Drivers in Hell: How to Stop Killing Their Potential

*This third post in a four-part series is about a Driver (one of four Business Chemistry types), how the wrong work environment kills her potential, and what could be done about it. Read posts one, two, and four of the series, about a Pioneer a Guardian, and an Integrator, respectively (which are tagged #BCstories).

Picture if you will a Driver, we’ll call her Dana, who worked in a building filled with row after row of glass-fronted offices. The desk in her own fishbowl office was installed in such a way that she couldn’t help but face the hallway. She hated that setup. People would casually walk by, and if they happened to make eye contact with her they seemed to see that as an open invitation to come in and interrupt her with small talk, even though she was clearly busy. She tried to keep her head down as people trolled outside, but sadly that didn’t seem to be sufficient deterrent.

Dana’s work was complex, and she felt like every time she began to get traction on the challenge at hand, she’d be interrupted. Often it was someone from another business group who “just wanted to say hi” but who would then proceed to say far more, hoping Dana would join in the gossiping. Dana just wanted to get back to her work. She couldn’t believe people didn’t notice her total lack of interest in the topic, and in further conversation. Other times her direct reports might pop in to talk about some trouble or another. In these situations, Dana was happy to provide her opinion; the issue was that even after she gave them explicit advice, they often kept waffling between options and repeating the same litany of concerns. If they disagreed, why didn’t they just come right out and say so? Or if they didn’t really want a solution to their problems, why were they bothering to ask for her help?

Given this history of disruptions to her productivity, Dana was particularly irritated when she was asked to join an impromptu team meeting. Her group met all the time, ostensibly with an agenda though no one seemed to stick to it. They rarely had what Dana would consider to be a real discussion. Everyone was polite, and softened each message so that no one would have hurt feelings. When Dana, in contrast, said anything direct or even mildly confrontational, the group would look at her as if she’d just kicked a puppy. And it killed her that they’d talk and talk to the brink of a decision but never actually make one.

This particular meeting started out no differently. Late of course, because half the team didn’t get there on time. And then even later because the first five minutes were spent oohing and ahhing over a colleagues’ vacation photos. Dana had nothing against spectacular scenery, but she had other things she needed to be doing with her time. When they finally started the meeting though she perked up, because the topic was a meaty one: the rollout of a customer engagement system.

Unfortunately, her brief spark of interest quickly turned to disbelief, then disdain. The new system was intended to support each customer’s unique needs; that meant that the teams supporting each customer would have no standard metrics or targets. Rather, each team would receive a high level “progress report” (a name Dana found euphemistic since without targets, how would they know if they were progressing?) based on a self-evaluation generated by the team members themselves. The new system had no rigorous process, no consideration of how the system might be gamed, no comparative scores to rank oneself by, and no logic for how the “progress reports” would translate into individual compensation and promotion decisions. Dana was appalled. Worse yet, her colleagues seemed delighted. They were talking about how refreshing it was to focus on customers as individuals rather than numbers, and on how this system provided so much flexibility for the team. When Dana pointed out some of the obvious flaws in the system, they accused her of not being a team player. Dana had had enough. She went back to her office, and wrote a scathing blog post about idiot leadership under her anonymized handle Domin8. Then she wrote an email to her team leader regarding the new customer system, saying her customer had a “unique need” to have her online and available at all times (after all, if you have to join them, beat them). She began multi-tasking in every meeting from then on.

Dana’s story is an excerpt from our book Business Chemistry: Practical Magic for Crafting Powerful Work Relationships (Wiley, 2018), in which my co-author, Kim Christfort and I have an in-depth, back-and-forth discussion about the strategies leaders and managers can use to create environments where Drivers like Dana can lean into their strengths and thrive.

Among those strategies are the following:

  • Timebox socializing time, make it optional, or explain why it’s valuable.
  • Explain what you and others want and why you want it. (Drivers may miss subtleties.)
  • Provide ways for Drivers to measure their success.
  • Offer practical workspaces where Drivers won’t be disturbed more than necessary.
  • Don’t overact to the Driver’s brusque style.
  • Be clear, concise, and confident.

Dr. Suz

This is an excerpt from our book Business Chemistry: Practical Magic for Crafting Powerful Work Relationships (Wiley, 2018).

Suzanne Vickberg, PhD (aka Dr. Suz) is the Deloitte Greenhouse Experience group’s very own social-personality psychologist, which means she studies how people’s thoughts, behaviors and preferences are influenced by both who they are and the situations they’re in. She uses Business Chemistry to help leaders and teams explore how the mix of perspectives brought by their individual members influences their work together. Connect with her on LinkedIn or follow her on Twitter @DrSuzBizChem

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