Do You Allow The Squeaky Wheel Too Much Squeak?
Picture the following scenario:
An employee dislikes a situation and complains to one of their leaders. That leader goes to other party and asks only enough to confirm the first story is somewhat true, and orders that party to do such and such an action to correct.
The interaction then leaves that other party frustrated that their side of the story is not heard, or discounted because of the weight of the first person to bring a relative issue up. Instances like this tend to start from people who are the squeaky wheels, looking to gain favor, attention, and outcomes to their liking. Incidents like this give credibility to the old and true Proverb:
“The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him” – King Solomon
As leaders we can be quick and decisive to address issues. Yet when those issues arise from the squeaky wheels we can have tendencies to cater to their whims for various reasons:
- We don’t want to confront them
- They disrupt and we want things to quiet down
- They have the wool pulled over our eyes
- They cast perceived urgencies
- They challenge our leadership so we bow to their pressure
Do you allow squeaky wheels to squeak in your ear too much? Do they have your ear because they squeak too much? Do non-squeaky wheels get the same attention? Do we enable squeaky wheels to squeak louder, and squelch those that don’t make noise but have otherwise legitimate and pressing needs?
Squeaky wheel employees distort the Pareto (80/20 rule) by making them the top 1% and directing more than their share of our attention. For example, Jeffrey A. Fox says we should be spending 90% of our time with our best employees. A squeaky wheel may not be our best or even top 20% performer, but absorb more than 20% of our attention. This disproportionate hijacking of time and resources allows the squeaky wheel to continue their behavior and take away from others in need.
Dealing with squeaky wheels is a balancing act. There are 2 approaches that must be used to prevent them from disrupting your team and organization.
First, understand who the squeaky wheel is. Their behavior may be a result of many variables both good and bad, such as:
- Low esteem
- Plea for help
- Covering for impropriety
- Sucking up
- Making them look better than others
- Insecurity in their job
Once the squeaky wheel is understood, then the following various actions can be put into play:
- Set clear behavioral expectations
- Ask questions, always get the 306-degree facts
- Give support
- Listen better, ask probing questions
- Be objective and take yourself out of the equation
- Take corrective action if behavior gets abused or disruptive
- Keep the focus balanced on other staff
When a squeaky wheel knows what is expected, they tend to quiet down. Just like any behavior, when the desired result is accomplished, the behavior continues. When their real needs are met without lending credibility to their disruption, they change course and learn to work with the newer expectations. But when they have ill motives, knowing their behavior will not get them their preferred response will most likely box them in and change, especially if you are honest with them and work towards a better expectation of behavior.
Don’t let the squeaky wheel(s) in your organization drive you crazy. Meet their needs and set boundaries to create a more supportive culture for all.
Scripture taken from the English Standard Version, Proverbs 18:17