The 4 Hats Your Employees are Wearing

Hi there. Russell Stratton, president and leadership champion with Bluegem learning.

I work with organizations just like yours to help managers improve individual and team performance and ultimately drive up results for your organization.

One of the challenges that managers often have is dealing with those unmanageable employees.

Of course, we know people aren't actually unmanageable...

But there are those difficult workplace conversations around performance and attendance that really need to be had, and which managers often shy away from.

In our last blog, I taught you about the BEEF Model, which is an opportunity for structuring that conversation...

But sometimes managers are saying to me, "Well, where do I even start? I'm not sure where my employee's head is at the moment."

And the thought about where their head is got me thinking about the analogy of hats and the fact that people's behavior in some ways is a little bit like wearing a hat.

They can take a hat on or off in the same way that they can choose to change their behavior should they wish to.

The challenge for us as managers is to be able to identify which hat they're wearing and if that's not helpful, by getting a way to be able to get them to change.

The 4 Hats that Employees Tend to Wear

The Sun Hat

You can imagine, typical sort of sun hat where somebody is sitting there in their back yard or on the dock and they're laid back, everything's good in the world.

And their mentality at this time is,

  • Why do I need to do anything different?

  • Why do I need to change?

  • Everything's good.

  • I've always done it this way.

  • No one's ever told me that I need to do it differently, so what's your issue?

Now this attitude isn't all negative. We want people to be happy and content in their job, but if people are too complacent, then there's no energy or desire in them that would cause them to want to improve.

As a manager, we need to get in and have that challenging conversation to move them out of that staid contentment into a sense of action.

The Viking Helmet

Similarly to the Sun Hat, these are not somebody who is keen to actually change and do something different.

However, instead of being laid back and like "whatever,"

they're more like, "I'm not going to do this."

The Viking hat wearer is somebody who's a lot more assertive

They're more in your face, and they're doing this in two different ways.

They're either being aggressive, which is, "You can't make me do this. I'm going to go to my union rep about this. I can't believe you're going to bring this up now."

Or they're going to be more passive-aggressive, which is where they smile at you and sort of nod, and then walk out of your office and just carry on doing what they've always done or start bad mouthing you at the water cooler to others.

We can't try to coach, encourage and develop these people unless they accept that they need to do something differently.

That's why I say we need a challenging-type conversation rather than maybe a coaching conversation.

That's the negative, but let's move over to the positive side.

What we are trying to do is get those sun hat or Viking hat wearers to take off those hats and maybe try on a...

The Hard Hat

What is a hard hat all about?

Well, an employee that's wearing a hard hat is somebody who want to:

  • do better

  • improve

  • get better results,

But perhaps they're not too sure what they have to do or have the confidence to do it.

This is an ideal coaching opportunity for you as the manager, because here somebody wants to do it, they just need your help and support where you can coach them through how to do things differently and improve.

The Graduate Cap

Our final hat is the graduate cap.

These are our employees who already got it.

  • They're already doing it

  • They're our self starters

  • They're our people that require ligh-touch management. We don't have to micro-manage these folks.

  • They know what they're doing.

  • They're already achieving results.

We just need to be there in the background offering support and guidance where needed.

We still need to manage them.

We can't just leave people to their own devices, because that could be the occasion that you come back from lunch and the person says,

"Hey. I've just rewritten your business plan for you."

You say, "I didn't ask you to."

They go, "Yeah, but I thought it needed doing."

So our graduate caps we need to reign in occasionally to make sure that they're on track.

Hopefully that helps you.

We think about our employees, where their heads are at the moment, we can often think of the analogy of hats.

They're either wearing:

  • a SUN HAT and they're laid back, don't see the reason to change

  • a VIKING HELMET, where they're coming at us aggressively, "You can't make me do this."

  • a HARD HAT, "I want to do something differently, but I don't know how." Or,

  • our GRADUATE CAP, "I've got this, and I know what I'm doing."

I hope you found that helpful. Be sure to subscribe and I'll see you next time!

13 views0 comments


"Bluegem Learning & Development and Corporate Culture Shift have presented two very effective and interactive workshops with our organization. Their comedic and engaging presentation style in the ‘Managing the Unmanageable’ workshop has left a lasting impression on our staff. I highly recommend this workshop if you are looking for a valuable, cost effective customer service training option."

- Jeff Gerestein, City of Brooks

"Russell produced a highly engaging HR programme that reflected our organisational issues. He is without doubt an outstanding training deliverer, challenging managers to address what can be difficult HR issues. I highly recommend Russell, and would always seek to engage Russell on future learning development opportunities."

- Sharon Gartland, DSG Consultancy Services

Keyboard and Mouse
Glass Buildings

Russell Stratton

Leadership Champion

RUSSELL STRATTON is an international Leadership Expert, Professionally Certified Trainer and Coach, with a Masters Degree in Human Resource Management. He is co-author of the book 'I Need to F@#king Talk To You - The Art Of Navigating Difficult Workplace Conversations'.


He is a Master Facilitator for Bluegem Learning's ground breaking "Leadership Success" workshop series - providing a practical toolkit for building engagement and improving individual and team performance. Using live actors in a stop/start forum theatre approach and a combination of dynamic experiential learning techniques, participants come away with a greater ability to actually perform better as employees and leaders in your organization.


He is an accomplished management education, learning & development professional with a proven track record of working with clients in the public, voluntary and private sectors to achieve lasting, measurable step changes in business performance.


Russell works internationally with a wide range of organizational cultures and with all levels from front line customer facing staff to executive management boards. Having worked as both a Personnel Manager and Operational Manager he works at both strategic and tactical levels.

#300, 160 Quarry Park Blvd.  Calgary, AB  T2C 3G3

  • Russell Stratton on LinkedIn
  • Bluegem Learning on Twitter
  • Bluegem Learning on Facebook
  • Russel Stratton on Instagram