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Previous Issue's Dilemma:
My best analyst has lost his luster
Our top analyst has great skills. But his conduct leaves a lot to be desired. He's notorious for his prima donna attitude, and he refuses to do the administrative part of his job because he thinks it is "trivial." Needless to say, no one in the department likes him. Should I let him go, despite his high-level skills? Or is there some way I can make him a star in every area of his job?
-- Michael T., Director, Internal Audit
Time for a turnaround
Michael, your dilemma has generated heated discussion, ranging from "he'll never change, get rid of him" to "maybe the others should emulate his results instead of whining." Frankly, more than one reader advises looking at your own behavior, since leaders set the tone and you allowed this situation to develop. Generally, though, reader recommendations center on three main actions:
Have a heart-to-heart talk
Becky Adams, special projects accountant for A/P at the Texas Roadhouse Support Center, says, "Sit down and have a candid discussion about his conduct and the way others in your department perceive him. If he is not aware of the effect he has, he may change his ways. If he does not agree to performing all his duties and trying to get along with everyone else, though, I think you have to let him go. Teamwork is as important as the actual work."
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One CEO who chose to remain anonymous says, "A weak manager would fire the perpetrator. Don't do that. Instead, bring this 'star' in for a heart-to-heart talk and explain how his behavior is affecting the company. Tell him that you will help him turn things around, provided he is willing to help you. Then put together a 'performance improvement plan' aimed at rebuilding his image and improving overall teamwork."
An anonymous audit manager in Valley Forge, Pa., seconds that. "I would much rather have a strong analyst who needs to correct some behavior than a weak one who needs to correct performance." He says you should "explain what you want done in terms of what is best for the analyst, you and the company. A strong analyst will 'get it.'"
Set clear performance goals
"Every employee should have a set of performance goals for which he or she is accountable in a formal review and evaluation process," says Janet Grasso, senior manager at IBM. "You should have established expectations that include the business tasks of the desk (including administrative work) and behavior that supports a team environment as well as other behaviors important to your business culture. Be specific and get agreement about those goals at the beginning of the assessment period," she says.
Grasso continues, "Include what's in it for him if he changes his behavior (i.e., meets your expectations, gains respect of his peers, is recognized as a team player, is recognized as a leader, balances the 'complete package,' shows capability for advanced positions, etc). People generally appreciate straight-up feedback. If his skills are that good, you have the opportunity to help the employee be a great employee, which will help you."
Kristi Lathrop, A/P manager at Intrawest Shared Services, takes a tough stance. "I would put him on a work improvement notice, and if he doesn't improve, let him go. One person (no matter how good he or she is) is not worth jeopardizing the rest of the team. By allowing him to behave this way, you are sending a poor message to your other employees -- telling them that you value them less and do not appreciate their efforts. You are also ruining your reputation as a manager. Who will trust and believe in you if you allow this one employee to be in control?"
Tweak your compensation
An anonymous A/P manager advises taking a close look at the way you compensate your staff. "I've been in your situation before. We adjusted our performance bonus criteria to include qualitative measures like teamwork, respect for co-workers, professional behavior and ability to handle administrative details in a timely way. If staff did not properly complete the admin piece, they could not participate in the bonus.
"We clearly explained the disciplinary measures we would take if staff went outside established procedures. We ended up letting our star go, but it saved the morale of the team. Working together, the team produced more than that one star did on his own. We'd rather have a galaxy of bright stars, not just one shiny one."
A final point
An anonymous assistant director sums it up this way, "This person is by no means a star. He plays dirty, does not do his job completely, and his co-workers despise him." She says that if you (or human resources) have already talked with him and the negative behaviors are still present, then get rid of him. "His high-level skills are not worth making the work environment miserable for the rest of the team -- you have an obligation to them, too."