How to Manage Clever Employees


Smart, ambitious and creative employees can add tremendous value to your company. But they aren’t always easy to manage. Here’s some expert advice on how to bring out their best.

How to manage clever employees

Managers can find even their best employees a challenge. Here’s how to help them thrive.

As a manager in any organisation, you want to hire the best people you can find. That means you’ll often be looking for individuals who are smart, talented and experts in their field.

The strengths of such employees, however, also mean they are not always the easiest to manage. How can you bring out their best?

In this article, we’ll share with you some actionable insights from experts in management.

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What clever people are like

It’s helpful to begin with a clear idea of who we’re talking about and their unique characteristics.

Gareth Jones, Visiting Professor at the IE University Business School, is co-author of a book on what he calls “clever people” in the workplace. He explains that the type of employee he has in mind isn’t merely smart. Instead, “clever people are highly talented individuals with the potential to create disproportionate amounts of value from the resources that the organisation makes available to them.”

There are a few characteristics such employees tend to have in common.

They need a challenge: Clever people quickly lose interest in mundane tasks and everyday problems. They want to be assigned to work that forces them to overcome daunting challenges.

They’re self-confident: Clever people know they’re clever and are aware of what they know and what they can do. They dislike being told how to do their job or being forced to work in ways they see as sub-optimal.

They’re not conventionally ambitious: Alan Redman, an organisational psychologist with Clevry, explains that clever people are often not interested in leading and don’t go in for conventional office politics. 

They’re needy: This sounds paradoxical, but clever people often need an organisation and other people around them in order to realise their potential and do their best work.

Given these characteristics, how should a manager respond?

How managers can bring out the best from clever employees

David Tuffley, a Professor at Griffith University, identifies a few common principles from literature on management that will help managers lead clever staff effectively.

Provide vision: Clever people want to work on challenging problems that matter. An effective manager needs to convey a vision for what’s possible and why it matters that inspires others to invest in it.

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Build trust: Clever people are not impressed by position or titles. Instead, they look for competence and expertise in others. A manager who demonstrates effectiveness at their job and who behaves with integrity will gain the trust — and the co-operation — of employees.

Get out of the way: “Knowledge workers dislike being micromanaged. They value independence and work best when given the tools they need, the authority to make decisions and the space to get on with the job,” says Tuffley.

He suggests managers step in only when necessary, and otherwise give clever workers the space they need to do their best work.

That last part is a hard one. As Jones emphasised in a conversation with Harvard Business Review, it calls for humility. It means recognising your own limitations and giving your employees space to be smarter and more talented than you.

In the end, however, the payoff is worth it. If managed well, clever people can make an incredible impact within an organisation. 

Need expert support in finding the right people and bringing out their best? MPi’s HR services team includes recruiters and human resources professionals with deep experience in the mining industry. Find out more here about the services we offer or get in touch today.