It is human nature to avoid problems, especially when they involve other people.  It is easy to take the easy road that represents the path of least resistance.  While appealing, it is seldom constructive.  This is particularly true if you manage others.

A manager’s responsibility is to lead their team. Their management style may look very different, but the objective remains the same. Regardless of how word it, managers must lead their team to accomplish something. Avoiding under performing or uncooperative employees in favor of your stars will always backfire over time.

Think of this analogy from a groundwater well. It is easy to draw water from a well-primed and producing well, but how many times can you return to the same well before it runs dry? It is easy to bypass a non-producing well, especially if you are not willing to experiment with priming the pump. The analogy of a groundwater well illustrates the decisions managers make each day when it comes to delegating tasks and responsibilities. Do you have your producing wells that get things done with minimum direction? Do you have a few dry wells that provide nothing but resistance and do not appear to be worth the bother?

Do you find yourself apologizing to your good employees because you continually ask them to carry a larger load?

It is the manager’s responsibility to keep everyone engaged on the team or project. Avoiding the under performer will never help that person achieve the performance levels upon which the team depends. There are many reasons not to address the problem. A few that come to my mind are an aversion to make someone feel bad, a personal fear of rejection, lack of confidence and clarity in your own mind, or the realization that your own performance is not impeccable which might lead to being confronted.  Understand that your hesitancy may be due to your own situation and not your employees.

You may also want to consider your fear of the potential consequences. If the employee does not respond, you might have to go through the time and expense of replacing them. If your organization is big enough, you could try transferring them, but then you will have to face their future manager if it does not work out. Finally, you may not have many options based upon your company policies or organizational structure so you will only further aggravate a relationship that you do not ultimately control.

I want to recommend a different perspective when dealing with a difficult or resistant employee.

  • Are you taking time to have little conversations of mutual interest in the same way you talk with other employees?  People like to feel included.
  • Are you giving an opportunity to learn and change? People like to learn and will embrace new challenges if they trust and believe in you.
  • Are you providing feedback on some positive accomplishments? It will take up to five attaboys to overcome one gotchas.
  • Are you giving them the same opportunity to work with others?  It may be helpful to assign them a project with another employee that truly requires two good minds.
  • Are you treating them as a problem to solve? People are not projects, but unique individuals who think, choose, and feel.

There is lots of advice about how to deal with difficult employees from a people management and conflict resolution perspective. My hope is that you can take some concrete steps to help the people you manage, or a co-worker, be people you are pleased and proud to lead. Taking the path of least resistance and relying too heavily on your star employees will ultimately limit or destroy all the great things you are seeking to accomplish.

How do you avoid taking the path of least resistance?

Taking the Path of Least Resistance