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I have gained a great deal of value out of the DiSC model as presented. One of the strengths of that model is that it takes a very active and positive approach to dealing with people who's natural tendancies are different from our own. But at times, that positive outlook fails us because it assumes that each person in each style is trying to do good work and get the job done. And at those times the model can fail us, because let's face it not all people approach life positively.

I work with one such person, a techincal resource. To be specific, he's our senior DBA in the IT group. At first thought, and on each thought through about 20, I thought of him as a high C. Always looking for order and rules, examining every situation to death at times, quiet, soft spoken, monitone voice, very inactive socially, the works. But the more I interact with him (and the more I realize that he gets on EVERYONE'S nerves and not just those with opposite tendancies) the more I realize that he's not really a high C at all. He's a high Negative-D.

He's quick to interrupt any discussion to tell you why your ideas will not work. If you give him a concept, he immediately rebuts with 10 reasons why it's impractical in reality. In his area of control he's the lord high master of his domain, and he will ruthlessly apply his ideas of control and process to anyone and every system he comes in to contact with, whether his ideas conform to the corporate ideals or not. But he rarely if ever takes action to improve a situation: he's simply very agressive in attempting to prevent things from getting worse. And did I mention that the situation is always near tragic in his world?

This guy is a human version of Eeyore, from the Winnie-The-Pooh books. And I'm not totally joking here. He actually shares many vocal traits with Eeyore as portrayed in the Disney movies and the Milne books. And hearing him say, "Don't think we should do that. Might lead to disaster, or we could all lose our tails again" is something I keep waiting to have happen. He even has the same plodding walk with the head hung low. I will confess to having been sitting there in meetings (with my head about to explode listening to all of his negative comments) wishing I had a pink felt tail, a carpet tack and a framing hammer to go after this guy with.

I've learned to let the guy discourse in his monotone about how wrong everything is, then ask him for his suggestions on how to do things "right" and make changes, not just plug another leak in the dike. This has been successful to a point, but man oh man does he take forever. (I'm a high I with a LOT of high D in me as well, could you guess?)

At first I thought it took him so long to come up with positive contributions because he was considering every option to the Nth degree in good "high C" fashion. Now I believe that he's simply so conditioned to figure out why things won't work that he actually doesn't know HOW to think about making things work better instead. This man has to work and think and struggle to create a positive thought. He's a Dark D: quick with an answer on how to perform our jobs, but the answer is always negative. Furthermore, it's an authoritarian answer that is expected to be the end of the discussion as soon as it's spoken. And this guy has no trouble thinking that if he's gotten all he wants from a meeting asking to be excused so he "doesn't have to waste any more valuable work-time." This guy is a Dark D.

I could go on, but you get the point I'm sure.

Don't get me wrong: his technical skills in this area are as good as any I've seen in 22 years of IT work. But channeling those skills in to productive work is one hell of a challenge. I won't go in to how I've tried to do this here (well, not yet) but I am intersted to hear if any of the rest of you have worked with Eeyore and what you did/do about it to get real, advancing work done?

Mark and Mike, could this be a podcast? I think it could be. What do each of the types look like when coming from a "glass is half empty" person.

noahcampbell's picture

Paul,

It sounds like Eeyore is in need of lots of feedback. The first piece of feedback would be.

[quote]Can I give you some feedback Eeyore? Yes. Okay, when you discount an idea with a heavy hand (i.e. the 10 things why your ideas stinks), you make the person who had the idea feel worthless, you are perceived as being incapable of change, I wonder if your able to creatively solve a problem, you are putting your personal objectives before the teams and the companies, you are seen as uncooperative, I wonder if I should continue to give you the responsibility as a DBA if you're not willing to participate in tackling problems, and I question whether your skill is worth the investment. What can you do to change? ... Great.[/quote]

The feedback model will work and either he changes or he doesn't, in which case, he won't be surprised when he is fired.

