Things are going brilliantly. The business is building some impressive productivity results, the goals are all being achieved and the team is working harmoniously. Of particular note is your star performer. He or she is the gun of the whole business. They get the major clients in or produce the highest quality results and you know that your business would not be in the position it is without their input.
On top of all that, they are your model of the perfect employee that you use to gauge new candidates against when hiring. They are there when new employees start, and always turn out to be the perfect mentor and role model for any new team member.
So what happens when that perfect employee, that top performer, starts causing problems? What do we do when questions over ethics or behaviour or productivity or approach start to be asked? What do we do if they have done something so problematic that their very employment could be questioned?
As we have seen this week in the very public career execution of former Top Gear host, Jeremy Clarkson, it can really be a thorn in the side of the organisation and something that would require careful examination and detailed processes.
We Are All The Same
Thing is, the Clarkson episode offers up another sticking point: that top employee is also very popular and it is not going to be easy to enter disciplinary action with such acceptance and visibility across the team inside the business, let alone a worldwide fan base. Issues arise when any sort of action is taken – it’s going to be clearly obvious to the rest of the business on what is happening and it in turn has a real question on impact on engagement and loyalty attached to it.It is going to require incredible management, end-goal determination and a clearly defined and backable process.
The one thing that was handled correctly by the powers-that-be inside the BBC was that Clarkson was not treated any differently from other employees. When it comes to commencing any sort of performance management, it is essential there is no difference between management of junior staff to that of senior staff. This transparency allows a strong sense of equality manifesting within the team – this is incredibly vital for engagement.
Look! Over There!
The temptation when your best performer turns sour is to fall into complacency…or even worse, ignoring it. This is a real engagement killer and far more pronounced than with any other employee. As this employee is highly visible and noted as a mentor and ‘buddy’, so too would any actions they take will be replicated throughout the team. These actions will be indeed be positive when everything is running fantastically, but can turn problematic when behaviours and approaches dive.
This is why leaders need to be observing what is happening in their team. No, this does not mean micro-management, which is itself an engagement killer, but awareness. If things sour, you as a leader must be able to pick up on it quickly and address it even quicker. It really goes to the heart of what a Leader does – or should do – every day. They must be so clued into what is happening in their team, the dynamics that influence it and the changes, however subtle that can impact it.
Keep The Talk Open
When action taken against a star employee is viewed by the greater team, the sense of trepidation of ‘it happened to them, it can happen to me’ will really start to influence. This needs careful management. Whilst specifics about the action taken may not be able to be exposed, a good leader will update the team and allay any fears about their own roles. This is a delicate path to tread, as a lot of these employees would see this employee as the epitome of excellence and now they are being seen as in a totally different light. As a leader, the communication must be open and remained open. Indeed at the conclusion of any action, and regardless of the end result, these communication channels must be left wide open to allow proper disclosure and acceptance of actions taken. If a business is serious about keeping employee engagement as central to their business, this is a non-negotiable.
Finally, the need to process any management activity as soon as possible allows the impact to be felt as least as possible. Notwithstanding the need for proper processes that allow appropriate action and reaction (and hopefully a return to star status for the employee) to be allowed, the fact that this process should happen in an effective time frame shouldn’t be discounted. A prolonged and visible review can disrupt the team, the business and productivity over an even greater length of time as team members debrief, and this can only be detrimental to long-term engagement.
It can be a devastating event to have your star performer turn rogue, but handled correctly, the damage can be mitigated and the successful resolution of the employee’ problems can be applied. Whatever the outcome, keep your sense of proper process in place, your ability to keep other employees engaged and your strength of character to see this to the resolution should never be underestimated. Your employees will thank you for believing in them, regardless of how things turn out.