Dealing with rogue performers

Opinion / Human Resources

Dealing with rogue performers
B V Krishnamurthy , CxO / Board, India

Star performers are often poor team players. How do you manage such executives?

A popular HR network posed an interesting question a few days back – an employee who invariably delivered results on time had the obnoxious habit of staying away from work 4 – 5 days every month without prior permission. The manager who cited the incident posed the question – how do you deal with such executives?

The write-up in a widely-read newspaper poses the same question today. How does an organization deal with such executives who bulldoze their way in any situation, have close proximity to those who matter in the organization, and have serious attitudinal problems in accepting failure.

I am reminded of what one of my bosses termed such high-performing but totally non-conformist managers. The boss called them “Rogue Executives.”

Every organization has its share of rogue executives. Some of the traits exhibited are:
 A total disdain for hierarchy
 A disregard for rules, regulations and policies – they make their own
 Close proximity to someone in top management who always shields them
 Achieving results but not willing to share the credit with others
 Conveniently passing the buck when things go wrong – the third and fourth points above effectively insulate them from getting the stick
 Inability to get along with others – this is what I call the “Star Performer” syndrome – someone who is brilliant as an individual but fails in a team environment

Jim Collins in defining the five levels of leadership observes that “Humility + Will = Level 5.” Level 5 leaders are the ones who place the organization before themselves. “They are people who will fire their brother or sister to make the company great. They will bet the company. They will put their own lives through the worst of circumstances, if that is what it takes.”
Two key points emerge from this observation. The rogue executives are certainly not Level 5 leaders. They may not have the potential to be Level 5 leaders. Worse, the top management of organizations that encourages even nurtures such executives clearly is not Level 5 leadership material either.

In an interesting article (Wall Street Journal March 23, 2009) Groysberg and Lee point out to what they call the “lone star myth.” They emphasize the fact that stars probably won’t excel at their jobs unless surrounded by equally talented colleagues. Surrounding a star with other stars is a win – win because high-quality colleagues bring four important characteristics to the table: they are sources of information, offer insightful feedback, provide a critical link to clients, and help burnish a star’s reputation. In conclusion, the authors advocate a “no-jerks” policy. Stars that don’t play well with others won’t create long-lasting value. Above all, organizations need to create a work culture that encourages cooperation and team work.

In light of the above, how do you deal with rogue executives?
 Counsel them. This is easier said than done given the attitudinal baggage such executives bring to the work place. It is also difficult because of the star performer’s proximity to top management that builds an aura of invincibility about them.
 Re-deploy them to work with other star performers. This might help them to introspect and realize that no one is infallible.
 Fire them. Obviously this has to be the last resort. Unless organizations demonstrate that the enterprise is more important than any individual, they can never rise from “Good to Great.”

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