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Dealing with Employees Who Are All Ideas but No Action

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Dealing with Employees Who Are All Ideas but No Action

July 8, 2014

by Beverly Flaxington

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Beverly Flaxington is a practice management consultant. She answers questions from advisors facing human resource issues. To submit yours, email us here.

Advisor Perspectives welcomes guest contributions. The views presented here do not necessarily represent those of Advisor Perspectives.
Dear Bev,

I read your sound advice on dealing with an erratic boss and wanted to relate this story: I had a problematic former client, and it turned out the reason for his behavior was erratic blood sugar. The problem got so bad that he was told by his bosses that his ascension at his organization was threatened. He went on a significant weight-loss program, including stomach stapling, and the erratic behavior disappeared!

Mark M.


Dear Mark,

I appreciate that you shared this note with me. It’s important to remember that in many cases, outrageous or erratic behavior has its roots in physical issues. Many of my clients have told me about people they knew who behaved erratically before finally being diagnosed as bipolar or with adult attention deficit disorder. In other cases, someone could be experiencing personal turmoil or emotional distress outside of work that they bring it into the workplace. I once worked with someone who found out they had a sleep disorder. Prior to their diagnosis, they were grumpy and irritable most all of the time. After they learned of the problem and went on medication, their demeanor and attitude was positive.

Your letter is very important because it illustrates the myriad things that can cause abusive, disruptive or unpleasant behavior. It also illustrates the importance of trying different tactics to get through to someone who is behaving in a difficult manner but may not know the root cause.

If you are in a position of authority over someone who is acting erratically, you can recommend an employee assistance program (if your company has one) or ask them if they have been to a doctor recently. It’s tricky in an age of lawsuits and discrimination to actually suggest someone is compromised because of a mental or physical disorder. But if you have spoken to them about the behavior and they seem unable or unwilling to change it, you could put them on probation and make a visit like this a mandatory event.

If you are a peer or subordinate to someone who is acting out, sometimes telling a story like Mark M. did in his letter to me can help.

Of course, the person first has to admit to the difficult behavior and be willing to explore ways to correct it. Without admission or a willingness to examine what’s going on, it’s almost impossible for any of us to change a behavior. Acknowledgement is always the first step.

Dear Bev,

I run a training group in a large company. One of my key employees frustrates me. He is an “idea guy” but not an implementer. I like his ideas and am supportive, but I need to see action to know they are working. How do I rein someone is who is a big thinker but not such a big doer?

Phil D.


Dear Phil,

Behavioral issues are at work here. I cannot overstate or talk enough about the disconnect we have when we expect someone who has one style of preferred behavior to do something else just because we say so. Your employee sounds like an entrepreneurial, creative, “talk-to-think” person. He probably does well seeing possibilities and creating new ideas. He may not be wired to then take those ideas and break down them into specific steps – and be able to make sure each step takes place.

It’s the difference between the entrepreneur and the daily manager. Most entrepreneurs eventually need to bring in a Chief Operating Officer or President to run their companies. They don’t do well with the day-to-day nitty gritty. They need someone who wants to focus on process and details.

I suggest you explore the behavioral preferences of this person and then look at the behavioral requirements of the role. He could be very knowledgeable but not be suited for the position. If he isn’t naturally geared toward “process,” for example, and you want a process for each new idea, it’s as if you are talking different languages.

Be clear on what you expect, how it should look and how you want it delivered. Then explain those requirements to him and discuss whether he can meet them. If he is a valued employee, you may need offer him dedicated administrative support or another person who is good at taking ideas and turning them into reality!

Beverly Flaxington co-founded The Collaborative, a consulting firm devoted to business building for the financial services industry in 1995; in 2008 she co-founded Advisors Trusted Advisor to offer dedicated practice management resources to advisors, planners and wealth managers. She is currently an adjunct professor at Suffolk University teaching undergraduate students Leadership & Social Responsibility. Beverly is a Certified Professional Behavioral Analyst (CPBA) and Certified Professional Values Analyst (CPVA).

She has spent over 25 years in the investment industry and has been featured in Selling Power Magazine and quoted in hundreds of media outlets, including the Wall Street Journal, MSNBC.com, Investment News and Solutions Magazine for the FPA. She speaks frequently at investment industry conferences and is a speaker for the CFA Institute.

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