Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Have Patience With "Problem" Workers

Yesterday I discussed some of the problems inherent in creative people. I have also discussed some of the problems with employing autistic people. Both of these groups of people are what many would consider to be "problem" employees.

But what kinds of problems are we really talking about here? What are the trade-offs? Are those trade-offs worth the trouble? Are there ways of reducing the problems without getting rid of the workers?

The more and more we move toward a creative economy, the more and more we need creative people. And the more and more we move toward an information economy, the more and more we need autistic people (who seem designed to interface well with computers). Since the economy is increasingly creative and IT-based, your businesses ought to be full of creative and autistic people. And many autistic people are quite creative, so with the right hire, you can get the benefits of both.

Of course, these kinds of people do not fit in well with our old notions about how to run a business. You are supposed to show up to work and work in your cubicle. You are to socialize with everyone, be friendly with everyone, and be sure to be especially friendly with those above you in the firm's hierarchy. You are to think strategically -- especially if you don want to get fired. Most especially if you want to move up in the company. Work takes place between 8am and 5 pm, with a half hour lunch and two 15 minute breaks. And you have to look busy to be working.

Such an office is easy to manage, but you won't get any creativity out of it. And you will have fired your most efficient workers. And you will have fired your most creative workers.

Your autistic people are not going to play office politics. They will get run over by office politics. They need to be protected from office politics.

But why bother? Because your autistic workers are going to be your best workers, your more analytical workers, your most obsessively focused workers. They are also going to be your most honest workers. And they will lay bare to you the nonsense and hypocrisy surrounding them. If you let them -- if you don't fire them for doing so.

Your creative people are going to play. They won't always look like they're working. They will likely be moody -- annoyingly friendly one day, depressed and withdrawn the next. The firm's hierarchy means absolutely nothing to them. They will speak to the unpaid intern the same way they speak to the CEO, and vice versa.

You have to put up with these behaviors because your creative workers are going to be the ones keeping your business afloat. When someone creates a new thing to compete with your product, you need to have had the answer to their new product yesterday. Your creative people would have been the ones to have found a solution to a problem before you even knew there was a problem. And they likely did it when they were "goofing around."

Both of these groups of people are hardly anyone's idea of an ideal employee. But if you want to run a successful business, these are precisely the kinds of people with whom you need to surround yourself. The businesses that are more flexible about their hierarchies, that downplay office politics and pay more attention to the work being done (are more meritocratic), and that are willing to take risks with "odd" people are going to reap the benefits.

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