You know and the type. They’re the ones who solve the biggest problems or have the best sales records, but everyone inside your company hates them. They’re quite simply high performing jerks.
Here’s an example I encountered recently. A customer called saying the order they received was faulty. They said the salesperson misrepresented what they were going to get, and they wanted to return everything and get their money back. The company’s COO swooped in, spoke to the customer, empathized with them, and told them that the company was committed to full customer satisfaction or money back. He ended up replacing the product to the customer’s specification, somehow brought them back from the brink of losing them, and they ended up being a repeat customer.
Then the CEO heard the other side of the story. The COO went to the “misrepresenting” salesperson and gave him crap in front of his colleagues. He then went to the purchasing department and berated the manager there, telling her that he had to deal with her poor buying abilities and warned her that she had twenty-four hours to rectify the issue. He didn’t care how she did it, she needed to find replacement products, quality check them herself and get back to him. Then he left to go play a round of golf with a big customer he was courting.
This left the CEO with a dilemma. Should he praise him for his superior ability to do whatever it took to keep the customer? Or reprimand him for his methods?
This happens more often than you can imagine. Probably one of the most public scandals in recent years was the Uber disaster. Uber did a number of things wrong, which the CEO supposedly condoned. In one example, A former employee wrote a blog post about her experience at the company. HR said they couldn’t fire the manager who was allegedly harassing employees because he was a top performer. After the story became public, I can’t tell you how many people scoffed at Uber HR’s response and inability to act. But I can tell you that the Uber story is not the first and neither will it be the last. It was more shocking than others, but I can tell you that it happens all the time.
Take a hard look at your employees. Do any of them demonstrate poor behaviour? Here are 6 things you can do to ensure your company is safe from the potential reputational damage of a high performing jerk.
Look at Your Values
Do your values support only performance or do they also support team work and collaboration? I can’t tell you how many times leaders complain to me about their high performers’ bad behaviour. Then when I ask them what their bonus is based on, they tell me it’s 100% on the sales numbers, or on budget numbers.
If you want your employees to behave in a manner that exemplifies a sharing and collaborative environment, make sure your values reflect that. And, please, if you have good values, make sure your company follows them.
Evaluate on Results and Methods
One of the easiest ways to ensure your employees are not just driven towards the targets, but also towards team work, is to evaluate them on that. I’m a big proponent of measuring results and competencies. So, measure the what and the how. What did they achieve over the period, and how did they achieve those results?
Reward performance, but not at the expense of good behaviour.
Conduct 360 Evaluations
Most high performing employees manage upward very well. In other words, they make you and the rest of the management team look good. But the high performing jerks will make only the management team feel good. They will treat their staff horribly. I knew of one top c-suite executive who consistently berated people in large meetings. He got results and the board members and shareholders loved him for it, but he treated people very badly.
At least once a quarter (more often for shorter sales cycles), make sure you ask everyone the employee deals with to evaluate their performance. This includes their managers, their peers, their employees, and that their customers. Don’t assume that just because a manager loves her high performer, that the employee is not a jerk.
Talk to Them About Their Jerk Behaviour
I always find it amazing how many leaders will ignore the “talk” about a top performer’s behaviour for fear of losing them. “I can’t talk to him about his behaviour because he might leave, and I’ll lose my best employee.” Well, I ask you this: Is that person really your best employee if he makes everyone else feel like crap? And is that the type of culture you want for your company? Have you looked at how many other people have left because of him, or how many other people have lost their enthusiasm for the company because of him?
Don’t be afraid to talk to your high performer about behaviour. Praise their performance, but talk about the behaviour issues. Yes, there’s a risk of them getting upset and leaving, but that means they are not open to feedback. A high performer who is not open to feedback has stopped learning and has capped her abilities. Basically, that’s the best you will ever get out of them. On the other hand, if she takes the feedback in stride and improves her interactions with the team, think of the stellar employee you’ll have then!
When Talking Doesn’t Work
This happens quite often. A lot of high performers are high performers because they have immense amounts of confidence. When their boss points out that they need improvement in an area, they may choose to dismiss it, especially if the feedback was given in a casual, cursory manner. The performance continues, and so does the behaviour. It’s very easy at this point for managers and business owners to say, “She’s just like that and she’ll never change.”
Be persistent. Keep having those conversations and keep pressing the issues. Going back to my second point about evaluating on methods, if the behaviour continues, make sure it’s reflected in her bonus or salary increase. Sorry, but there is never a good enough excuse to be a jerk!
Lead by Example
Lastly, but most importantly, but make sure you’re leading by example. Are you, as the business owner or CEO, getting the 360 feedback? Are you demonstrating the right behaviours? Are you watching how you treat your employees? Sometimes jerk behaviour is learned behaviour and the top most leaders are setting a bad example. It’s not always intentional, so you need to take a close look at how you come across to your employees and model the behaviour you want to see from them.