I’m a bit of a sports nut. Ever since I was a kid, I played, watched, and to varying degrees obsessed over different sports. Even to this day, I watch SportsCenter just about every morning. It’s a nice escape from the daily grind.
These days, the folks in Briston, CT stories are bringing us a full menu of Tiger Woods’ travails, PEDs, and the NBA playoffs. These stories are dominating the headlines. And, of course, there’s the annual Brett Favre saga, distilled into one question: Will he play next year or won’t he?
At the risk of playing amateur shrink, it seems to me that each year Favre is honestly conflicted. He sees the pros and cons of playing vs. retiring and genuinely has a difficult time deciding what to do. What’s more, to his credit, Favre seems to have a sense of humor about his shtick, as evinced by this recent Sears’ commercial.
At the same time, though, I’ve felt a bit sorry for Favre’s last three employers: the Packers, the Jets, and the Vikings. They have had to put up with his annual rite of passage, making staffing decisions (via free agency and the draft) based on one huge unknown: Will their quarterback show up for mini camp?
While I can’t claim to have ever managed a professional sports team (fantasy sports don’t count), I was thinking about the most effective ways of managing a diva.
Short-term: Admit that you need divas
We’ve all seen organizations beholden to key employees at specific times. I’ve watched companies scramble to keep a high performer who has received an offer to go across the street. Many factors result in an employee having a unique set of skills essential to the continued success of an organization. I’m not talking about an administrative assistant or HR person who knows where the bodies are buried. Rather, there are often operational, marketing, sales, R&D, or business development folks without whom a company may not be able to survive.
While policies are procedures are important, sometimes rules need to be broken and exceptions need to be made. For example, having worked in HR during the early part of my career, sometimes compensation “adjustments” were necessary apart from the annual review cycle. Organizational policies should allow for the requisite flexibility to deal with exceptional circumstances; rigid conformity to standard operating procedures ultimately does more harm than good.
Near-term: Plan for backup
As a friend of mine used to say, the burnt hand teaches best. Appeasing a diva with a promotion and/or raise might stop the bleeding, but it may not significantly reduce organizational risk. What’s more, some employees’ demands just can’t be met.
Sometimes rules need to be broken and exceptions need to be made.
Here are a few questions to consider:
- Are there other “high potential” employees in need of “stretch” roles? GE made this practice common and, to my knowledge, still uses it today.
- If budgets are tight and hiring “bench strength” is not an option, do you have a list of targets outside of the organization in the event that the diva leaves?
Far too often, HR departments, hiring managers, and organizations take an exclusively reactive approach to recruiting. They wait until someone gives notice (or not) before starting the process of replacing a key departure. Assess the risks associated with essential positions and use social networks such as LinkedIn to monitor the availability of viable candidates as contingencies. Be prepared to act quickly when the “right’ candidate has been identified.
Long-term: Change the culture
Often, people are too quick to look at divas in isolation. They’ll make often incorrect assumption that the diva is a pain in the ass for exclusively internal reasons. Bad childhood, maybe? While that might be the case on an individual level, take a look at the culture that may very well enable diva-like behavior. Consider the following questions:
- Are employees in a company or department so overworked that they can’t collaborate and share knowledge?
- Is the environment simply not conducive to working well together and cross-pollination?
- Does the organization’s performance management system reward the right type of behaviors or simply results?
- Does the organization routinely reward “game winning drives” because of lack of proper planning and risk management?
This one’s the toughest. To some extent, people have always been out for themselves, but things have changed. We’re no longer in the 1950s, those halcyon days in which employees and employers exhibited strong degrees of loyalty to each other. That social contract has eroded over the last twenty years to the point at which more and more employees are asking, “What’s in it for me?” I just don’t see that changing anytime soon. Realize this and plan accordingly.
How do you deal with divas? I’m sure that you have stories.