Is One of Your Team Members Too Nice? Ask Madeleine

Dear Madeleine,

I am an experienced manager but I am in a situation that is stumping me. I have a large team, and we have a reputation for getting a lot done, very efficiently. One team member—L— has been with the team since before I took it over. She is in her early 40s, a single mom, and very good at her job.

The problem is that she is too nice. People on the team who are behind on their tasks always go to her for help. She is a wiz at certain obscure programs that we must use from time to time, and people get her to help them instead of learning the programs themselves.

L is very active with our company foundation and is often involved in big events that take up her time. She participates in several other committees for the company as well. I can’t keep track of them all. She is always the one to show up with a home-baked cake when there is something to celebrate. She even made gluten-free cupcakes recently for my birthday! She has to leave at a set time to pick up her kids from daycare and I know she goes home and does volunteer work.

This would be all fine and well if L didn’t miss her deadlines on a regular basis. We recently met for her performance review and I was chagrined to see that she hadn’t hit any of her goals at 100%. I was forced to give her a lower rating than I would have liked. I feel like a jerk because she is such a strong addition to the team. I don’t want to demotivate her. How can I fix this?

Feel Like a Jerk

Dear Feel Like a Jerk,

You clearly value your “giving” employee, as well you should. Adam Grant, a highly regarded organizational psychologist, has researched the phenomena he calls givers, takers and matchers, and has established that givers make organizations better. According to Grant, it is not unusual for givers to do less well on their performance metrics than takers or matchers. The key here is to find a way for L to win at work doing what she does naturally and well.

What if you were to shape into goals the things L does naturally, so that she is measured on things she will definitely excel at? Make her Team Den Mother (or come up with a name that suits) so remembering and honoring notable events among the team is a task she is measured on and acknowledged for. Make being a high contributing organizational citizen a goal and map out a limited number of committees she will be on and what her goals will be. Again, she will no doubt knock that out of the park.

Finally, you can designate one of her key responsibility areas as being an expert on certain processes or programs that the team uses. This way, when she spends time helping others, it is actually part of her job. This means some of her other tasks or goals will have to shift to others on the team.

Discuss this idea with L. She will probably help you think it through so that you can arrive at a fair way to recognize her contribution.

Love, Madeleine

About the author

Madeleine Homan Blanchard is a master certified coach, author, speaker, and cofounder of Blanchard Coaching Services. Madeleine’s Advice for the Well Intentioned Manager is a regular Saturday feature for a very select group: well intentioned managers. Leadership is hard—and the more you care, the harder it gets. Join us here each week for insight, resources, and conversation.

Got a question for Madeleine? Email Madeleine and look for your response here next week!

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