Here is a simple way to think about giving feedback that I found useful. In the Army, there are 3 dimensions to an individual. SKILL, WILL and TEAMWORK. You essentially want all three to be high to achieve the "extra" that a well oiled team will provide. However, teamwork cannot be achieved until both the skill and will is high in each individual. High skill and low will, in your case Eeyore, is not desirable and the individual should not be let off the hook. They need to be watched very carefully and if there will does not increase, you owe it to your team to send Eeyore packing. The feedback model is a tool to help keep Eeyore on track and hopefully see there will increase so you can focus teamwork and creating the "extra" that you'll be recognized for by your upper management.

It'll take work to bring up Eeyore's will and you need to determine how much effort it is really worth. Seasoned DBA are not hard to come by and you're better off with someone with a high will and medium skill because they're willing to do what it takes to make sure the team succeeds.

pneuhardt's picture

Noah,

Thanks for the feedback. I have offered feedback to Eeyore and will continue to do so. But, I left out some details. I was too long-winded as it was, so I skipped a couple of key points.

I can't control Eeyore's retention in the company, as he is not a direct report. In fact, in my position as a project manager, I have no direct reports. I do have influence, but not authority in this case. And at least for now, his abysmal social skills and professional attitude are accepted because the man does achieve superior results once you get him off the "doom and gloom" soapbox. (Eeyore is allowed to work off-site 3 days a week. Nobody misses him, and he still gets stuff done. There could be something to this...)

Eeyore is also one of those rare people that responds VERY poorly to adjusting feedback, no matter how skillfully given. He's been here over 6 years and has a long history (so I'm told) of digging in his heels and pouting if he's labled as uncooperative. He truly sees himself as taking direct and proper action to preserve the company's systems from harm and misuse.

He also is one of the few techies around here (or in a lot of places) that has taken the time to understand the business use of the systems he supports. He's the only DBA on our staff that not only knows how the systems work but why they work that way.

Having said all of this, I have done one thing in my short tenure with this company that nobody else has: I've asked for another DBA to relieve Eeyore on the two projects I'm managing.

Despite his attitude, Eeyore is involved with anything big here because of his skill set and knowledge. By using the excuse that he is over-committed as it is, I've been able to get other resources assigned to my projects for all the major tasks, and Eeyore has become a reviewer of work and not a major contributor. I've also pointed out that this will give the company a chance to develop the skills of other resources so that Eeyore will not be a "single point of failure" on so many projects. I have to accept that I'm taking a reduction in the skills brought to the table for the benefit of not wanting to kill one of my project resources.

Over time, I'm hoping this will make the resons to keep Eeyore a bit less compelling to others. Perhaps then, once his position might truly be at risk, will he learn that adjusting his behaviour will achieve better personal results for him.

noahcampbell's picture

Eeyore not being a direct report does make it difficult to give feedback. I have yet to listen to the latest podcast on peer feedback, but I'm sure there are some gems of wisdom in there.

The Army wisdom applies to direct reports. However, has Peter Drucker has pointed out, almost all companies are moving to the distributed model where more people are executives, but not managing executives. I think your case is clear evidence that distributed may not be better.

Eeyore's manager is not taking responsibility for his team, in which case, he needs some feedback...but that may not be appropriate given your position so tread very, very lightly. Eeyore may be protecting resources based on his view of the business, but that does not mean he's right. Vision, directive, objectives and priorities still come from the top down, not the other way around (at least officially). If anything, management's tolerance of this behavior is, in Drucker's words, "immoral."

It sound like you have a strategy to avoid the DBA troll. This is probably your best bet. When your project succeeds, heap as much praise as you can on the DBAs that made it happen. Explain to their boss, that their contribution made your project a success and highlight their cooperation. You don't even need to discuss Eeyore.

Let us know how it works out.

Mark's picture

I think I'd probably give him a lot more feedback than you have... but I'm not saying that's better... just different. I always have respect for the person in the fray.

The moment he's gone, if that ever happens, your firm will discover 2-3 DBAs who are quite competent and his incredible knowledge will quickly be forgotten. I've seen it a hundred times.

Stay relaxed - even casual - when you give the feedback. It helps YOU and him see it as breathing and not as holding your breath.

Mark