Does this scenario sound familiar?
You have an employee - let's call him Hunter - and he is one of the strongest performers on your team. However, Hunter presents an interesting set of challenges. Sure, he produces good results you've come to rely upon. You never worry that he'll get his job done, no matter how hard the task.
The main issue with Hunter is that he requires more of your time and energy than anyone else. He delivers what you ask of him but he doesn't demonstrate the foresight to anticipate new opportunities or challenges in his area of responsibility.
Not only does Hunter need your help to look ahead, he requires assistance getting things done. Your regular check-ins with him run long.
He always has more he wants to talk about than time allows. He pops by your desk multiple times a week to let you know about a problem he's having.
He checks with you before he makes a decision - no matter how big or small. Hunter is your quintessential "Squeaky Wheel."
Approaches for leading a Squeaky Wheel
Leading Squeaky Wheels requires you to figure out how to "wean" them. You want them to keep delivering the results they've consistently produced, but you need them to do it without leaning too heavily on you to get their work done.
Taking back control of the interactions you have with a
Squeaky Wheel is how you'll drive their behavioral change.
You may love your "open door" policy as a way to stay accessible to your team, but Squeaky Wheels abuse it. Their frequent drop-ins let them control the agenda in their interactions with you. Instead of you being able to focus them on being self-reliant, they're the ones choosing when to meet and what to talk about.
Not only is this an inefficient use of your time, it's counter-productive to their development. If a Squeaky Wheel knows they can come to you at any time to think for them or solve their problems, they're not going to try to develop those skills themselves.
The coaching opportunity: develop your Squeaky Wheels' critical thinking skills
The way to break this habit is to direct them to bring up these issues during their scheduled check-ins with you. When they pop in to your office, ask them if the topic is urgent. If not, request they wait to talk about the issue at your next check-in.
Not only will this make you better prepared for the next discussion, but forcing a Squeaky Wheel to plan ahead encourages them to be more proactive (and innovative) in thinking about their work.
When they lose the instant gratification of you solving their problem on their timeline, they'll be forced to solve problems on their own. Their questions may need answered prior to your next meeting so they'll need to find the answers on their own to meet the deadline.
If a problem is urgent, they'll escalate it to you. Your task is discerning the difference between truly urgent and "Squeaky Wheel urgent."
The coaching opportunity: teach your Squeaky Wheels to solve their own problems
When Squeaky Wheels ask for assistance with something they should learn to do on their own, tell them to come back after they've tried a new solution themselves. For example, if they ask you to contact someone to get that person to cooperate with them, tell them they have to try new ways to get the "yes" they're looking for before you'll intervene.
The best way to wean a Squeaky Wheel is teaching them how to solve their own problems. Teach them how to generate more solutions and insist they try them before they involve you. The amount of your time and energy they require will decrease.
Wondering if someone on your team is a Squeaky Wheel?
Take this simple assessment and get more tips on how to lead them more effectively.