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Flakey? Or Just Bored? How to Support Variety Seeking Employees.

If you ever want to know what happens when a person with a high need for variety is denied it, simply watch a salesperson in a long meeting. There’s fidgeting, phone checking, joking, sighing and staring out the window. Or, give a creative person a ton of paperwork to fill in every week. Actually, don’t do those things, because you will be effectively torturing those people.

Boredom is a major cause of mischief in the workplace. Boredom creates gossip. Boredom creates the extra-long three martini lunch. Boredom leads to dilly-dallying, chit-chatting and not a lot of work getting done. And, it leads to frustration and ultimately, the loss of highly talented employees.

Boredom at work is bad news.

What’s a leader to do? For starters, stop asking people with a high need for variety to do boring things.

People who need variety drive people who need certainty insane and vice versa. I get it. Why can’t they just suck it up and do their jobs? Because you’re asking them to betray themselves, that’s why. You’re asking them to be someone they’re not. And that’s painful.

When I was a corporate VP, I had one of the most creative, energetic and effective sales directors I’ve ever worked with. We’ll call him Tony. Tony was an opportunity-sniffing, revenue generating all-star who was perfectly in tune with his clients. So in tune, he often addressed their needs before they even knew they had them.

He was awesome, and I thought the world of him, except on the first Tuesday of every month, when I wanted to strangle him. That’s because on the morning of the first Tuesday of every month, my team was to present our monthly results to our COO. And she was a stickler. She liked the reports to follow a specific format, and on average, they took about three hours to complete. I’m sure it won’t surprise you to learn that Tony wasn’t a fan of the reports. Three hours spent doing anything was a challenge for him, much less three hours of spreadsheets and bar charts and executive analysis.

Tony was supposed to have his portion of the report to me by end of day Monday, and of course, he never did. He’d work on it at the last possible minute and on the morning of the presentation, it was a slap-dash mess. And he looked as if he’d been drained of every ounce of lifeblood putting it together.

This did not go over well. Each month, my certainty-loving COO implored me to get Tony to do his reports properly, or else she was going to insist on firing him. That’s right. She wanted to fire our best sales director because once per month, he hated creating a report. There was no way I was going to fire Tony, so I took a different approach. Rather than forcing him to do something that drained him, I shored him up. I asked a junior analyst to do Tony’s report for him. Done and done. Everyone was happy. Tony kept selling, the analyst got some valuable experience and exposure, and the COO got her report.

Think about your own organization. Are you torturing your variety seekers?

If you’re feeling a hint of irritation as a result of my defence of variety seekers, I understand. They can be crazy making. The most severe variety seekers can jump from project to project, constantly changing their minds while not focusing on anything in particular. Deadlines slip, work is left undone, and the variety seeker feels a sense of emptiness and dissatisfaction.

Even severe variety seeking doesn’t have to be a bad thing, if managed correctly.

How to Support People with a High Need for Variety

The variety seeker’s mind is agile and innovative. Their particular way of thinking leads to ingenious solutions. Expansive leaders appeal to the variety seeker’s creativity by first focusing them on a single task and then asking them to examine, explore, forge new paths, and deliver something that’s never been done before.

The easiest way to influence variety seekers is the promise of excitement. Now is the time for statements such as, “This changes everything!”, “Who knows where we’ll end up!” and “We’re breaking new ground here!”

Finally, if you can, give them a project. A big one. One that features a problem or situation they’ve never seen before. It can be related to a current crisis, or something longer term. If they are the kind of person who also craves love and connection, make sure the project involves other people.

And then set them free and watch them fly.

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