivate and bring your entire team down as well.

A report from Harvard Business School has outlined the real cost of assholes or toxic employees:

"In comparing the two costs, even if a firm could replace an average worker with one who performs in the top 1%; it would still be better off by replacing a toxic worker with an average worker by more than two-to-one."

Having a high-performing a**hole on your team can also adversely affect your turnover rate. Why? Imagine a good employee trying to do their best while having to put up with the toxic behavior of their colleague. 

If the same rules don't apply for everyone, and the issues persist, it's natural to want to leave. A 2021 Cornerstone survey has found that good employees are 54 percent more likely to quit when they have a toxic employee on their team.

The Scary, but True Answer: Get rid of the toxic employee and your entire team will thrive

In this scenario, the solution is simple - get rid of toxic team members instead of making others adapt to them.

Even if the employee is doing great, the negative impact they have on the rest of the team makes them a net negative for your company. They have to either reform their ways, or leave - there's no other way to make this work.

If they leave, the performance and morale of everyone on the team will improve. That overall difference will more than make up for the asshole's impact.

Stanford professor Bob Sutton has literally written a book about this (The No Asshole Rule), and we highly recommend reading it for dealing with similar situations. For more content on what causes high employee turnover (including high performing a**holes), visit the following links:

motivating your team is one of the most important challenges of management

Is it a good idea to manage people like I see some sports coaches yell at their team?

Question #2:

"I've seen many sports coaches "provoking” their players and challenging them to do better, and I'd like to try something similar. Have you had experience motivating your team this way and if yes, can you suggest how I can try something similar?”

When you see a professional coach do things, you have to understand they're working with the best of the best of the best of the best. An NBA player or a Champions League soccer player is literally one of the top 500-1000 people out of 6.5 Billion people at an activity. 

What motivates that elite level of person can be very different from your average person. Also, keep in mind that said athlete is being paid under contract a lot of money. That makes them tolerate more, and maybe even recognize they need that extra pressure. 

Equally important, keep in mind that pro athletes cannot do something all of your employees can do: quit. 

It's good to set goals and talk to your team transparently about why their work matters, but there are so many better ways to motivate them besides berating and yelling at them.

Use all the levers of motivation to boost your team's performance

Different people respond to different motivators, but some things are pretty universal. That's what we focus on in Lighthouse. We have some great resources on getting the most out of your team in different situations, that are a lot better than yelling at, berating, or otherwise being abusive to your team:

Unlike a sports coach, you likely can't afford to make your people angry. Even if you have good intentions, there's a big chance of things developing badly and affecting your entire team's morale.

Use the various levers of motivation discussed in the posts above and make time for higher quality one on ones. By continually talking to your people, you'll begin to understand what drives them and how to use that to get the best performances out of them.

task relevant maturity will help you handle the biggest challenges of management

Leading your team to deliver results without micromanaging

Question #3: 

"How do you set staff deadlines and co-ordinate your team's output without it feeling like you're micromanaging?”

This is where the concept of Task Relevant Maturity comes in super handy. Co-founder & CEO of Intel, Andy Grove, coined the term Task Relevant Maturity in his management book, High Output Management.  He described it in the following way:

"How often you monitor should not be based on what you believe your subordinate can do in general, but on his experience with a specific task and his prior performance with it – his task relevant maturity…

As the subordinate's work improves over time, you should respond with a corresponding reduction in the intensity of the monitoring.”

Grove also provided this easy-to-understand table to help you apply Task Relevant Maturity to your team:

task relevant maturity can help you solve the biggest challenges of management

Finding the balance between micromanaging and delegating

Here's how to decide how much you need to be involved in your team's work:

If someone's brand new with a task, you should be super hands-on. Don't assume they can handle a new responsibility as if they've been performing it for years. This can lead to avoidable and costly mistakes.

As their Task Relevant Maturity grows, focus on mutually agreed-upon deadlines and stick to lighter, less frequent check-ins to see what they want help with.

Offer your support and coaching whenever they feel there's something they need help with, but otherwise give them increasing levels of freedom to do their work how and when they see fit. As long as they continue meeting your quality and timing expectations, you can step back further and further.

When they get really good at something, let them take the initiative and think about how best to structure a project. At this point, you're setting very little except for the outcome so that they can control the scope.

Use Task Relevant Maturity as a way to gauge how much time you should spend guiding your team. While a hands-on approach at the beginning might look like you're micromanaging, it's absolutely vital for avoiding costly mistakes and building up confidence in your team members.

For more resources on Task Relevant Maturity, check out these links:

What are the biggest challenges you've faced? Let us know!

At Lighthouse, we're always collecting feedback and looking for ways to help you improve. 

What are your biggest leadership challenges right now?  Let us know by submitting your question for next week here. 

We'll anonymize anything needed to respect your privacy, and you'll get an answer to your biggest challenge right now. 

Jason Evanish

Jason Evanish

As the founder and CEO of Get Lighthouse, Inc, Jason and the Lighthouse team have helped managers grow their leadership skills in dozens of countries around the world. They’ve worked with a variety of companies from non-profits to high growth startups, and government organizations to well known, publicly traded companies. Jason has also been featured in publications including NPR, the Wall Street Journal, and Fast Company.

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