How to Recognize and Manage Various Employee Work Styles

Raffa Financial ServicesRaffa Financial Services on 06/28/2018

What kind of employee or manager are you? A rule follower? An innovator? An overachiever? An expectations manager? All of these working styles can help contribute to organizational success, as long as they fit in with the company needs, goals, and culture.

Here are some tips to help you recognize various employee work styles and manage your team to its full potential.  

1.) The Rule Followers: (We like structure!)

Who are they?

Rule followers work well under a defined set of work objectives and standards. They crave structure, routine, and stability. These employees will be at their best when they are in positions that have clear, consistent processes, tasks, and outcomes.

What can you expect?

Rule followers thrive in environments where their responsibilities and challenges are known and predictable. They like established, documented procedures that follow logical patterns. If you put your rule followers into situations that require lots of nuance, flexibility, and “winging it,” you will throw them off their game. These otherwise stalwart, dependable team members won’t be comfortable making decisions or following through in these circumstances. Anxiety levels will be high, and productivity levels low.

How can you help them succeed?

Identify your rule followers and keep them in positions with structure and accountability. Never assume you’re rewarding your lead accountant by moving that person into a sales or leadership position. Doing so could be a recipe for disaster. Not only will you have a person in the new role who can’t succeed, you will have also lost a high performing individual in the former position.

2.) The Innovators: (We color outside the lines!)

Who are they?   

Innovators are people who use the rule book as more of a guideline rather than an instruction manual. These are your creative colleagues, the ones who are constantly coming up with new ideas and looking for ways to streamline and improve processes. Innovative employees have a higher risk tolerance than rule followers and are much more comfortable going with the flow.

What can you expect?

Innovators are fans of progress and mixing things up. They value creativity and variety over tradition and routine. Innovators are comfortable taking on new things and working on the fly, and they thrive in flexible environments. If you put an innovator in a job with repetitive tasks and lots of constraints, that person will quickly lose enthusiasm. And because innovators are so comfortable with change, they won’t be afraid to start looking for a way out.

How can you help them succeed?

It’s pretty easy to recognize your innovators. They are the ones most likely to say things like, “What if we did this?” or “You know what would be even better?” Make sure these people are in positions where they have some level of autonomy over their work and a department or manager who is open to new ideas and process improvements. You don’t have to take on every suggestion an innovator makes, but creating a culture of stagnation will eventually chase your most creative employees away.   

3.) The Overachievers: (We want perfection!)

Who are they?

Much like innovators, overachievers are not fans of the status quo. But unlike innovators, they aren’t necessarily motivated by creativity and new ideas. They could also be motivated by personal accountability, competition, or goal achievement. No matter what motivation is driving them on, overachievers will often invest copious amounts of time and energy into everything they do, from the smallest task to the largest project.     

What can you expect?

Overachievers can be a huge asset to your organization. When their dedication and ambition is channeled in a positive way, their behavior can help set the standard for other employees. Because they recognize that results are a reflection of not just them, but the entire team, overachievers are often helpful workmates and mentors. That said, adding an overachiever to a team full of lackluster employees as a quick performance fix will not serve you well. If the overachiever is the only one in the group with a desire to go above and beyond, resentment will set in quickly on both sides.

How can you help them succeed?

Overachievers are often motivated by career growth and recognition. If you have them on your team, make sure they can see options for future development when they succeed. You’ll also want to recognize their hard work and efforts.

Sometimes, overachievers are motivated by perfectionism and/or a fear of failure. This is when overachieving can have adverse effects. Fear-based overachieving can result in things like creating tedious or redundant processes, micromanaging teammates, even agonizing over what color font to use.

Keep an eye on your overachievers to make sure they aren’t funneling too much time and energy into the wrong things. Help them prioritize their tasks, create efficient processes, and be able to recognize when good enough really is good enough.

4.) The Expectation Managers: (Hey, now. Let’s not get too excited here.)

Who are they?

Expectation managers are those team members who help keep everyone’s big ideas in check. Generally speaking, expectation managers have been around a while and have a lot of knowledge. They would probably refer to themselves as realists. Or experts. Expectation managers feel they have a lot to offer and they want their voices to be heard.

What can you expect?

These folks come in two flavors: Helpful Process Managers and Negative Nellies. Helpful process managers have a gift for big picture thinking and a genuine love of strategy, planning, and execution. They know what needs to get done and what it’s going to take to do it. Negative Nellies tend to come at things from a worst case scenario or “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” perspective.

Both types of expectation managers can be helpful to your organization, especially in an environment filled with innovators and overachievers where the tendency is to bite off more than you can chew.

How can you help them succeed?

Using your expectation managers wisely requires striking a balance between their advice, your team’s enthusiasm, and your organizational goals. Remember that many expectation managers have been around the block a few times. Their experiences can be of great use. That said, some of your so-called realists are basing their views on outdated models and processes, or a reality that no longer exists.

A few of them might also be super-intense rule followers, who just want to keep living by the old rules and standards. If you’ve got expectation managers that are keeping the team focused on how to set and achieve attainable goals, that’s a good thing. If you’ve got expectation managers who are holding back progress, you’ll want to think about resetting their expectations instead.

What does your team look like?

Very few businesses are filled with only one kind of employee, but a good leadership team can help bring out the best in everybody. Get to know your employees and manage to their strengths.

If you want your organization to appeal to a particular type of employee, get to work building the kind of company culture that supports those same values and work ethics. Once you have that groundwork laid, it will be exponentially easier to hire the kind of employees you’re looking for.

In fact, they just may start looking for you.


At Raffa, we work with businesses in the greater Maryland, Virginia and Washington, DC area to implement strategic employee benefits plans designed to position them as coveted employers of choice. Whether you’re looking to build a healthy team, lower employee turnover, or recruit and reward executive talent, we can help. 


Photo by MirasWonderland

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