Don’t Be Held Hostage by Your Best Employees

Are you being held hostage by a top-performing employee? In other words, is a successful employee ignoring duties or regulations you expect to be honored? In the worst-case scenario, requests to change behavior are ignored, and frictions with other employees arise. The tension can even be picked up by customers, hurting both service and your brand. Here are questions to determine if you have a hostage-taker in your midst.

Appraising the Situation

• Do you excuse or explain away to others certain be-haviors of a high-performing employee?

• Do you worry about what would happen to your busi-ness if one of your best em-ployees left?

• Does it sometimes feel as ifyour authority is being un-dermined by the actions of a top performer?

• Do you allow people to ignore certain policies be-cause a high performer isn’t following them?

• Do you dread conduct-ing performance appraisals with a high-performing employee?

• Do you reward only sales results, not the way in which they’re achieved?

Gem Bytes

Here are steps to improve the situation without losing your top employee:

Don’t underestimate the true cost of a hostage sit-uation. When faced with a big revenue number from a high-performing salesperson, it’s easy to overlook the cost to the organization in other areas. Behavior that’s at odds with policies and expectations eats up management time, undermines authority,distracts other employees, and encour-ages them to ignore necessary tasks. It can undermine an organization’s cultural values, the most important element of long-term success. If you’re being held hostage, you need to extricate yourself quickly.

Consider whether they might be right. Perhaps the high performer could max-imize his talents and gain more business if he had a job description that relieved him from certain tasks. If so,create a new position and dele-gate specific tasks to others—and expect greater results from the high performer. Let others know they also can be elevated, if they deliver similar results.

Look for a win-win solu-tion while setting behav-ioral limits. If you don’t elevate the position, you need to reestablish clear behavioral limits. Identify the behaviors causing the greatest damage and focus on these. As you talk with the employee, avoid being overly critical. Express your appreciation for what she’s contributing, but explain exactly how the behaviors inquestion are harming the or-ganization and why they can’tbe tolerated. Ask the employee for ideas on how to mitigate the problem while allowing her to be successful. Remem-ber, high involvement will produce the highest levels of commitment to a solution, so elicit her assistance; don’t de-liver mandates. When you’ve devised a solution, obtain written agreement to avoid subsequent ambiguity.

Reward the “how,” not just results. It’s important to focus rewards on sales results, but results are not enough. Even in a commission environment, some discretionary pay shouldbe associated with how resultsare obtained. Otherwise, im-portant company values such as healthy peer relationships and cooperation in serving clients can begin to degrade. Adherence to cultural values and successfully executing key policies or sales procedures needs to be recognized and rewarded.

Move early to head off hos-tage situations. Most start slowly with small incidents of noncompliance and grow until an employee is following an alternate job description rather than the one assigned. Be alert and address such situations early, again by explaining the needs of the organization and looking for a win-win solution.

Some of the most pro-ductive employees take a non-conventional approach to their jobs. Find ways they can work for your organization without undermining cultural values and management authority. Set clear limits today to avoid being held hostage tomorrow.

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