3 Small Steps – How to Manage Smart People

Think about that employee who is smart, highly educated, intelligent and an expert in what they do.

Sounds great doesn’t it?  Yet for a manager who does not feel they are intellectually equal, or as expert in the field, managing such a person can be hugely challenging and sometimes a nightmare.

We see that the problems of managing very smart people are most acute in the technical or professional fields – engineers of all types, architects, accountants, academics. lawyers, all kinds of analysts, doctors, scientists, etc. – roles where knowledge and expertise are deemed far more important than communication skills, empathy or team working.

What happens when a smart person rejects any form of performance management on the basis that they know better than anyone else what needs to be done and how they propose to do it? 

What happens when a manager raises the subject of building better working relationships when the smart person is clear they don’t need help, or others should just do what they are told, etc.?

We have seen significant disparaging of ‘experts’ in public discourse recently.  Within an organisation, experts may struggle to make the contribution of which they are more than capable because they are less engaged with the ‘people’ aspects of work.  Indeed, research into why the most intelligent people can fail at work reveals that their behaviours are driven by the desire to achieve in their field… and this may be experienced by others as aggressive, disruptive, or patronising.

There are no simple routes around this challenge – but the manager should not be left alone to deal with it.  HR can help…

Where the workforce is predominantly the smart technical or professional expert, it is vital that HR engages everyone to:

  1. recognise the challenge
  1. understand how a failure to manage performance effectively in the situation will hold the organisation back, and
  1. come to a wide understanding of what it means to manage performance so that everyone thrives and is able to contribute to their full potential

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