What to do about the Mad Hatter in Your Organization

BY C. Lee Smith
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The Hatter in Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland is sometimes called the Mad Hatter. Do you know why? And do you know why having an employee who behaves like a Mad Hatter in your organization is a managerial call-​to-​action? Meg Manke, COO of Rose Group International and co-​author of “iX Leadership: Create High Five Cultures and Guide Transformation,” talked about the Mad Hatter syndrome a recent Manage Smarter podcast with us.

Corporate Culture

As a fixer of corporate cultures, Manke advises senior leaders to pay attention when an employee behaves outside the norm. Maybe they refuse to make eye contact. Or they might avoid having conversations with anyone. 

These workplace behaviors are probably not a sign that the employee is losing their grip on reality. Hatters in the 18th century suffered that outcome after working too closely with mercury to cure the materials used in assembling their products. Your employee is likely lacking engagement with your culture and your organization. 

To fix that problem, Manke recommends embarking on a top-​down fix. These days, it’s trendy to understand an employee’s basic personality type, but we often forget to tap into their desires for an ideal work environment. 

Manke’s research finds that some employees enjoy collaborating at work. Others deliver their best results and are happiest as independent and individual thinkers and contributors. Some employees thrive in a chaotic environment – think stock traders – while others require the orderly process that you’d expect to find in a research laboratory. Once you understand an individual’s needs, try to set up the right work environment for them.


But don’t stop there. Make sure you understand how each employee hears information you deliver. You might prefer to deliver feedback and assignments verbally during your one-​on-​ones while you’re brainstorming other ideas. That style might work well with your chaotic thinkers. If you notice your orderly and stabilized thinkers frowning and disengaging during these conversations, stop. It’s time for you to adapt your style. 


If you truly want your employees to feel engaged and excited about the company culture, address accountability. “People like to feel they know what they’re responsible for,” Manke points out. But that’s not enough. They also want to know what the person is in the next cubicle is accountable for too. 

You might think that is essentially none of their business. The bottom line is you want your employees to be committed to your organization and their mission. You won’t win that commitment until they believe they understand who is accountable for what in the organization. Provide regular and specific feedback in the form the employee needs and you’ll see fewer Mad Hatters and more go-​getters in your organization.