Man having serious conversation

Misaligned stars destroy morale

The challenge of addressing poor behaviour from top employees 

Written by Dr Shaun Ridley FAIM
2 minute read
Man having serious conversation

One of the most challenging issues for leaders is having to manage inappropriate behaviour from one of their most productive employees.

It is easy to get nervous that any challenge will negatively impact the employee’s output or, worse, lead to the person resigning.

In these circumstances, leaders are conflicted by two strong pressures – one to achieve the performance targets of their business unit and two, to consistently honour the agreed values and standards of behaviour within the organisation. It is very easy to ignore the second issue to achieve the first.

Don’t underestimate the negative influence of a misaligned, misbehaving high performer. Lots of justifications such as “no one saw the bad behaviour”, “it wasn’t that bad”, or “they won’t do it again”, are used to dilute the impact of the bad behaviour.

However, most of the negative impact may be unseen by the leader.

The negative impact will surface out of sight in the lunchroom, in a casual corridor conversation or outside of work. Word will spread quickly about the misbehaviour and the perceived unfairness of the lack of negative consequences for the individual.

Other staff will react badly and see the hypocrisy if a high performer escapes any consequences whilst other, presumably less valued staff, are punished quickly for similar behaviours.

Morale can slide quickly when staff see that some people are treated more leniently than others on core issues such as the organisation’s values.

Cynicism creeps in when the importance of values is mentioned at future meetings. This cynicism will turn to anger if severe consequences are felt by others.

The life of the high performer may also become more difficult if staff choose to impose their own sanctions by withholding information, working to rule or sabotaging their projects.

One more small step in the next 24 hours

We all want and need our high performers to continue to deliver at a high level and will usually go out of our way to support their efforts.

However, this support can never extend to more favourable treatment on core elements like your agreed values.

So, reflect on the behaviours of your high performers.

Are they doing anything that signals they might be in conflict with your organisation or team values? If so, intervene early.

By all means, recognise their contribution to the organisation’s success, but at the same time make it clear that breaching the values will not be overlooked or downplayed.