Which Matters More: Hiring a Super Star, Removing a Toxic Worker or Converting a Difficult Worker into a Rising Star?
Superstar employees are invaluable. As founding owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers Art Rooney once said, “You can never overpay a good player. You can only overpay a bad one. I don’t mind paying a good player $200,000. What I mind is paying a $20,000 player $22,000.”
Great employees? They’re worth a lot more to your teams, your customers, and your bottom line than average employees. Truly exceptional employees? They’re worth significantly more than average employees – or not.
According to a 2015 study published by Harvard Business School that analyzed data on approximately 60,000 workers, hiring a superstar – defined as a “top 1%” employee – will save the average company $5,303.
Yet avoiding a toxic employee − defined as “a worker that engages in behavior harmful to an organization, including either its property or people” − will save the average company $12,489. That figure doesn’t even include “savings from sidestepping litigation, regulatory penalties, or decreased productivity as a result of low morale.” The above was published by INC.com on Oct 28, 2020
Clearly a difficult employee impacts those around them, but a toxic employee is the one that infects others, spreading dissatisfaction, mistrust, tension and an attitude of hostility. Identifying a difficult worker before they become toxic is one of the essential charges of leadership.
One of the cornerstones of leadership is embracing the reality that, a person who feels appreciated will always do more than what is expected. It is generally easy to develop and work with a superstar, but it takes time, energy and understanding to work with a difficult star.
The question then must be: What is the investment (time, resources, energy, influence) needed to reveal the potential contribution of the difficult star – will this worker, given your investment – add value to the organization?
Take time to do some soul searching – you have a difficult star on your payroll. Firing an employee always has an impact on your remaining staff – sure some, perhaps even most maybe happy to see that difficult star leave, but the memory of a dismissed co-worker (even a difficult one) leaves an impression on the rest of your workers and that impression takes a bite out of trust – not a big bite necessarily, but a bite none-the-less. So you need to determine if this difficult star can become a rising star? Accept that not everyone can or should be saved, but everyone is worth the consideration. Whichever way you go keep or stay – document everything, stick to the facts, supply context.
Converting an internal rising star into a shining star will raise the morale, engagement and productivity of your entire team
When the answer is yes, it’s worth the investment, here are 5 steps to move a difficult star to a rising star who will be contributing productivity rather than toxicity to your organization. It is possible that at any one of these steps you may conclude that your difficult star is actually a fallen star and needs to move on – but proceed cautiously you have already employed this difficult star and cutting lose has its’ own difficulties.
- Discovery – listen and learn. What does this difficult star want – there are two options – to stay or to leave. Take a closer look at the behavior and what’s causing it. Engage in guided conversations, listening for the underlying issues of dissatisfaction, concern, fears, etc. Listen to learn not judge, clarify for understanding. Be willing to consider the issues have merit. Are you able to mitigate any of these issues? Keep in mind your entire team, interdependent co-workers and company policies and procedures, you cannot sacrifice the entirety for one individual, however without favor or bias, are these issues one person’s position or might they apply to others?
- Assessment – skills and training. Does your difficult star know their responsibilities? Does he/she have the requisite knowledge, skills and training for their position? Leave it to he/she to make this determination before you decide. Build on strengths, provide training or mentoring if needed to bring skills to a place where the difficult star is in a position to succeed. Coach your difficult star in the creation of performance measurements, goals and objective. Clear responsibilities attract confidence.
- Support – creating a feedback-rich environment. Getting your difficult star on the same page as you and his/her co-workers will take renewed trust. Trust comes from a sense of safety and open communication; your difficult star needs to feel supported and welcome to speak openly and timely without judgement. Obtain feedback from your difficult star’s peers. Celebrate positive change, address shortcomings with steps for improvement recommended by your difficult star.
- Empowerment – accountability and benchmarks. You’ve come along way, now is the time for both formal and informal check-ins with constructive conversations primarily lead by your difficult star. Review agreed upon performance measurements. Celebrate accomplishments.
- Evaluation – rising star, shining star or super star. Is your difficult star is now stabilized in a new position; rising, shining or super? Consider what you both have learned and/or still need to address. Is your star ready for new challenges/responsibilities? Look around – your entire team has been elevated. Appreciate your new star.