Strong performers who are bad teammates present a thorny challenge for managers, who should give feedback and coaching but recognize that the employee has to change or be removed, argues Art Petty. “Just don’t rationalize maintaining or sustaining the individual in this environment at the cost of destroying it for everyone else, along with your credibility as a manager,” he writes.
I run a case in my programs featuring Joe (not his real name): A brilliant contributor, widely regarded by customers and his firm’s executives for producing hit products.
Joe’s superpower is his ability to translate his deep knowledge of customer operations into requirements that engineers use to create software solutions. Joe is a hit-creator whose products are largely responsible for his business unit’s rise to market leadership. Unfortunately, in the words of many of his team members, “Joe is a jerk and almost impossible to work with.”
OK, being labeled a jerk isn’t actionable feedback. However, what is observable is his regular belittling of colleagues and teams when they don’t see the brilliance of his ideas and rush to agree with him. His brash communication style — excused as eccentric when the unit was in startup mode — is not appreciated by many who joined the firm in recent years. With little context for Joe’s work and previous contributions, they see the disagreeable behaviors and wonder why Joe isn’t held to the same standards as the rest of the organization.
Behind the scenes, Joe has been on the receiving end of challenging feedback, tough performance evaluations, and ample internal and external coaching over the past few years. Joe’s manager, Pat, has not ignored the behaviors and has arguably gone above and beyond investing in outside help for Joe. And while Joe responds well to the coaching for a while, eventually something triggers him, and the old behaviors resurface.
What’s a manager to do?
In most settings with this case, the initial guidance from the group is for Pat is to fire Joe. Playing the devil’s advocate, I offer: