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How to Set Up Goals & Objectives for Difficult People at Work

by Kenya Lucas, studioD

In your management career, you will encounter difficult people at work. Problems surface when employees’ personality types, beliefs, values or work styles get in the way of completing tasks at hand, including interacting with others. Identify the “type” of difficult person you are dealing with -- then set goals and objectives based on their unique characteristics. If you cannot make progress with accommodating tactics, remain calm and document challenges.


A loafer abandons her responsibilities. Sometimes she floats around the office. Or, even if she is physically present, she “checks out” mentally. She might plug in at the beginning of a project but ends up contributing less than others, if at all. Set goals that are specific to her rather than ones that are team oriented. For instance, your employee might be part of a marketing writing unit. Place her in a position of ownership with set deadlines and accountability measures. For example, “Today I need you to develop a three- to four-page outline of our next product brochure. Once approved, I will need you to draft each of the key sections. At the end of the week, I will review your work and provide edits and suggestions.”


A cutthroat is extremely competitive. He likes to call the shots about how things get done and tries to take credit for everything. Define goals and objectives that personally empower him while reminding him of his place within the larger organization. Avoid outcome-oriented approaches. Focus on visionary ones that are team-building while requiring him to answer directly to you. For instance: “One of our company’s goals is to improve goodwill among staff. I would like to work closely with you to brainstorm ways we can increase collaboration and decrease competition within our department.”


A martyr is self-sacrificing. She constantly gives more than she should to the company – and, often, lets others know. At times, she takes on the responsibilities of colleagues. It’s also not unusual for her to be the first to arrive and last to leave. This type of employee seeks emotional responses. Set goals and objectives that practically limit her time and scope of work. Review her schedule and job description. Advise her that you will monitor her ability to meet core expectations within designated times -- and will give formal warnings when she fails. Her “need to please” will likely refocus her efforts to demonstrate how well she can meet your demands.


A daydreamer gets swept away by grand ideas. Moreover, each passing idea is better than the last. He has good intentions but lacks clear direction -- and can quickly sidetrack the rest of your employees. Respond with goals and objectives that focus on logistics. Instead of the request: “Please move forward on the Lincoln account,” provide the following instruction: “Please outline all of the next steps on the Lincoln account -- and rank these items in terms of priority.” In addition, ask your employee to schedule tasks including regular points for him to provide updates on progress.

About the Author

Kenya Lucas has been writing professionally since 1998. Her work has appeared in “Anthropology & Medicine,” “New Directions for Evaluation,” “Psychology of Women Quarterly” and “Journal of the Grant Professionals Association.” She holds undergraduate and graduate degrees from Johns Hopkins University and Brown University.

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