In some work situations, self-starters might actually do more harm than good. Or at least be a little annoying.
I can think of 2 situations when a self-starter should dial it down. Do I think self-starters can be toxic instead of amazing?
YES, when they start before they really should
One of the 5+ reasons to hire self-starters is this: you will rarely see them twiddling their thumbs waiting for you to say “do this”.
Most of the time, that might seem like a good thing. But that’s the exact opposite of what you’ll want for certain complex tasks…
When a task requires waiting for data from essential sources or multiple stakeholders before proceeding further.
Sure, waiting might slow things down but that could preserve the integrity of that particular task. You don’t want sloppy results.
By bypassing these sources and people, your self-starter can cause these 2
headaches issues for you:
- Potential errors from starting workflow before getting solid data
- Relationship risk – annoying coworkers or other departments
For example, imagine this self-starter surgeon working in a hospital
You rush to the local hospital’s ER to find your mother on a pre-op bed. The paramedics picked her up after she had solid fall at the gym.
The ER nurse on duty tells you it’s a complicated injury with bone involved. How on Earth? Was mom doing cartwheels in Zumba again?!
The newly trained emergency surgeon is eager to operate now. Would you know it – he’s a self-starter.
But the orthopaedic (bone) specialist usually adds their insight for such cases. The surgeon wants to start before that happens.
Would you feel confident with him starting without expert input?
So how would you handle the self-starter in such a situation?
Set solid boundaries. That could mean telling them about the non-negotiable conditions for working on critical tasks.
You could say to the self-starter something like:
I like how you get on tasks with a sense of urgency.
But in these particular situations, I need you to wait for input from the assigned sources or people.
These people can be in our team, in other departments or expert outsiders. Sources can be data from our software.
With their input, our process gets a higher level of integrity. That way we can be certain we are producing solid work.
Are there any other times when self-starters need adjusting?
YES, when they start everything, but finish almost nothing
Self-starters don’t only need to start without compulsion. They need to complete the job. They often need to be a self-finisher too.
The last thing you want is an employee who starts one task with gusto, but halfway switches to a newer one only to leave the first one to gather dust.
For example, imagine this self-starter in a marketing team
Let’s call our self-starter Sarah. You are her direct manager, a marketing manager in a small but growing software company.
Since she’s been a solid performer for years, you give Sarah the freedom to act on projects that call for her expertise.
She’s currently writing content for a website refresh project. But then she hears about a new print ad opportunity.
Being a self-starter, she jumps on the opportunity and gets started without waiting for you to bring it to her.
Fast forward a few weeks, she’s spread herself extremely thin by continuing to take on more tasks.
By the time you learn about all the tasks she’s doing, she misses the non-negotiable content deadline for the website refresh. Uh oh.
How would you handle the self-starter in such a situation?
What Sarah did above is pile up her workload to do it all in parallel – she was working on multiple projects at the same time.
Self-starters can easily get caught out by an inward feeling of “I need to work on this opportunity now!”
Like a multi-tasker but with a longer timespan. Not 3 tasks at that very second. More like working on 3 projects in a week.
In reality, her kind of work – and most professional work – has limits of how much can be done in a span of time.
So you should coach self-starters on the the following points:
- “Focus on only one major job” or project at a time
- “Prioritize your work backlog” using a combination of most urgent to least urgent and biggest impact to lowest impact and
- “Don’t take on new jobs unless…” you’re absolutely confident you’ve got mental and physical capacity to handle it
Self-starters can add real value to your team, but keep the above thinking in mind to continue getting the best from them.