Marmite employees

Here’s another one for my collection of useful tags.

‘Marmite’ is a term I heard a couple of days ago to describe a certain type of employee. Before I go any further, for the benefit of non-British readers, Marmite is a food spread made from yeast extracts. Its taste is so distinctive that it rarely produces an ambivalent reaction. The most recent advertising campaign, which would surely only work in Britain, carries the slogan “Love it or hate it?” Which is why it is such an apposite term for those people in your team who provoke strong reactions, both positive and negative, from colleagues and clients. 

I have heard a few stories about Marmite employees in recent weeks. In one case, a senior manager was told by a client to “get this woman off our site as soon as possible”, while another client gushed about how wonderful she was. This was a familiar pattern. In another company, there was a manager who could not get staff to work on his projects because his reputation was so bad, yet he also had a core of loyal followers who would go to the ends of the Earth for him.

Marmite employees can have similar effects to the Toxic Talent described in an earlier post but they are more difficult to deal with. In performance reviews they are likely to counter any challenge to their behaviour with examples of their outstanding results in other similar situations. If you are unfortunate enough to have to manage a Marmite employee you need to assess the situations in which he or she provokes negative reactions. It might be that a team needs shaking up and those who dislike the new manager are the people whose performance is not up to scratch. Those clients who complain might simply be those who don’t like hearing difficult messages and would rather blame the consultant or the supplier than fix their own problems.

In many cases, though, Marmite employees do just annoy people. Usually this is because they have one way of doing things, one way of relating to people and a complete lack of sympathy for alternative points of view. As the business world gets more complex, those that stick to one formula, even though they might have been successful in the past, will start to struggle. Being able to change your approach and your style to fit the situation and the person you are sealing with is now an essential skill.

With a bit of help and coaching, some Marmite employees can be encouraged to change their all-or-nothing approach. Others simply refuse and draw on their successes as a counter-argument to any suggestions that they might need to do something different. In these cases, you need to ask whether the damage they do exceeds the benefits they bring.

Does anyone else have experience of these love-em-or-hate-em Marmite colleagues? If so, I’d be interested to know how you dealt with them.

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1 Response to Marmite employees

  1. Pingback: The Velvet Rut « Flip Chart Fairy Tales

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