Successful contracting is more about dealing with people than it is about using the tools. By and large, we seem to be able to get along with most folks, but there is always that group of individuals who can drive us absolutely batty. While they are probably less than 5 percent of the population, the frustration difficult people cause — and the impact it has on our daily lives — can make it seem much higher.
Let’s start off by defining the characteristics of a typical difficult person:
• Abrasive behavior: Frequently, there is something about them that really bugs us. They are like screeching fingernails on a chalkboard. They know how to get under our skin. Maybe they are a bully, possibly a goody-goody or just plain negative. In any event there is an ongoing difficulty in dealing with them.
• They are right, the world is wrong:They see the world with their own tainted lenses and feel they are right. If there was a long line and they were the only one not standing in it, their thought would be, “Look at all those other people out of line.”
• They don’t know it: We tend to take difficult people’s actions personally. We seem to think they stay up at night and plot against us. Maybe a few do, but most are clueless to their irritation and their annoyance is merely a byproduct of their day-to-day behavior. They respond to the beat of a different drum, but they rarely are trying to beat on you.
Next let’s talk about what they may not be. They are probably not stupid, lazy or technically incompetent. In fact, some of our best workers may be prima donnas. Frequently, our best salesperson, best tradesperson or out best office administrator can be, well, difficult at times. So firing that person and getting someone else who is not as competent may not be your best strategy. So how do you manage them?
• Isolate them: Do not expect them to be a team player. They are not wired that way. Give them a blind, deaf, mute helper that can put up with them and let them work their butts off. Exploit their strengths and minimize their negatives.
• Don’t try to change them: Never try to teach a pig to sing. It doesn’t work and it annoys everyone. Rather, try to control and limit the impact of their behavior. Isolation will help with this, but you may have to bring them in and warn them. Or another strategy is to keep moving them around until there is a fit, but rarely do they change.
• Feed their ego: Who cares if they think they are better than you? Let them be a giant in their own mind as long as they produce and do not damage the company.
• Overload them: Keep them busy working. Let them do what they do best, which is produce. When they have time to cause trouble, they can and will.
• Communicate clearly: Make sure you have a specific understanding of performance and what they must do and get an agreement to it. Set clearly defined goals. Don’t leave terms open to interpretation, such as what constitutes a “good” job. A teenager’s definition of a clean room is usually much different than the parents’ expectation.
• Debate tasks, not people: It is OK to disagree about how something should be done. A better installation can come out of such a discussion. It is not OK to have conflict about each other. Argue about boards and nails but not each other. The minute “you did this” comes into the disagreement, it quickly spirals downward.
• Fire with honor: When you just can’t take it anymore or they become so poisonous they hurt the organization, let them go in a professional, quick and courteous manner. Don’t get into if you had only done this or that — merely let them go somewhere else and become somebody else’s problem.
Again, all of this may be a lot of trouble, but high performers are not always noted for their congenial nature. People who care about their job will invariably disagree from time to time. I wish I could give you a magic answer as to when being difficult is too much to put up with and when it is not. Coaches in professional sports deal with this issue every day.
When the employee’s behavior is so negative it overpowers the organization, then you have a major problem. No matter how hard you try, this person may eventually have to go. The employee we terminate rarely keeps us up at night, and we often wait too long to fix the problem. Just remember that business is about managing people, not just boards and nails.
Remembering Mike Mehrer
On Tuesday, Dec.18, the roofing industry lost an icon with the passing of Mike Mehrer, retired CertainTeed marketing executive. If not for him, I would not be writing a column for Roofing Contractoror doing roofing contractor consulting. He had the foresight to search the construction industry and find consultants who were helping contractors. He was always probing to find a way to improve the contractor’s lot in life. He truly understood that if contractors were more successful, so were manufacturers. He understood that if contractors were not making money or could not communicate the benefit of better products to consumers, the industry could not improve. While many claim to be the voice of the customer, Mike was the voice of the customer. He was someone who was passionate about the industry, creative and trustworthy. I learned as much from him as he did from me. He was also a guy who spent many a night on the road, away from his family, helping contractors. A tear comes to my eye as I toast him and honestly say the roofing industry is a better place because of him.